There Was Nothing Special About The Opponent, Says First Fighter To Beat McGregor
“There was nothing special about the fight or the opponent”. Hardly the review one might expect from a fighter after handing Conor McGregor his first professional loss. Before Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagemodev, it was Lithuania’s Artemji Sitenkov, who first submitted McGregor via the knee-bar after just one minute and nine seconds in the first round at Cage of Truth 3 in Dublin, Ireland on June 28, 2008.
“He was heavier than me, he was less-experienced then me, he was the better puncher,” Sitenkov said. “I thought I’d just grab him to the floor and try to submit him and I succeeded.”
The win may not have seemed particularly significant to Sitenkov at the time, just a routine win that pushed his promising record to 10-2 and helped him along the way to becoming the number one featherweight fighter in Europe. Similarly, one could hardly imagine that McGregor, who’s record fell to 2-1 on the night, would go on to become the global megastar he has become today.
“I didn’t expect him to become a superstar but I’m glad he did and I’m glad I had the experience of fighting him,” Sitenkov said.
That night, one might rationally have assumed that it was Sitenkov, and not McGregor, who was destined for UFC greatness. At one point it seemed a UFC debut was inevitable for the Lithuanian, who feels the only thing that prevented him from achieving this goal was internal politics within the UFC at the time.
“My goal was to get to the UFC but back in the days when I was number one in the European rankings, somehow the UFC didn’t want me,” Sitenkov said. “I think it’s because they didn’t want any eastern Europeans back then because there were no UFC events in this part of the world.”
Any such policy within the UFC has ceased as one can look to the current lightweight champion and McGregor’s latest conqueror, the Russian Khabib Nurmagemedov, for an example of eastern European success in the octagon today. Sitenkov anticipated when the UFC first began signing Russian fighters that a number of the company’s championships would change hands and so Nurmagemedov’s rise, unlike McGregor’s, was one he did see coming.
“Khabib is the first one so let’s see maybe my prediction will be true,” Sitenkov said.
While Sitenkov, who is now retired, never got to ply his trade amongst the likes of McGregor and Nurmagemedov in the UFC, he acknowledges that the win over McGregor certainly opened up some lucrative opportunities for him towards the tail end of his career.
“After McGregor became well-known I got a lot of fight offers and I accepted them just for the paycheck,” Sitenkov said. “If you see my fight record, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”
Sitenkov’s record does indeed suggest a clear change in career trajectory for the former European number one who finished his career losing nine of his last ten fights. While it might be easy to view Sitenkov’s career as a story of what might have been, he says he is happy to look back on his career in the sport with his health intact and stories to tell.
“I feel I’m quite successful. I’ve avoided injuries, I’m healthy and I can leave my life like a normal person,” Sitenkov said. “Of course I feel a little upset that I didn’t get into the UFC but you don’t always get what you want so I have accepted that.”
The 'normal person' life of Sitenkov these days consists of him spending his time coaching MMA in his native Lithuania as well as participating in several small business ventures. McGregor meanwhile looks destined for an octagon return in January and likely yet another seven-figure payday for the fighter who’s won both the UFC featherweight and lightweight titles during his illustrious career.
“He’s a superstar and I’m just an amateur,” Sitenkov said. “Not an amateur…mediocre.”
While the lives Sitenkov and McGregor lead today may be a million miles apart, for one night in Dublin, Sitenkov took on the UFC’s biggest star and won.Modified 14 Jan 2020, 09:41 IST