The Khabib Effect: Identifying Russia’s Next MMA Star

By Elena Katretskaya Dec 19, 2018


Khabib Nurmagomedov has set a high standard for his countrymen, having captured the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title with a fourth-round submission of Conor McGregor at UFC 229 on Oct. 6. The undefeated 30-year-old owns a perfect 27-0 record and has since flirted with hypothetical matchups against Georges St. Pierre and Floyd Mayweather. What comes next for Nurmagomedov remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to churn out top-shelf mixed martial arts talent. It begs the question: Who’s Next? Below are eight up-and-coming fighters who could follow in Nurmagomedov’s footsteps.

Zabit Magomedsharipov

Age: 27
Team: Almeida Jiu-Jitsu
Promotion: UFC
Record: 16-1
Division: Featherweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Magomedsharipov hails from Khasavyurt, Dagestan, and started wrestling at age 10. Wushu and sanda later drew his interest, and he made his professional mixed martial arts debut in 2012. He captured the Absolute Championship Berkut crown four years later, made one successful title defense and packed his bags for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. One of the tallest fighters in the featherweight division at 6-foot, Magomedsharipov has compiled a perfect 4-0 record inside the Octagon, earning three post-fight performance bonuses in the process. He last fought at UFC 228 on Sept. 8, when he submitted Brandon Davis with a modified kneebar. Many see Magomedsharipov as a future title contender at 145 pounds.

Petr Yan

Age: 25
Team: Michael the Archangel
Promotion: UFC
Record: 10-1
Division: Bantamweight
Next Fight: vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade | UFC 232 | Dec. 29

Yan was born in the small town of Dudinka, Russia, where he began his formal boxing training. After ninth grade, he moved with his parents to Omsk. Yan turned professional as a 20-year-old in December 2013, won the 2015 Absolute Championship Berkut bantamweight grand prix and went on to capture promotional gold at 135 pounds. Soon after, the Ultimate Fighting Championship came calling, intrigued by his concussive punching power and obvious charisma. Yan has rattled off back-to-back victories over Teruto Ishihara and Jin Soo Son since joining the UFC roster in June. Within the last month, he received his American visa and took aim at potential rivals in the featherweight division.

Denis Lavrentyev

Age: 30
Team: Judo Ural Western Siberia
Promotion: Russian Cagefighting Championship
Record: 6-1
Division: Bantamweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Lavrentyev was born in the Kurgan region, where he started fighting at the age of 6 under the direction of his father -- a Master of Sport in the former Soviet Union. He passed along his abilities to his son, a decorated judoka who made the Russian national team and became a two-time world champion. Two years ago, Lavrentyev packed his bags for the United States, not for Olympic training but for MMA. He entered the cage for the first time in 2017 and has since compiled a 6-1 record. Lavrentyev has knockout power and an understanding of grappling that shields him from the strengths of many of his opponents. He trains alongside Petr Yan, and it does not figure to be long before he joins his teammate in the UFC.

Evgeniy Ignatiev

Age: 23
Team: Ural Top Team
Promotion: Fight Nights Global
Record: 12-2-2
Division: Bantamweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Ignatiev was born in Talitsa, a city of less than 20,000 people in the Sverdlovsk region. At the age of 6, he joined the only karate school in the area and later earned the Master of Sport designation. By 2014, Ignatiev had impacted the entire Ural region in various competitions but shied away from turning pro. Instead, he competed twice as an amateur in the Russian Fight Night organization and spread eight more bouts across various regional promotions before establishing a foothold in the professional ranks. Ignatiev has proven durable and prepared while showing an ability to adapt to his opposition. He has sharp standup and strong takedown defense -- a combination that could ultimately lead him to a major organization. Ignatiev failed in his bid to capture the Fight Nights Global featherweight championship in 2017, dropped to bantamweight and has since rattled off back-to-back wins.

Yusuf Raisov

Age: 23
Team: Fight Club Berkut
Promotion: Absolute Championship Berkut
Record: 14-1
Division: Featherweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Raisov hails from Grozny. He began his training as a karateka at age 6 and three years later transitioned to combat sambo. When Raisov made his MMA debut in 2014, it became evident that he was comfortable working from either stance, had excellent timing with his knees and was technically sound on the ground. He has secured eight of his 14 career victories by submission. Raisov suffered his only pro defeat in a five-round decision to Marat Balaev but later avenged the setback and captured the Absolute Championship Berkut featherweight title. Given that both Zabit Magomedsharipov and Petr Yan came to the UFC as ACB champions, Raisov figures to be a target of the promotion in the not-too-distant future. He has proven to be a strong, versatile fighter and shown a willingness to engage his opponents verbally -- a nice trait for those who seek to ply their trade in the United States. Raisov recently made the decision to move to 155 pounds in hopes of accelerating his development.

Nikolay Aleksakhin

Age: 27
Team: Rati
Promotion: Russian Cagefighting Championship
Record: 22-5
Division: Welterweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Aleksakhin emerged from Seltso, a city in the Bryansk region with a population of roughly 16,000 people. He debuted at the age 20 and later took part in the 2012 M-1 Fighter tournament under the M-1 Global banner. While some might mistake him for a model, looks can be deceiving. Aleksakhin linked arms with One Championship in 2016 and challenged Ben Askren for the promotion’s welterweight title, losing a five-round decision to the Olympic wrestler. He favors striking, and his excellent takedown defense affords him the opportunity to hunt for knockouts against most opponents. Aleskakhin currently finds himself on a four-fight winning streak that includes technical knockout victories over former M-1 Global champion Yasubey Enomoto and UFC veterans Dominique Steele and Michael Graves.

Eduard Vartanyan

Age: 27
Team: Strela Team
Promotion: Absolute Championship Berkut
Record: 18-4
Division: Lightweight
Next Fight: None Scheduled

Born and raised in Moscow, Vartanyan traveled a difficult road to a career in MMA. He made his pro debut at the age of 20, arrived in Absolute Championship Berkut a little more than three years later and established himself as one of the organization’s foremost stars despite not having captured a championship. Vartanyan has lost two title fights, one of them a controversial decision, but used the defeat to raise his profile and promote the idea that the championship should be held in higher regard. From there, the public bought into him and allowed ACB to sell out shows with him as a draw. Vartanyan excels on camera, increasing his value and popularity. A high-level wrestler with charisma, he takes a detailed and tactical approach to fighting, which makes him unique find.

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