Artem Lobov claims he was crucial in helping Conor McGregor establish his whiskey brand
Conor McGregor's successful whiskey business has played a large role in the Irish former UFC champion regularly being listed among sport's best-paid superstars - but none of it would have happened without the help of Artem Lobov, the 'Russian Hammer' has revealed.
McGregor launched his Proper No. Twelve blend of Irish whiskey in 2018, a drink which was named after the Dublin suburb he grew up in and which immediately became a centerpiece of the MMA star's financial empire - particularly after he and his business partners sold their controlling stake in it for a reported $600 million last year.
And speaking to talkSPORT, former UFC fighter Lobov - who lives and trains in Dublin - says that he played a key role in helping McGregor establish the successful brand.
"A few people know, but this was actually my idea. I was the person who came up with the idea to do a whiskey for Conor," Lobov explained.
"After the second [Nate] Diaz fight, me and Conor were in the gym and we were talking one day and he says to me, 'Artem, Thor, - 'The Mountain' out of Game of Thrones - I was chatting to him, and he's offered me [an opportunity] to do my own vodka.
"He said, he was doing one in Iceland and now he's offering me the chance to do one as well. It looks like a pretty good deal what do you think about that?'"
Coincidentally Lobov, who has a Master's Degree in finance, had studied the whiskey market in Ireland as part of a presentation, and soon expressed to McGregor that there was a wide gap in the country for a new whiskey company to be established.
"I said to him before you even look any further, 'here's what I know about Irish whiskey.' I told him about my presentation from college. I told him about the dominance of Irish whiskey and all of that. He said, 'you go off and see what deal you can put together' and I went on my way."
Lobov added that he had gained some contacts in the industry while working in a Dublin hotel before his mixed martial arts career took off - something which he says was crucial to his knowledge on the subject.
"Lucky for me, when I was studying in college, I used to work in the bar at the Radisson Hotel and I had a friend who worked in the bar with me," he explained.
"We were just two 18-year-old kids. I obviously, left and did my own thing but Ivan stayed working in hospitality and worked his way up to be the general manager of a hotel.
"He put me in touch with a man called Niall of Classic Drinks, a top drink distribution company in Ireland. Niall was kind enough to meet me, at the Radisson actually, and he was very generous with his information.
"Once I got that information, I went on and met all different whiskey distilleries. I called some and met some in person. I did my research and put a beautiful deal together."
Once Lobov analyzed the facts and figures, he was sure that he had come across an extremely viable business opportunity - and he soon pitched it to both McGregor and his manager, Audie Attar of Paradigm Sports Management.
"Once the deal was ready, I went to Conor and I said, 'Conor, I have the deal ready for you. This is going to be a billion-dollar deal, no messing here.' I'm not sure if he took me seriously or not at the time with the billion dollars," Lobov said.
"I introduced Audie [Attar] and the rest of the Paradigm [Sports Management] team to my deal and all the people I was already working with and then we got going.
"We continued working on it and as you can see it was a massive success. I'm really happy to see that and I'm really happy to be a part of it."
But given the millions that his whiskey business has added to his bank account, one might have expected McGregor to line Lobov's pockets a little - especially after last year's big-money sale.
But the Russian Hammer wouldn't accept a penny from one of the world's richest athletes.
"Conor offered me $1 million but I turned it down, I didn't accept it," he explained.
"You know, throughout my career whenever I have helped Conor with camps, he offered to pay me for them camps, but I never accepted money from him.
"I said, 'we've always been friends and helped each other. I never paid you for my camps so I'm not gonna accept money from you for my camps either.'"
Lobov has pledged that more details will be revealed in his autobiography which he has been working on since he retired from combat sports shortly after being defeated by Ukraine's Denys Berinchyk in a bare-knuckle boxing contest in 2021.
He fought in the UFC on seven occasions, and was also known for defeating former world champion Paulie Malignaggi in a bare-knuckle boxing match in 2019.
READ MORE: Bloodied Russian MMA star Lobov set to retire after brutal bare-knuckle loss to Ukrainian in scrap surrounded by sandbags (VIDEO)