LAS VEGAS — Nine months ago, disaster struck in Las Vegas when Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced to withdraw from his scheduled interim title shot at UFC 209 after his weight cut went awry just hours before official weigh-ins. A golden opportunity for Nurmagomedov was lost without the undefeated Dagestani contender even getting a chance to step foot inside the cage.
Now, Nurmagomedov is once again in the entertainment capital of the world readying for his first fight since the drama that unfolded this past spring. Set to meet Edson Barboza in a likely No. 1 contender’s match, Nurmagomedov may have briefly lost his shot at Octagon gold, but the lightweight strap will not be far away if he overcomes the feared Brazilian on Dec. 30 at UFC 219.
Ahead of the contest, Nurmagomedov has employed the services of a new nutritionist, Tyler Minton, a name that may be familiar for MMA fans due to his association with George Lockhart and past work with Chris Weidman, Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, Max Holloway at UFC 218, and many others. With less than 24 hours before UFC 219’s weigh-ins — which kick off Friday at 9 a.m. PT/Noon ET — MMA Fighting sat down with Minton for an update on Nurmagomedov’s progress, his road to UFC 219, how things have changed since the spring, a potential move to featherweight, and more.
(Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and concision.)
Shaun Al-Shatti: Thanks for taking the time today, Tyler. So it’s Thursday afternoon, less than a day out from weigh-ins. How is Khabib looking right now? How is the cut feeling about 12 hours away from doing what he needs to do?
Tyler Minton: He’s about four pounds off. He’s still eating every three hours, we’re still having carbohydrates. A lot of guys cut the carbohydrates all week — we did carbohydrates with breakfast this morning. He had eggs and berries and things like that, so he’s still got good energy. He’ll still drinking water today. Like, we don’t ever actually stop drinking water until the cut starts Thursday night, and then after he cuts tonight, he’ll eat too. Like, I’ll give him fruit after he cuts weight tonight.
So he’s got four pounds to go, but he’s been drinking two gallons of water a day. Two gallons of water is 16 pounds, so you don’t drink 16 pounds and lose 16 pounds every day, meaning he’s got a lot of water still in him, so I’m not worried. He says he feels great, says this is the best he’s ever felt. So he might be maybe a little too eager, but he’s like, ‘I’d fight tonight if I have to,’ so he feels good, so that’s good.
SA: When we saw Khabib today at media day and open workouts, he looked good. He looked healthy. I remember back to UFC 209, this seems like a much better situation than where he was on that Thursday. It sounds as if there were some lifestyle changes.
TM: I don’t know all the details from that time, but I know from my own experience, sometimes a fighter’s too heavy going in, things like that. But I know that sometimes one of the best things that could ever happen to a fighter for the rest of his career is to miss weight like that one time. These guys that are always so close, or they’re right on the verge — miss weight for an important fight and that’s the best thing that could ever happen to you. He came in a little bit lighter this time, he took it more serious. So I was handed a much more determined and strict athlete, so it made my job a lot easier that he was already coming into this with the fear from [UFC 209].
SA: Four pounds out from this distance, that seems encouraging compared to the numbers we normally hear from fighters.
TM: It’s turning out.
Someone tweeted me, they said something about, ‘Are you trying to tempt the MMA gods, because this is how you tempt the MMA gods,’ so I hate to say that it’s just going to be a breeze and all of that. But I will say that I have never, ever worked with a fighter that we were this (close). Following the hydration protocols, the food protocols, everything, only four pounds away on Thursday night, I’ve never dealt with that.
SA: So what’s the process like, then, for the rest of the night and getting ready for tomorrow morning?
TM: So we’ll still drink water as he’s thirsty today. I don’t put a limit on it. I don’t say, ‘You need to drink two gallons, you need to drink one gallon.’ I say, ‘Listen, if you’re thirsty, drink,’ because we really believe that. What we do is we work with the body. The body is smart. The body is very smart and it’s very hard to kill the human body. It takes physical trauma and a lot of trauma to kill the body, so I’ve always laughed anytime someone goes, ‘I’m trying to trick the body.’ You’re not smart, you’re not going to. So a lot of these guys, they try to do all of these things that are just crazy.
We study the human body, we know how the body works, how the body recovers, how the body metabolizes things, and we use those to do what is going to make the body want to work with us. So we keep doing that. When he’s thirsty, I need him to drink, because every time you’re thirsty and you’re not drinking, that’s a signal to the body like, ‘Hey, something’s wrong, we might be dying.’ And that’s the truth. So today is a very low stress day. Again, we don’t want the body to know that we’re about to cut weight, and that’s why we’ve kept him eating. He’ll eat every three hours today, same calories he’s had all week. The calories don’t even drop today.
So keep eating, we’ll eat every three hours, drink when he’s thirsty, and then tonight we’ll hit the tub. Probably get close, if not right on. No matter what, we’ll cut tonight though, and then we’ll go back to the room, get comfortable, I’ll have him eat a little bit more before he goes to bed and hopefully sleep really good, and either float the rest off or cut a little bit more in the morning.
SA: What has it been like working with Khabib for the first time? I always wonder about athletes who have had so much success in the past — has he been responsive to suggestions and ideas, or he is more like he wants to do things how he does them?
TM: No, he’s super coachable. Very coachable. And that was one thing you always worry about. That’s a nutritionist or any coach’s worst nightmare, is a guy who’s just stuck in their ways. And Khabib had all the positive risk factors for someone who was going to be difficult to work with. He’s had issues before making weight. There’s a communication barrier because of different cultures, different languages — which, he speaks English, and very good, but there’s that communication barrier a little bit. He’s, what, 24-0 doing it the way he’s done it? I mean, a guy who’s had that much success doing things, sometimes it’s like, ‘Man, what am I going to be able to tell them?’
But immediately — I mean, if he has a question, he asks me. If someone asks him about something, he looks at me and wants me to answer. Super easy. He talks to me, texts me, calls me. If I’m not around, he’s texting and calling me constantly, saying this is what’s going on or asking what’s next. So he’s been super coachable and super in-tune to the process.
SA: Seemingly out of nowhere, all of a sudden, today he’s talking about featherweight. Is this real or is he messing with everyone?
TM: Well, he means it. This cut’s going really well. Again, I’m not trying to tempt the MMA gods here, but the cut’s going really well. And when a guy sees that the cut’s going really well, and you see big possible fights at 145, you think, ‘Well, are there things I could start doing two months sooner and be 10 pounds lighter to make the cut easier?’ You start looking, ‘Are there things I could do?’
So I think he’s seeing this weight cut’s going better and seeing maybe if he even starts sooner, it would be easier. But no, I think he means it.
SA: In your professional opinion, do you think he could cut down that way in a healthy manner?
TM: I think his body will do it. That being said, I think he would need to have plenty of time. He would need to have the most integrity he’s ever had in his life. He’s going to have to be on his game way ahead of time. It might be worth it, it might not. Some guys, just because you can make a weight doesn’t mean you should.
Look at Robert Whittaker. He can make 170, but obviously he shouldn’t have. He’s better at 185. There’s a lot of that. So I think he can, it’s just, I would like to see where he’s at a couple months after this fight, what he’s walking at. I can generally tell you there if a guy’s ballooned up so much weight after one fight, it’s just not reasonable.