The Russian Menace: Albert Duraev Sets His Eye on the UFC Middleweight Division

By Tudor Leonte Oct 27, 2021

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight newcomer is a former ACB two-division champion.

The upcoming UFC 267 card will see Albert Duraev make his promotional debut against Roman Kopylov. Duraev (14-3) joins the Nevada-based promotion after earning a contract on Dana White's Contender Series and is riding a nine-bout win streak. The past opponents of “Machete” boast an impressive combined record of 305 wins, 131 losses, and three draws. The Russian joins the big league at the age of 32, after taking a three-year hiatus. With nine out of 14 wins coming by submission, he presents himself as a grappling ace who prefers the rear-naked choke to finish his foes.

Like many Russian fighters, Duraev comes from a mixed sambo and boxing background. These two disciplines helped him cruise through his first three professional fights. His mixed martial arts debut took place in 2011 on a Russian Martial Arts Union card, where he easily submitted Magomedsalam Kaynurov via armbar in the first stanza. He applied the same technique on Ali Akhmedov before facing his first real test in UFC veteran Xavier Foupa-Pokam. The pair collided on the “Fedor vs. Monson” card in M-1 Global. At the time, the Frenchman was on a four-bout skid and looked past his prime, but the experience gap between “Professor X” and his opponent was enormous. Nonetheless, Duraev locked in a triangle choke that forced Foupa-Pokam to tap 2 minutes, 37 seconds into Round 2.

Perhaps the Fight Club Berkut representative obtained too much too soon, because he didn’t look like himself in his next couple of fights. Duraev suffered his first defeat when a knee by Ukraine’s Evgeni Fomenko rendered him unconscious in the second frame of their clash in March 2012. As often happens in combat sports, Duraev didn’t take enough time to recover from the shot, and three months later, he jumped back on the horse and signed with M-1 Global, where he fought current UFC contender Ramazan Emeev. Predictably, the clash lasted 96 seconds before Duraev was left lying on the canvas.

Duraev had learned his lesson the hard way, but he bounced back on track in February 2013, when he smashed Julio Cesar Alves via second-round TKO. Shortly afterward, he forced Melvin van Suijdam to tap to a rear-naked choke in the opening frame. Duraev’s adventure under the M-1 banner ended after he clashed with current Bellator MMA contender Anatoly Tokov at M-1 Challenge 40. At the time, it appeared to be almost a mismatch, considering that Tokov only had lost once in his last 15 fights. The match saw Duraev outgrappled on the canvas before taking a flurry of raging ground punches that turned off his lights.

The defeat fueled Duraev’s pride, and, after signing with Absolute Championship Berkut, laid the foundation for his current nine-bout winning streak. He received a favorable matchup for his cage return at ACB 13, where he submitted Damian Bilas with ease in the opening frame. Next, he faced the experienced Patrik Kincl, but induced the Czech to tap thanks to a third-round triangle choke. Duraev then upended Sergey Khandozhko via unanimous decision. After that victory, his third straight, he was rewarded with the opportunity to fight for the inaugural 170-pound championship. Duraev and Ustarmagomed Gadzhidaudov put on a hard-fought battle, but eventually it was Duraev who took home the belt following a rear-naked choke in the fifth stanza.

In his first title defense, Duraev put away Michail Tsarev with punches in the ACB 35 main event. The Russian reached his opponent with a left hook followed by a blast of an uppercut that dropped Tsarev onto the mat. Duraev finished the job with a series of hammer fists, necessitating the referee’s intervention at the 2:14 mark of Round 1. His next championship fight should have gone down at ACA 45, where he was set for a rematch with Kincl, but Duraev missed weight and had to relinquish his welterweight championship as the promotion forced him to move up to 185 pounds. His debut in the new weight division couldn’t have gone any better as he submitted UFC and Bellator MMA alum Clifford Starks with a rear-naked choke.

Once he felt the sweet taste of gold, Duraev wanted more, and the promotion was happy to allow him to fight for the vacant middleweight championship. The Russian proved himself as dominant in the new weight category as he was at 170 pounds. His championship bout with Vyacheslav Vasilevsky lasted a little more than three minutes as Duraev laid waste to his opponent en route to becoming the first two-division champion in ACB history. He also defended the belt once after outpointing Piotr Strus via unanimous decision at ACB 89.

The victory over Strus was Duraev’s last battle for a while. Apparently, when ACB rebranded in Absolute Championship Akhmat, the Russian didn’t sign with the Grozny-based promotion again, opting instead to test himself in KSW. However, he never actually debuted in the Polish organization, reportedly due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Between contract disputes and global pandemics, he spent three years without competing before he stepped into the cage to face Caio Bittencourt on the Contender Series.

At DWCS, he spent 20 seconds on the feet before shooting for a double-leg takedown. Bittencourt fought to get back up, only to give up mount to Duraev, who punished his opponent’s recklessness with a series of punches to the face. Duraev moved to side control and was aiming for a crucifix, but his Brazilian foe preferred to concede the back rather than staying in that sticky situation. Moving from bad to worse, the Russian landed some punches and then seized the moment to attack with a neck crank. Bittencourt couldn’t help but tap at the 3:29 mark of the first frame.

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