Sherdog Prospect Watch: Mamed Khalidov

By Tomasz Marciniak Nov 2, 2009
People of the Caucasus have fighting in their blood, and Mamed Khalidov stands as no exception. The Poland-based Chechen -- who will square off with middleweight champion Jorge Santiago at Sengoku “Eleventh Battle” on Nov. 7 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo -- simply went with the flow.

“In Chechnya, combat sports are very popular, and the youths usually train them,” says Khalidov, 29. “Judo, karate, wrestling, boxing are all more popular than football or volleyball.”

Khalidov’s first foray into martial arts came when he started training karate at age 12. His older brother, who had some success in the discipline, showed young Khalidov a couple of tricks, and he was hooked. His trainer regarded him as a talented student, but the training was cut short after about a year when the first Chechen war broke out and Khalidov’s family fled the republic.

After the war, his family urged him to study abroad. Khalidov had his choice between Italy and Poland, both completely unknown to him at the time, and decided on the latter only because it was closer to home. He arrived in Wroclaw -- a city where foreign students took their intensive language courses before moving on to their intended destinations -- with a couple of his compatriots. Khalidov, who was to study marketing and administration, then had to make a trip across the country to Olsztyn, the city out of which he fights to this day.

When a local fight camp, Arrachion MMA, opened in 2003, Khalidov decided to rekindle his passion for combat sports and joined the fledgling team. Once more, he was thrown in at the deep end.

“After just four months of training, I went to Lithuania for a fight,” he says. “In my life, I never took part in any competition. I didn’t know what stress was. I didn’t know how to conserve energy.”

His mixed martial arts debut proved as much.

“I gave a good fight but just ran out of gas,” Khalidov says. “I was completely unprepared.”

Lithuania remained inhospitable to the Chechen, who lost there three times in 2004 and 2005. He now looks back on those fights as learning experiences.

“I learned how to fight only after the third bout,” Khalidov says. “I learned to save stamina, to not be rash.”

Khalidov has applied that knowledge well and has not lost in 17 fights since, emerging as one of the top middleweights in Europe. During that stretch, he has gone the distance only once, showing a diverse repertoire by finishing half his fights by knockout or technical knockout, the other half by submission.

Maciej Okraszewski/Sherdog.com

Khalidov is 19-3-1.
When asked what sets Khalidov apart, trainer Szymon Bonkowski points to the quickness with which his student learns new skills.

“What makes him unique is his feel for the fight,” Bonkowski says. “It’s something you have to be born with.”

A deeply religious person, Khalidov prays five times a day and states that, ultimately, God will decide whether or not he wins a fight. Each year, he puts his training aside to observe Ramadan, the month during which Muslims are forbidden to drink and eat from dawn until dusk.

“It requires a certain adjustment,” Khalidov says. “If you fast, then it’s best to wait a month or six weeks before you fight. During this time, the body is so weakened that it’s impossible to do any training. Even when you eat something after sunset, you really just want to sit and rest.”

Khalidov remains somewhat of an unknown quantity globally. His lone fight in the United States came against journeyman Jason Guida under the EliteXC umbrella. It may not seem like heavy exposure, but Khalidov, to his own surprise, has developed a small cult following in America. He believes the nickname “The Cannibal” originated on one of the forums there, though he has never been particularly fond of it.

“I don’t eat people. I’m not aggressive,” Khalidov says. “It would fit a fighter who’s really aggressive, one that would come in and dump everyone on their heads and win by breaking his opponents’ jaws. It has to be more fitting, and I don’t believe this one is.”

Like most Poland-based MMA people, Khalidov was enamored with Pride Fighting Championships, which had a brief run on television in the country. He dreamed of one day competing inside the promotion.

“I always wanted to fight in Japan,” Khalidov says. “I don’t really know why. I took a liking to the rules, the ring, the audience. Also, at the time, Pride was home to the world’s best.”

Though Pride has long since disappeared, his scheduled fight with Santiago, one of the world’s top 10 middleweights, has its perks, even though the American Top Team standout’s title will not be on the line.

“Anytime you fight against a titleholder of a certain promotion,” Khalidov says, “it’s a big occasion.”

The bout represents, by far, the biggest opportunity of his career. Khalidov’s camp deemed him ready for the considerable step up in competition.

“Mamed is still developing and surely hasn’t reached his potential yet,” Bonkowski says. “I believe, though, that he is capable of upsetting anyone in his weight class.”

For Khalidov, the chance to tangle with one of the sport’s elite fighters -- Santiago has posted nine straight wins, all of them finishes -- provides more than enough motivation.

“I don’t fight for titles. I don’t have to be world champion,” he says. “I just want to be able to compete among the best and hope it all goes well.”

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