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That time being Conor McGregor's friend made for the 'most awkward hour' of Artem Lobov's life

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Artem Lobov just wanted to take a ride with his buddy and then have a quiet lunch off to the side. Instead, he was plopped right into the middle of the fray.

In September, Lobov joined his good friend and training partner Conor McGregor at a media lunch in Downtown Los Angeles. He had no idea he would be sat down right next to McGregor at the table -- in the sights of dozens of reporters, microphones and cameras.

McGregor answered questions for more than an hour. Not a single inquiry came Lobov's way. The man couldn't even eat in peace with all the recording devices rolling, chronicling his every move.

"It was the most awkward hour of my life," Lobov said at a more recent media lunch.

Lobov had no idea he would be seated next to McGregor. At the time, he was only an Ultimate Fighter contestant in the shadow of one of the sport's biggest stars. If McGregor is in the room, you can be sure that he'll absorb all the spotlight.

This time around, things were a little different. Lobov actually has a real UFC fight coming up Friday at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale in Las Vegas. And the UFC public relations team did him and fellow teammate Gunnar Nelson a great service by scheduling their session with media half hour before McGregor arrived.

Lobov was far more comfortable, quick with a joke even. Back in September, he was mortified.

"What the f*ck am I doing here?" he said he thought. "I swear I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. ... I thought, I can't wait to get the f*ck out of here. That's what I was thinking."

Lobov (11-10-1-1), a Russian who trains with McGregor at SBG Ireland in Dublin, is the very definition of a journeyman. He's been an MMA pro for five years, fighting all over the world. "The Russian Hammer" has gotten his shot in the UFC now, in no small part due to McGregor. But he held his own on TUF and provided some of the most exciting fights of the season, including three knockout victories. He'll meet Ryan Hall in the TUF lightweight finals Friday.

If there is one thing that Lobov has, it's power. Three years ago, Lobov broke McGregor's orbital bone in sparring and McGregor had to pull out of a Cage Warriors fight with Jim Alers. McGregor was going to defend his featherweight title against Alers at the time.

Instead, McGregor moved up to lightweight a few months later and knocked out Ivan Buchinger in the first round to win the Cage Warriors 155-pound title. Soon after, the UFC signed the brash Irishman.

"I hit him and I broke his orbital," Lobov said. "He was out of the fight. It all turned out good. ... It worked out in the end. At the time, it was a crazy story."

McGregor and Lobov spar much more safely nowadays. But not much else has changed between the two, Lobov said. McGregor will attempt to unify the UFC featherweight titles against Jose Aldo in the main event of UFC 194 on Saturday night in Vegas.

"In terms of our friendship, nothing has changed," Lobov said. "Just instead of taking the bus to training, we're driving a Ferrari or Mercedes. That's the only thing that has changed. But in terms of our relationship, it's still the same."

Vehicles have been upgraded. Media lunches? The jury is still out.