Brutal, relentless and savage – three words that encompass the fighting style of the 27-year-old Dagestani warrior, Islam Ramazanovich Makhachev. This Combat Sambo World Champion currently competes at Lightweight, one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC and is scheduled to fight Davi Ramos, September 7th on the highly anticipated UFC 242 card in Abu Dhabi, fighting alongside his lifelong friend and training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Islam Makhachev, a prospect who many believe is destined to be a UFC champion in the near future has mostly gone unnoticed in the eyes of the majority of MMA fans due to him being labelled as just “Khabib’s friend”. However Islam Makhachev has proven himself to be much more than that with an impressive record of 17-1 and by currently being on an impressive 5 fight win streak comprising of an impressive armbar, which caused the veteran Kajan Johnson to tap as well as a first-round knockout of Gleison Tibau- a man who some believe should have gotten the decision victory over Khabib Nurmagomedov back at UFC 148 in 2012.
Although Makhachev Mirrors some aspects of Khabib’s ground and pound style, he is a talented and unique fighter who’s abilities and skills should not at all be overlooked or underestimated.
Located in the mountainous terrain of the North Caucasus, The Republic of Dagestan is a place now known for producing the toughest and most resilient athletes on the planet. It may be baffling how one small area is able to produce such a large amount of skilled fighters and champions. Dagestan can be regarded as a foundry of champions with; Dagestani born wrestlers taking home 5 Olympic medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as several Dagestani fighters in the UFC. So it’s no surprise that many foreign teams make the journey to Dagestan for elite training. Such unbelievable talent may be the spawn of the perilous topography of the region, which creates a process of natural selection that favours the toughest specimens.
Vast and powerful empires including, The Huns, Mongols, Romans, Persians and Ottoman Empire have all initiated invasions in order to take control of the heavily fortified region. The most recent conflict occurred against the Russian empire in the 1800s, in which Dagestan was taken over by the Russians. The nation’s violent history has aided in creating a fighting culture for the battle-ready citizens of Dagestan.
Islam adopted a militaristic training regimen as a child under the tutelage of Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov a well-respected MMA coach known as the father of MMA in Dagestan, who did everything in his power to equip his students with the necessary tools to deal with the harsh realities of the Caucasus. Abdulmanap held to the firm belief that war in the region was a harsh reality that the youth of Dagestan should go through rigorous training in order to be prepared for from a young age.
Foundation As A Fighter
Before beginning his MMA career Islam Makhachev competed in the grappling oriented sport of Combat Sambo. Sambo is a martial art and combat sport developed in Soviet-era Russia. Sambo takes the ground fighting and grappling aspects of judo and wrestling, such as throws and submission holds, and then combines them with standing fighting techniques such as punching, kicking, knee strikes, and elbow strikes. While sambo was initially developed for the military the fighting style quickly developed into a competitive sport within Russia.
In 2009 at the age of 17 Islam Makhachev competed in the 135lb division of the Russian Combat Sambo Championship and emerged victorious ahead of former UFC flyweight Ali Bagautinov. Making the jump to MMA was made easy for Islam by having previously trained combat sambo, who even said after his UFC debut against Leo Kuntz at UFC 187 that he found after training with a master in Combat sambo a competitor “would be able to take a fight at any level”.
Shortly after his impressive performance Islam was offered his first professional fight and would make his MMA debut at Tsumada Fighting Championship 4 in which he won via Unanimous decision. This transition to MMA did not stop Islam from competing in Combat Sambo bouts and even went on to win the in the 150lb division of the Combat Sambo Club World Cup.
Following this Makhachev went on a killing spree in the Russian promotion M-1 as well as in smaller promotions such as the SFC (Siberian Fighting Championship) trampling his opponents and obtaining a flawless 11-0 record, with 7 of them coming by way of submission, TKO or KO, before signing with the UFC in 2015.
His first fight in the UFC was against a fighter who was also making his debut in the promotion, Leo Kuntz.
As soon as the first round of the bout began Islam made it apparent that he possessed the striking skills necessary to keep even expert strikers on the back foot by clipping Kuntz with a big overhand. Following a couple of brief striking exchanges, Makhachev swiftly got Kuntz to the mat with a beautiful hip throw from which he seamlessly transitioned into side control and quickly took Leo Kuntz’s Back. Leo kept his composure on the ground denying Makhachev’s submission attempt and got back to his feet where he threw a right hook to which Islam answered with a right hook of his own. Islam successfully forced Kuntz to worry about both the dangerous takedowns and the powerful strikes Islam was landing.
The second round was much of the same with Islam landing a few good punches before taking the fight to the ground where he sunk in a rear-naked choke and left Kuntz with no other choice but to tap and free himself from the smothering hold of Makhachev.
Islam Makhachev made his Second appearance in the octagon at UFC 192 against the Brazilian striker Adriano Martins, who was coming off a win over Rustam Khabilov, a Combat Sambo World champion just like Islam.
This venture into the octagon did not prove to be successful for Makhachev however with him walking out of the octagon having suffered a knockout loss as well as the loss of his undefeated record.
Carrying the confidence from his previous bout Islam made the walk and as soon as the bell rang he took to the centre of the octagon and threw a left body kick followed by looping left hand over the top. His opponent Adriano Martins was clever enough to see that Islam was being overly aggressive and was looking for a big knockout punch. Adriano then began to retreat allowing Islam to feel comfortable throwing reckless overhands, which left his chin wide open. This continued for 2 minutes until Makhachev overreached with an overhand left and Adriano saw the opening to land a right hook clean onto the chin of Makhachev, dropping Makhachev to the canvas.
As Islam’s knees buckled and head snapped back he fell to the floor with an unconscious look in his eyes. The referee was observant enough to call off the fight the second Makachev hit the floor reducing the amount of damage he would have taken from Adriano’s ground strikes.
Islam was able to find a lesson in spite of this loss, stating in an interview that “A single blow can decide the fate of a fight. Now I act in a cage a little more carefully, I think more.”
Back To Winning Form
This new-found knowledge would benefit him in the rest of his career as he has not lost since and is currently on a 5 fight win streak with his most recent fight being against Armenian Arman Tsarukyan.
Arman Tsarukyan, who was making his highly anticipated UFC debut, presented himself to be a formidable opponent for Makhachev with his outstanding kickboxing capabilities. Many expected Tsarukyan to utilise his striking in order to keep Makhachev at a distance and neutralise his wrestling.
Tsarukyan defied the expectations of many and instead stood his ground and grappled against Makhachev in the first round and was even able to accomplish something none of Islam’s previous opponents was able to before- take him down. Even though Islam was not expecting to face such high-level wrestling from Tsarukyan he still managed to get the better of the grappling exchanges by using a slick trip and taking down Arman Tsarukyan.
The second round went well for Islam with Tsarukyan initiating a takedown a minute into the second round and being punished with a front headlock. Islam once again showcased his superior grappling abilities within the clinch where he waited until Tsarukyan raised his legs to attack with the knee and cleverly tripped him while he was off-balance. Grappling exchanges between the two fighters continued for the duration of the round with both switchings back and forth into a dominant position.
Sensing that Tsarukyan was getting fatigued Makhachev increased the pressure in the third round and was able to get Tsarukyan pressed against the cage. Whilst in a dominant position Islam landed impactful body strikes and worked to get his opponent to the ground. Such a high level of ground control during the fight led the judges to award a unanimous decision victory to Islam boosting his record to 17-1.
Having showcased such high level grappling as well as the ability to trade strikes with a phenomenal kickboxer Islam broke into the UFC rankings at No.15.
With Islam scheduled to fight Davi Ramos at UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi it will be interesting to see how he performs fighting on the same card as his teammates, will the added pressure prove to be too much or will the support and comradery help guide him to victory.
Whatever the outcome on September 7th it is evident that Islam Makhachev is due to go far. With the guidance of two world-class teams, Eagles MMA as well as AKA (American Kickboxing Academy) he has a clear path to the top of the UFC.