If you’re a UFC fan, you know that certain countries seem to produce more successful fighters than others. And if you’re really in the know, you know that Russia – specifically the southern republic of Dagestan – is one of those countries. This tiny republic in Russia has a population of less than 3 million people, but it’s given us some of the most dominant fighters in UFC history.
The current kingpin is lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. He has taken over the throne vacated by fellow Makhachkala native Khabib Nurmagomedov to become the best fighter in the division and perhaps the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Websites providing UFC odds made him a -250 betting favorite for his recent rematch with featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and his knockout victory was yet another dominant display. The world now wonders what could be next on the agenda for the 155-pound champion.
The obvious answer is a rematch with Charles Oliveira, the man that Makhachev defeated to become champion. the pair were slated for a rematch at the recent UFC 294 event however, the Brazilian former champion had to withdraw from the bout two weeks out due to an injury. Volkanovski stepped up and was ultimately sent down, and now attention turns back to Charles Do Bronx.
But when it comes to Dagestan itself, what’s their secret? Let’s take a look at Dagestan’s fighting prowess and take a look at some of the best UFC fighters to come out of this region.
What Makes Dagestanis So Fearsome?
Fighting culture is deep-rooted in life in Dagestan. The area has a long history of wrestling – specifically, the Russian specialty of Combat Sambo – and many Dagestani fighters grow up training in this discipline from a young age. Their impressive grappling game gives them the perfect base to build on when they transition into MMA and ultimately reach the UFC. In addition, the republic has a culture of physical toughness and discipline that translates well to the octagon. When you combine these factors, you get fighters with a reputation for their relentless pressure, grappling, and submission skills.
Best Dagestani Fighters
If we talk about the current UFC roster, then the lightweight champion Islam Makhachev is the undisputed king of Dagestan at present. However, the first name that pops up is that of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev’s predecessor, teammate, and mentor. The Eagle finished his career as a professional with a perfect 29-0 record, picking up huge stoppage victories against the likes of Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje. His ability to hold down bigger opponents, while delivering ground strikes, makes him a terrifying prospect for fighters in any weight class.
Another Dagestani fighter who is renowned for his striking ability is Zabit Magomedsharipov. Zabit’s striking is unorthodox and creative, making him a fan favorite. He doesn’t fight in the traditional Dagestani grappling style and instead has a diverse range of kicks and a flashy style, which makes him a must-watch in every single fight. His ability to finish fights is impressive, and it’s no surprise that he’s been rising through the ranks of the featherweight division with ease.
One thing you might notice about these fighters is that they tend to be pretty low-key outside of the octagon. They don’t trash-talk their opponents or engage in flashy antics to build hype for their fights. Instead, they let their skills do the talking. This is in keeping with the cultural values of Dagestan, which emphasize humility, respect for elders, and a strong work ethic. Their strong Islamic religious beliefs also ensure that they hold the utmost respect for their opponents at all times unless they themselves are verbally attacked… Just ask a certain Mr. McGregor what will happen if you choose to take such a path.
Perceived Striking Weakness
Of course, Dagestani fighters aren’t invincible. They do have weaknesses, just like any other fighter. One area where they occasionally struggle is in striking.
Because wrestling is such a dominant discipline in the republic, fighters from the region sometimes don’t have the same level of experience and comfort with striking that fighters from other regions do. But even when they’re outmatched on the feet, Dagestani fighters have a knack for turning the fight back to their strengths on the ground. But reigning champion Makhachev is doing his utmost to buck this trend.
In each of his last four fights, striking has been crucial to the 155-pound king’s success. He knocked out Bobby Green to set him on a collision course with champion Charles Oliveira. In his maiden title tilt, he would viciously knock down Do Bronx with strikes, before choking him out on the ground. In his first contest with Volkanovski, he more than held his own on his feet before securing a unanimous decision victory. In the pair’s recent rematch, he proved that he was the better man once and for all when he knocked out his opponent with a head kick followed up with punches. Perhaps Makhachev has laid the Dagestani striking myth to rest once and for all?
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