For years now, Artem Lobov has been best known as the main training partner for UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. His contributions and achievements are often overlooked and under-valued. However, with his recent booking in a number one contender bout with the #4 ranked featherweight in the world, Cub Swanson, it’s time we take a look at what lies beneath the surface of “The Russian Hammer”.
Lobov was born in Nizhny Novgorod, the fifth largest city in Russia, on Aug. 11, 1986. His life has always been outside of what you’d expect for an MMA fighter. As a child, he repeatedly attempted to convince his mother to let him to take up boxing. His mother forbid it out of fear for the injuries that it would cause. Lobov contracted tuberculosis at the age of two, spending the better part of a year in the hospital, and another five years under supervision before finally being cleared. It was an event that made his mother quite protective of him. So instead, Artem spent five years as a ballroom dancer, which he attributes to the base of his incredible footwork. Not quite the route most would take, but such is the legend of Lobov.
His family relocated to Ireland after a couple years in Argentina. Lobov attended classes at Dublin City University. While at DCU pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in business studies (which would become a Master’s in finance) and Spanish, Artem came across a flier for self-defense classes at a small gym in Dublin called Straight Blast Gym. It would be an introduction to the obsession that would take over his adult life and the people who would help him shape it.
It wasn’t long until SBG owner and head coach John Kavanagh realized his talent and aptitude went far beyond a few protective maneuvers. Lobov had a form of power that you can’t teach, you’re either born with it or you’re not. But he also had a mental toughness and work ethic that was infectious to those around him. But at this point this was still a hobby for Lobov. He had a Master’s in finance, a good job with Bank of America, and had finally achieved the stable life his immigrant family had traveled far in search of.
Artem turned pro while still working his day job full time, and his 13-12-1 pro record can be extremely misleading if you don’t take the time to look beneath the surface. In his first four years as a pro, the man known as “The Prospect Killer” fought a staggering 23 times in three different weight classes. His attitude of fighting anyone, any time, anywhere, at any weight made him the ideal short notice fill in when fighters pulled out of fights due to injuries. His coach John Kavanagh has recalled several times that Lobov would come to him on “random Monday” because he’s taken a fight for that weekend, only for Kavanagh to look up the opponent and see that they were their area’s top prospect in their respective weight class. Artem wanted to test himself against the best and nothing else would do. His record on the regional scene suffered as a result.
It’s at this point when the unexpected and unparalleled success of his training partner and childhood close friend, Conor McGregor, comes together. McGregor’s meteoric rise from apprentice plumber and Cage Warriors prospect to UFC champion and multi-millionaire was an eye-opener to Lobov and the entire SBG team. It was the first time he realized that he could make a living doing the thing he loved. He left his job at Bank of America to pursue being a professional martial artist full time. Still, despite having defeated a “who’s who” of the European MMA scene, his losses continued to be an obstacle.
UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby had suggested that he do what other fighters on the regional scene had done and take a few fights against lesser opponents to pad his record. Artem was morally opposed to what he called the “cowards” way of making it to the UFC. He wanted to test himself against the best, he craved the challenge. The challenge was the reward for his training. He repeatedly expressed this to Shelby and they came to an agreement. If Artem to could put together a winning streak, then they’d find an opportunity for him, but he could do it on his terms by fighting top fighters in the region.
After putting together wins by TKO over Andrew Fisher and armbar submission over Rasul Shovhalov, the Irish prospect finally received his chance. As with most of Artem’s life, it took an odd route along the way. Artem was invited to be a competitor on season 22 of the UFC’s reality competition The Ultimate Fighter. One of the coaches on TUF 22 was his friend and teammate Conor McGregor (Team Europe), who coached opposite UFC legend Urijah Faber (Team USA). In his preliminary fights to earn a spot in the fighter house, Lobov lost a close and controversial decision to Frenchman Mehdi Baghdad. UFC boss Dana White would later allow the coaches to bring back one of their fighters who lost in the prelims. McGregor’s choice was unsurprisingly Artem.
After getting a second chance, Lobov left no doubt to whether he deserved to be there and, maybe more importantly, left no decisions to the judges. He compiled three successive knockouts, two in the very first round, and earned himself a place in the finals against fellow Team Europe fighter Saul Rodgers. Rodgers however, was pulled from the fight after a discrepancy on his visa denied him entry to the US.
In his place was Ryan Hall, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist from Falls Church, Virginia, who lost to Rodgers in the TUF 22 semi-finals. Hall used his ground game to hold Artem in place for three rounds and win the decision. Artem was visibly frustrated by the style of fight and how it played out. After losing his second straight fight in the UFC to Alex White, it was apparent his job and career were on the line.
Enter Dillon Danis.
Dillon Danis is a world renowned world champion Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt from New Jersey. He came to Ireland to help Conor McGregor prepare for his mega fight rematch with Nate Diaz. However, the fighter who benefited most from Danis’ presence may have been Lobov. The pair instantly became friends inside of the gym. Lobov offered help towards Danis’s transition to mixed martial arts from BJJ tournaments, and Dillon helped improve the Russian Hammer’s much maligned ground game. The evolution of his career had begun and no one was safe.
At UFC 202 in August 2016, Artem Lobov was given a chance to save his career against , Chris Avilla, a UFC newcomer and Nate Diaz’s training partner. Lobov dominated the fight for all three rounds, punishing the often retreating Avilla with powerful leg kicks and well timed strikes. He consistently taunted Avilla for his unwillingness to engage in the fight after a very contentious, and at times fully-chaotic, build up to their fight. He easily won a judges decision, and it was apparent “The Hammer” was back.
Lobov returned to the octagon about three months later at UFC Fight Night: Belfast. He faced a noticeable step-up in competition against Japan’s Teruto Ishihara. Ishihara entered the fight with a 10-2-2 record, with eight of those wins coming by knockout. He was on a two fight win streak after drawing against Mizuto Hirota in his UFC debut. There was no doubt that this fight would be the biggest test for the SBG Ireland product to date.
The thing about Artem Lobov is that he seems to swell to the occasion. When the lights are bright and the world is watching, Artem Lobov performs at his best and this was the case in Belfast. He dominated what many believed the be a superior striker, out striking Ishihara 82-48 over three rounds. To even more of a surprise, he also proved to be better on the ground, securing and take down and dominate control. Lobov won every aspect of the fight and again was awarded a unanimous decision victory. This was finally proof that he belonged in the top organization in the world.
Now it’s onto the future and into very unfamiliar territory. For the first time in his career, Lobov has earned the respect from matchmakers that he believes he deserves. Despite taking the most difficult road and stumbling along the way, he finds himself not just firmly in the UFC, but as contender against the #4 ranked featherweight Cub Swanson at UFC Fight Night Nashville on Apr. 22. It’s another chance for Artem to do his favorite thing: challenge himself. That seems to be the motif of his life. No challenge is too great, and no boundary is unbreakable. Whether he’s cheating death fighting TB as child, moving across the world for a better life, getting his master’s, or becoming a UFC champion, heart is no longer enough to measure Artem Lobov.