Artem 'The Russian Hammer' Lobov got a second chance on Team Europe as Dana White allowed both Conor McGregor and Urijah Faber to bring back one unsuccessful fighter from the elimination process on last week's episode of TUF 22.
White's revealed that there would be nine successful quarterfinalists instead of the usual eight and that he will choose one fighter to get rid of based on how exciting their performance is. It is the UFC president's hope that this will result in far better fights during the show.
While the arrangement certainly worked out in Lobov's favor, there are plenty of people who have claimed that the SBG fighter only got a second chance on the show due to his relationship with McGregor. Although the Dublin-based Russian contested one of the most entertaining fights of the elimination round with Mehdi Baghdad, he believes people who say McGregor saved his skin on the show are completely correct.
"I was never going to deny that my relationship with Conor got me back into the house," admitted Lobov. "Now and then, if someone asks me why I got to come back to the house, I can say it had nothing to do with my performance, it had nothing to do with my fight, it had nothing to do with my good looks, I got back in there because I know Conor. There is no other reason. It's a fact, so why deny it?
"I know the way these things work. Yeah, that fight was great, I'm sure Dana enjoyed it. Honestly, the reason I came back into the house had nothing to do with my fight. I know Conor gave me that second chance, but now it's up to me to prove that I belong in there. Not only to prove that I belong in there but to prove that I'm way better than these guys.
"I've had the toughest road. I beat tougher opponents than any of the other guys in the house. I believe that will stand to me. First you work for your skill and then your skill will work for you. When I worked for my skills, I cut no corners—not in the gym and not in my fights. Now it's time for me to get my rewards for my hard work."
Having initially been eliminated from the show, being brought back has given him even more incentive to prove his worth, according to Lobov.
"When they brought me back I knew everybody would be watching and saying 'oh yeah, look Conor's boy got brought back.' I was okay with that, but I knew I would have to show them what I could do. I have to perform, just winning the next fight is not enough for me after being brought back. I have to make statements here. That was my mindset, I went back in there ready to kill and prepared to die."
While Lobov agreed that McGregor has had a big impact on the latest series of UFC's reality platform, he also believes that the inclusion of a whole European team has been the main reason that this season has "the best fights ever."
"The producers told me that Conor would do wonders for the show, but they also said that if the fights suck, nobody would watch the show. The fighters are the ones that have to fight, and finally the UFC have realized where the exciting fighters are. The real fighters are in Europe.
"Now they've put on a load of fights with European guys, and finally you're going to see some proper fights. Dana said that this is the best season ever in terms of fights, the best fights he has ever seen on any of the TUF series are in this one. What is the reason for that? What has changed? The Europeans, now we're here.
"We never get a chance to showcase our skills, there are five European shows a year and that's it. We rarely see Europeans on The Ultimate Fighter, now we have a whole team on it and guess what? They gave the show the best fights ever."
As seen on last week's episode, McGregor introduced his team to his low impact, "flow" training regiment. Lobov explained how that particular type of training went down a hit with the team.
"The guys loved it, all of Team Europe really enjoyed. When you think of the situation we were in, everybody had just fought. You have to come into these shows ready, you shouldn't be going in there to learn anything new or to get in shape. You have to be in phenomenal shape and you have to be ready for the whole show.
"That training was based around the fact that we had fought already and we had more fights coming. You have to protect your body and make sure that you're nice and fresh for the next challenge. Everybody was happy with that arrangement," he said.