Before he retired earlier this year, UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov was known for fearlessly mauling opponents.
But lately, he’s picked an unlikely adversary: ring girls. Announcing that Gorilla Fighting Championship, the Russian MMA league he now runs, won’t have ring girls, he called them “the most useless people in martial arts.”
The punch made waves.
“I was like, here we go again. I think with Khabib, there are cultural differences,” said longtime ring girl Arianny Celeste of the Russian’s conservative Muslim faith. “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it. But again, I am kind of used to it.”
After all, this wasn’t the first jab taken at the scantily clad models who have been fixtures since the UFC’s inception, promoting the sport on fight nights and at other events. In 2015, fighter Ronda Rousey called them out, saying ring girls shouldn’t make more than fighters, which led to a war of words between her and Celeste.
But ring girl Brookliyn Wren, who started in 2017 and describes the job as “bringing a little peace to the violence,” threw water on the premise.
“We aren’t allowed to say how much we make, but I promise you it’s not as much as the fighters,” she told The Post. She doesn’t understand the snubs. “We don’t take away from the fighters. Everybody loves Vanna White. No one called her useless.”
None of the UFC ring girls interviewed by The Post will divulge their pay, but they all say the gig is lucrative — and a springboard.
Brittney Palmer an MMA fixture for 15 years, is a contemporary artist. Her work is displayed at the W Hotel in Hollywood and the Carnevale Gallery at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and she has collaborated on projects with Conor McGregor, UFC and Reebok.
Wren, a model who was scouted by UFC honcho Dana White while working as a cocktail waitress in Vegas, saw her profile rise immediately when she started with the UFC. The Alaska native and laser-hair-removal specialist has over 93,000 Instagram followers, up from 1,700 when she started.
Celeste is a mother of one and entrepreneur who owns a subscription jewelry service called Girlfriend Box. And Brazilian model Luciana Andrade is studying to take the bar exam in February. “I have an interest in immigration and criminal law, but maybe one day I will work in the legal department at UFC,” she said.
While they admit they are the window dressing to the violence, sometimes they’ve been a little too close to the action. In 2018, after McGregor was defeated by Nurmagomedov, a wild melee broke out between the fighters’ camps. Wren and Palmer were nearly caught in the crossfire.
“It was crazier in person than it looked on TV,” said Wren.
Luciana Andrade, 35
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Dating status: Lives with her boyfriend in LA.
Fun fact: Is studying for the bar exam
Brittney Palmer, 34
Hometown: Las Vegas
Dating status: in a relationship
Fun fact: Is a contemporary artist who collabroates with UNICEF and AMFAR and whose work is collected by Conor McGregor
Palmer called it the “scariest moment.” As all hell broke loose, security rushed the women to safety. “They put our hoods over us and grabbed us and pushed us through the crowd. It was one of those ‘Whoa!’ moments where reality comes down,” she said.
Online, the ring girls see their fair share of vitriol from fans but, as Andrade said, “They’re always so nice in person.” For diehard UFC fans, the women continue to be big draws at signings and events.
“Arianny gets the most marriage proposals. I get a lot of music and art lovers. Fans have given me art supplies,” said Palmer. Andrade, a gamer, said one supporter sent her a customized Super Nintendo.
Brookliyn Wren, 35
Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska
Dating Status: In a new relationship
Fun Fact: Reads up to three books a week
Arianny Celeste, 35
Hometown: Las Vegas
Relationship status: Lives with fiancé
Fun fact: Has been to over 18 countries with the UFC
Last month, they found rare support from inside the octagon. UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko fired a salvo at Nurmagomedov in defense of the ring girls, calling them a “beautiful decoration.”
“To say they don’t belong to martial arts, it’s so bad . . . Without all of this, any fighter would not be in the position of where he is right now . . . All these little details, they fulfill the full picture,” added the Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian fighter.
The four women said Shevchenko’s words meant a lot.
“For a couple of years, we were getting [verbally] beaten and no one spoke up for us. She is a champion and someone who supports us,” said Andrade.
When pressed, these women aren’t afraid to show the ballsy bravado of their fighting counterparts.
“If anyone had the chance to do what we do, they would take it,” said Wren, adding, “But not everyone is confident enough to walk around 17,000 people in a bikini.”