The Russians are coming! A look at the best Russian prospects
2018 was a big year for Russian MMA as Khabib won the UFC lightweight championship and then defended it against Conor McGregor in one of the biggest PPV’s in MMA history. You’ve also seen many Russians debut this year in the big promotions and make a name for themselves such as Petr Yan, Alexey Kunchenko, Magomed Ankalaev. Many have also proved their worth and made a name for themselves such as Magomed Bibulatov, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Magomed Mustafaev, Islam Makhachev, Mairbek Taisumov, Vadim Nemkov, and Anatoly Tokov. All them fighters all already on the biggest stage but this article is about the talent not yet there and there are so many out there. This article myself and a few other hardcore MMA journalists will give there three favorite Russian prospects.
This is a topic I was very excited to write about. Anybody that knows me well knows that I love the Russian MMA scene and Russian fighters, especially those from Dagestan and Grozny. As a professional MMA gambler, Russian MMA fighters are absolute money trains and have won me so much money over the years. To pick my top 3 prospects from Russia was a tough task though as Russian MMA is absolutely solid right now with so much talent coming through the ranks from various promotions. Even the UFC has linked up with M-1 Global to start filtering this talent under the brightest lights of the sport.
With that said, it may come as no surprise to some that all 3 of my fighters have predominantly fought in ACB.
The first prospect that I have chosen is the current ACB Bantamweight Champion, Rustam Kerimov. Kerimov is 26 years old [so roughly a couple of years away from his prime], has an undefeated record of 11-0 and is training out of DagFighter in Dagestan. Kerimov has 5 wins by KO, 1 submission and 5 decision victories on the scorecards. He also holds wins against two well-known fighters in the sport in UFC veteran Takeya Mizugaki [who he knocked out in the very first round] and a hard-fought split decision win against another veteran in Oleg Borisov [who had a record of 20-2 before stepping in the cage against Kerimov].
Kerimov has looked nothing short of impressive so far in his career. He has a solid striking game with very quick hands which he possesses power in too. He uses his striking well to set up his takedowns too which he does turn relentless with if he fails on a couple of his early shots. Inevitably he will get his opponent down eventually though. He doesn’t spend a lot of time topside grappling though and once his opponent stands back up, he will take them down again. To some, this may not sound like a great tactic but with Kerimov it’s genius because he has a very good gas tank and having the ability to keep taking his opponent down and making them stand back up can completely drain their gas tank which then allows him to control the fight and cruise to get the win.
The second prospect I have chosen is yet another fighter from DagFighter over in Dagestan. This time it’s the absolutely solid Magomed Magomedov who is 14-2. His first loss came in his second professional fight which was seven years ago [back in 2011] via a split decision. Magomedov’s second loss came last year [in 2017] against the huge, rising UFC superstar Petr Yan which is absolutely by no means a bad loss as Petr Yan is now achieving amazing things and is likely to hit the top 5-10 in the world. It’s also worth noting that this loss was a rematch from 2016 where Magomedov beat Petr Yan. Other notable wins for Magomedov are; Oleg Borisov [who was 20-1 at the time], UFC veteran Damian Stasiak and Said Nurmagomedov [which was an amateur fight at the time].
Magomedov is also 26 and also a couple of years away from his prime but he is one of the most solid fighters that you will see in the sport and he has a very obvious style and always looking to impose the same gameplan. This gameplan is always known by his opponents too but more often than not, they cannot do a single thing about it. Magomedov’s plan is to pressure instantly, get in the face of his opponent early and look to get the fight to the mat at every opportunity. Once he has his opponent on the mat he has an extremely suffocating top game and he will grind on his opponent causing frustration to the fighter on the bottom whilst slowly emptying their gas tank. Magomedov mixes between transitioning from position to position on the mat along with landing short punches from the top. This is usually just enough to keep the referees from standing them up and therefore allows Magomedov to constantly score points on the judge’s scorecards. To some fans, this may not be the type of fight they like to see but personally, I love this style because it’s great to bet on and it’s domination in it’s purest form.
The third and final prospect that I have chosen is the current ACB Featherweight Champion Yusup Raisov who is from Grozny, Chechnya and fights out of the well renowned Russian Gym, Berkut FC. Raisov is a phenomenal prospect who is 14-1 with the only loss coming to Marat Balaev two years ago. A few things to mention about this loss though; the first thing is that Marat Balaev was also unbeaten at the time as a 6-0 professional. The second thing is that Raisov was only 21 years old. Now, I know what you’ll all be thinking now you have done the maths and yes Raisov is now only 23 years old, 14-1 and is a Champion in one of the world’s best MMA promotions. Raisov really does have a ridiculously bright future. The final thing to mention with this scenario is that Raisov had the rematch against Balaev for the title earlier this year [in 2018] who was then still undefeated as an 8-0 professional and took him out in the very first round with a rear naked choke.
Raisov has 8 submission wins which really paints a picture to what his game consists of. His wrestling is great both offensively and defensively. Defensively he is very hard to take down and is exceptional in the scrambles on the way down to the mat. Offensively his takedowns are nice, well-timed and usually makes sure he lands himself in good positions on the mat. From here is grappling is at a very high level, especially considering his age. His transitions on the mat are solid and he moves on the mat with one thing in mind and that’s to spot the opportunities to submit his opponents and get them out of there. His submissions tend to be either rear naked chokes or arm-triangles which shows he really is a specialist down on the mat. On the feet, Raisov is aggressive, hits hard and he comes out the block really fast to put his opponents on the back foot from the get-go. His cardio has been questioned by some but personally, I don’t think he slows down any more than any other fighter who fights hard and aggressively. His overall game is so good and he is going to have a great career supported by a great record too.
And that concludes the 3 top Russian prospects in MMA from Newsome MMA. I expect all of these 3 fighters to go on to do huge things in the sport and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw all 3 in the UFC at some point in their careers.
Check out his work here and is also an editor for MMA Today
Aliyar Sarkerov – it’s rare to call a 40+ fight veteran a “prospect” but Sarkerov is still only 28 and has won 20 straight fights with 10 straight finishes. “Tiger” is a proven high-level martial artist who has competed all over Europe and Asia. He’d make a terrific addition to a top promotion’s FW division especially when putting together cards in Eastern Europe or Asia.
Roman Kopylov – Middleweight has been a hot division all across the globe lately and the big promotions are snatching up top talent left and right. Kopylov is 7-0 with all KO/TKOs. He has great size, strength, and a terrific Combat Sambo background. At only 27, the best is yet to come.
Alexander Keshtov – “AK-47” should 100% already be in a big promotion but somehow the 8-0 finisher has yet to get his shot. Keshtov actively trains with some of the world’s best in the Northeast US and has great Russian roots and foundation. With bantamweights getting a lot of exposure, it’s time for the AK-47 to unleash his skills against some of the world’s best.
Number one on the list has to be former ACB heavyweight champion Denis “The Russian Bogatyr” Goltsov. Goltsov is is a very well rounded heavyweight at 28 years of age having amassed a record at 22-5, 9 by KO/TKO, 9 by Sub and 4 by decision. This man likes to stand behind his jab, A jab that can drop a heavyweight fighter, but don’t let this fool you into thinking he can not fight on the ground. “The Russian Bogatyr” has a Sambo background and is a 3X world champion. Already he has had wins over former UFC vets Paul Buentello, Mike Kyle, James McSweeney, and Konstantin Erokhin. Denis “The Russian Bogatyr” Goltsov is a very big athletic heavyweight that will be a tough matchup for anyone in the division.
We have Abubakar Nurmagomedov who is the cousin of current UFC Lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov. The 15-2-1. 6 by KO/TKO 4 by Sub & 5 by Decision fighter currently fights for PFL in America. While he is still looking to make a name for himself with his own career, Abubakar’s reputation is rock solid. Never more so since UFC 229, Were he and Conor McGregor both traded punches after McGregor’s loss to Khabib. I would say that although Abubakar & Khabib have the same fighting style, Abubakar hands are much better. He may be a long shot but I believe if he can make a run at the PFL title & build the same momentum as he had before the Pavel Kusch fight, we may see him on a UFC card. We know the top-heavy wrestling game that these Russians bring to the cage, but as yet no one has stopped it making for some really exciting fights.
And finally, we have Adlan Bataev a fixture of the ACB promotion. This 25-year-old Featherweight holds an impressive record of 11-1. 2 by KO/TKO, 2 by Sub & 7 by Decision & currently riding a streak of 4 wins. A well-rounded fighter with good size and reach. He knows how to use that reach, too. He likes to stand behind the jab and throw the classic one-two combo, which I love to see!! This combo set everything up for Adlan. Lots of people will question his conservative, approach to fighting, but I question why wouldn’t you fight like that if your goal is to be the best in the world. One thing is for sure a step up in competition is something I would like to see for this young man in 2019.
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Movsar Evloev (10-0)- Evloev is the M-1 Global bantamweight champion fighting out of Ingushetia and is just 24 years old. He’s already picked up 10 wins as a pro including seven wins by stoppage. His last four fights have been for the title and in his last fight he got the knockout in the fifth round to defend his belt. Considering his record and pedigree, there’s a good chance the UFC signs him up very soon to join its bantamweight division.
Roman Bogatov (8-0)- The 27-year-old fighting out of Orenburg is the M-1 Global lightweight champion and he is undefeated in his MMA career with four wins via submission. Bogatov won the belt in his last fight with a five-round decision win over Rubenilton Pereira. It would be nice to see him get a knockout win but the submissions are nice. When the UFC heads back to Russia or needs a short-notice lightweight or welterweight for an Asian card, I’d expect Bogatov to get the call-up to the Octagon.
Khadis Ibragimov (7-0)- The M-1 Global light heavyweight champion fights out of St. Petersburg and is just 23 years old. He only started competing as a pro in May 2017 and has already made it to the top of M-1’s light heavyweight division. Five of his wins have come by stoppage including a submission loss to former champ Stephan Puetz. Ibragimov has a ton of upside and could make it to the UFC very shortly considering the shortage of light heavyweight talent.
Askar Askarov- Honestly, I don’t know what to say. If you follow Mixed Martial Arts and never heard about Askar Askarov…what the hell have you been doing? Askarov is one of the most talented fighters coming out of Dagestan. Askarov is undefeated in ten professional bouts with seven wins coming by submission and three wins coming by (T)KO. Askarov is one of the most promising Flyweight fighters and only 26-years-old. He is the current Champion in the ACB organization. If you never heard about him before do yourself a favor and watch his two most recent fights. Askarov born partial deaf won a gold medal in the 2017 Deaflympics in Wrestling.
Movlid Khaibulaev– Another undefeated fighter. Khaibulaev fights in the Featherweight division and was supposed to fight for the Fight Nights Global title this year and also was supposed to fight for the ONE Championship promotion. Both fights fell through due to injury and being not cleared by the medics. Khaibulaev last fight was in 2017. He fought most of his fights for the Fight Nights Global promotion. Khaibulaev is pretty good all-round and got wins on his record against Herbert Burns, Ilya Kurzanov and current WFCA Champion Abdul-Rakhman Dudaev. If Khaibulaev can stay fit and injury free It’s a matter of time before we see him in the big shows.
Khusein Khaliev– Khaliev is one of the best fighters out of Grozny, Chechnya. Too bad by most MMA fans (who don’t watch Russian MMA) he is known for his video-message to Conor McGregor after the infamous first presser between Conor and Khabib. Khaliev has 19 wins on his record in 20 fights. His only loss came by Split Decision. Khaliev is an aggressive fighter with a very solid ground game. Khaliev is the current WFCA Lightweight Champion and got wins on his record against Tagir Tagirov, Shamil Zavurov and UFC veteran Valmir Lazaro. Khaliev is, in my opinion, more than ready for “the big shows” but after the video, It’s probably pretty hard to a promotion picking him up.
Gamzat Khiramagomedov 25 years old, 7-0. Khiramagomedov takes a top prospect spot for me, in part, because the path to achieving his obvious potential is so much easier. A fighter with his tools may just be another very good prospect at 145 lbs but at middleweight? There’s a much greater chance he goes straight to the top. While he started his MMA career back in 2013, he’s had several long layoffs early in his career. That means he fights like a fairly experienced fighter, but hopefully has fewer less miles on him than his competition.
He already has a win over widely heralded prospect Alexey Butorin and has won four of his seven bouts inside the distance. Most notably, he shows off an impressive counter-boxing game, with slick footwork in the pocket and an ability to cut tight angles to open up opportunities to land hard strikes. He forces exchanges well with hard low kicks and a nice jab and is an absolute bull when he has an opponent hurt. He needs to improve his output and work on hand position when defending. But with his speed, he can likely get away with a few technical gaps.
Maxim Butorin 23 years old, 16-1-1. Butorin is as clear a top prospect as they come. A powerful pressure wrestler who throws power punches and enters into the pocket with dynamic leaping knees. To say nothing of a smothering grappling and back take game. It’s hard not to think of Khabib Nurmagomedov when watching him fight. His competition hasn’t been amazingly strong, but he’s making up for it in pure volume, with 18 bouts inside the last 4 years.
He keeps his head on the line and doesn’t have quite the deftness that he’ll need to face better fighters down the line when striking. But with his ability to work his wrestling game as an out, and his confidence in his chin and ability to keep pushing forward and pulling the trigger, it’s hard not to see him continue rising up through the welterweight ranks.
Movsar Evloev 24 years old, 10-0-0. There may be better athletes on the rise at 135 lbs, but it’s hard to imagine there are many more complete fighters with the resume that EvLOEV has already built for himself. Just four years into his career, he’s already claimed the M-1 bantamweight title, defeating super-talented prospect Pavel Vitruk along the way. Among his seven finishes are four submissions and 3 KOs, and his fighting style bears out the variety.
While not always the cleanest range striker or most consistent counter puncher, Evloev is a fantastically busy brawler. He sits down on hard combinations in the pocket and backs them up with a seriously aggressive clinch game. From there, he’s shown consistent, high-level aggressive wrestling chops, and the ability to dominate positions on the mat with an aggressive sub-hunting grappling game. Back it all up with what appears to be a fantastic chin, and he could be a real problem at 135 lbs.
When it comes to narrowing down the top three Russian mixed martial arts prospects not currently signed to the UFC, the choices are plentiful. One might suggest that there are hundreds of worthy contenders that could make the list, but given the guidelines of narrowing down nominees to just three, the task became that much more challenging.
For me, I had to take a look at Russian MMA prospects that are not only making a name for themselves in the sport, but are also on the cusp of earning a call to the UFC or have big fights coming up that could help rise their stock and make their name a little more well known among fans here in the United States.
Rashid Magomedov – The 34-year old Magomedov was born in Makhachkala, Russia and already knows what it is like to fight at the highest level of professional mixed martial arts. Magomedov, whose nickname is “Gorets”, fought six times for the UFC, losing only once. He is also the former M-1 welterweight champion. His combined record of 22-2-1 and the fact that he is competing for $1 million on New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden, puts Magomedov at the top of the list. “Gorets” squares up against fellow Professional Fighters League season 1 lightweight finalist, Natan Schulte on December 31. Magomedov defeated former WSOF title challenger Luiz Firmino, went to a draw with former Bellator champion Will Brooks, and then pounded out Thiago Tavares, to claim his spot in the Finale
Magomed Magomedkerimov is another Russian fighter looking to bankroll $1 million at PFL 11 on December 31. The 28-year old Magomedkerimov boats a 22-5 record with roughly half of his victories coming by way of knockout. Like Rashid Magomedov, Magomedkerimov also fights out of Makhachkala. He faces Ray Cooper III in the welterweight tournament finale after defeating Herman Terrado, Pavel Kusch, and twice defeating Bojan Velickovic.
Sergei Kharitonov is a fighter that most every hardcore MMA fan knows and remembers. While the 38-year old fighter may be the oldest on the list, his pace has never slowed. The former PRIDE FC star scored one of the biggest victories of his 18-year pro career when he recently became the first man to finish Roy Nelson in the first round. With just one second left in the round, Kharitonov put “Big Country” down and out. He now serves as an alternate in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix and could potentially step in for the title shot should something happen to one of the two finalists, Ryan Bader or Fedor Emelianenko, in the coming weeks.
Special mention to Alexander Keshtov who fights Nurbergen Sharipov at CFFC 71 on December 14.
Yusuf Raisov (14-1)
For a 23-year-old, Yusuf Raisov has risen to levels reminiscent of a mixed martial arts champion. In fact, he already is one. Fighting for Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB), Raisov is on a five fight win streak, with his most recent win coming over Andre Winner at ACB 90. While he didn’t begin his career with the promotion, Raisov has continued to flourish in ACB and shows no signs of slowing down. He has lost only once, but made the necessary adjustments to avenge the loss against the same man almost two years later. Equipped with a quality ground game and improved striking, Raisov is an exciting fighter that commands the attention of anyone watching him compete.
Rustam Kerimov (11-0)
A word to describe Rustam Kerimov’s recent performances would be “thrilling”. Undefeated as a professional, Kerimov seems to be a pretty well-rounded bantamweight with the ability to knock out or completely dominate an opponent. Perhaps his greatest asset is his timing throughout fights. Kerimov will open up with a few strikes or body kicks. In the few seconds it takes for his opponent to react, Kerimov has already shot in for a takedown and more than likely has them on their back. And once Kerimov gets you on the mat, expect some heavy ground-and-pound to follow. At 135 pounds, Kerimov is one to watch and will only get better as time goes on.
Ivan Shtyrkov (14-0-1)
There’s always going to be room for the next big thing at heavyweight and Ivan Shtyrkov definitely fits the bill. Another undefeated prospect, Shtyrkov has no issue with keeping the fight standing or taking it to the ground because either way, he can finish you. While his ground game is a thing of beauty on its own, his striking has become so improved, which means potential opponents may have a hard time figuring out how to approach the fight with him. Heavyweight is a weight class in need of new talent and Shtyrkov could be the man to shake things up in whatever premiere promotion takes notice.
Omar Nurmagomedov is the cousin of UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. He is currently 8-0 and has fought in organizations such as Fight nights Global and Professional Fighters League. Unlike Khabib, Omar comes from a Muay Thai background which is very evident in his fights. Omar utilises a variety of kicks from distance to pick his opponents apart. His kicks aren’t particularly hard but are extremely fast and difficult to see coming. On the ground he is also very solid which is to be expected from somebody with his surname.
It might be a stretch to call Ali Bagov a prospect at this point because he is already very experienced with 37 fights under his belt. However, Bagov is still only 27 years old and is showing improvements. He is 13-1 in his last 14 fights and has avenged his only loss in that time frame. Bagov is an out and out grappler who constantly goes for the finish. This approach has backfired numerous times early in his career as he expended so much energy early on but not being able to sustain the pace through out the whole fight. However, Bagov has made some adjustments and has shown the ability to go the distance in his recent fights. Nonetheless, ‘Hulk’ remains one of the most dangerous first round finishers in the world with his power grappling game.
Ali Isaev is a former European Champion in freestyle wrestling that has since transitioned into MMA and currently holds 4-0 record. Isaev is older than your average prospect at 34 years old, however, heavyweights tend to peak a bit later than fighters in lighter weight classes. Unsurprisingly, Isaev prefer to grapple but his striking is not to be slept on either. On the feet he likes to throw kicks with impressive speed and flexibility for a heavyweight which paid dividends when he scored a highlight reel spinning wheel kick knockout against Alexandr Gladkov.
Michael writes for MMA Today, MMA Sucka, and The Body Lock
First, it’s important to preface this piece by explaining that the Russian MMA scene is so talent-rich that it was nearly impossible to narrow the field to just three prospects. That said, I decided to select three young, talented fighters with sizable momentum to be my picks. There are dozens of equally qualified prospects throughout the ranks of Russia’s MMA landscape, but I’d like to highlight these three fighters in particular.
Roman Kopylov (7-0); Middleweight
Kopylov, 27, is a three-time combat sambo world champion who transitioned to professional MMA in 2016. In just two short years, he has defeated each and every man to stand across from him, culminating in a victory for the Fight Nights Global (FNG) middleweight title. Despite a largely grappling-based (and hugely successful) sambo background, Kopylov has shown excellent progressions in his striking. At 6’2″, the Russian uses his length effectively and couples significant power (all of his wins have come via (T)KO) with tactical, technically sound accuracy.
Kopylov has also steadily increased the quality of his opposition, most recently defeating Abusupyan Alikhanov (9-2), the now-former FNG middleweight champion. Prior to facing Kopylov, Alikhanov was riding a nine-fight winning streak, which included four knockouts.
In news recently reported by Alexey Safonov, it appears as though Kopylov will defend his title against former M-1 Global welterweight champion, Yasubey Enomoto (18-10). Kopylov is a name to watch in Russia’s deep middleweight division.
Askar Askarov (10-0); Flyweight
The UFC may be dissolving its men’s flyweight division, but that doesn’t mean that weight class lacks incredible talent. Askar Askarov, 26, is one of the best flyweight prospects outside of the UFC, though that distinction is likely to soon lose some of its weight. Askarov is the ACB flyweight champion, a title which he has defended twice to date. He won the vacant title back in 2016 with a “Fight of the Night”-winning brabo choke in the fifth round of the fight. A brabo choke is an incredible submission, but that’s not out of the ordinary for Askarov.
The Russian has seven submission victories, including an elusive “twister” to his name. In his most recent bout, a title defense against Rasul Albaskhanov, Askarov scored a second-round guillotine choke. As noted above, Askarov is 10-0 with seven submissions. His remaining three fights were all knockout wins, bringing his career finishing rate to… 100%. 100%. That’s a significant statistic for any fighter, let alone a twenty-six-year-old flyweight prospect.
Salman Zhamaldaev (16-1); Featherweight
Salman Zhamaldaev is the lone fighter of the three chosen to have suffered a defeat as a professional MMA fighter. Fortunately for Zhamaldaev, it came in his debut. Since, the Russian featherweight is a blistering 16-0, winning all sixteen of his next fights. That’s… impressive. The twenty-nine-year-old is the current WFCA featherweight champion, a distinction he earned with a unanimous decision over Magomedrasul Khasbulaev this past May. Of his sixteen victories, five came by way of knockout, and four were submissions.
The Russian is a true tactician, aptly able to handle himself on the feet and on the ground, and has consistently improved the skills and abilities that have carried him to this point. He has a strong Greco-Roman wrestling base that he uses to dictate the direction of the fight. With a winning streak of sixteen fights, it’s hard not to notice Salman Zhamaldaev. He’s Tapology’s #1 ranked Russian featherweight, and for good reason. Make sure to keep an eye on Zhamaldaev, one of the best featherweight prospects in the world.
João Gabriel Gelli
Writer for MMA Brasil
Eduard Vartanyan – 27 years old – 19-4 The first name I’d like to highlight is Vartanyan. A top prospect that’s well regarded in the Russian circuit for a long time, he’s not one to refuse a challenge. He’s faced a who’s who on ACB roster, where he picked up a 8-3 record, only losing to other top lightweights in Ali Bagov and Abdul-Aziz Abdulvakhabov, the current and former champion of the division in the organization. Vartanyan is a Combat Sambo practitioner that has developed a nice feeling for striking. He throws combinations on the feet and has a good feel for when to close the distance and wrestle, but his defense in general has room for improvement. He has a knack for being involved in great fights, such as the one againts Alexander Shabliy. His overall game has evolved greatly as he has faced strong competition and he should be next in line for the ACB title, his third opportunity, that should finish a trilogy with Bagov.
Alexander Shabliy – 25 years old – 16-3 Never stopping at a single organization for a long stretch of time, Alexander Shabliy is still a Young fighter, despite being already almost 20 fights into his career. A pro for eight years, he’s picked up his biggest win to date in his last fight, against UFC vet Adriano Martins in a slow paced but impressive decision win under the Fight Nights banner. Shabliy is a destruction machine. With very powerful hands and great ability to find space for knees, he finished all but his last win, with 10 of them coming by the way of knockout. He could have a bigger output, but prefers to wait for the opportunity to find openings for the big shot, such as the vicious knee he landed against Gleristone Santos at ACB 67. His defensive wrestling is solid enough to keep the fight standing and he can get some takedowns if needed. Although he still can improve in many areas and become a complete fighter, he already is a great action fighter and must see TV whenever his bouts are on.
Goga Shamatava – 27 years old – 14-4 After starting his career with a 2-4 record, Goga Shamatava has been on a twelve fight winning streak for the last four years. Probably the least known name out of this list, he fought mainly on Tech-Krep with a win over Brazilian Raymison Bruno being his biggest one so far. He made his ACB debut is his last bout, in which he KO’d Pavel Pastushkov with a ferocious spinning back elbow in the second round. That is the kind of thing that should be expected whenever Shamatava is in the cage. A flashy striker, he loves to throw spinning strikes with a lot of power. While he lacks in consistency, his creativity and athleticism makes up for it and makes him a threat, mainly against the lower levels of competition. A pressure wrestler with good ground control can easily take him down and dominate him there, but will them have to face an aggressive guard. Even though he isn’t what many would consider a top prospect, he certainly is an exciting fighter to watch and one that should be given more love. Therefore, he’s my last pick for this list.
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Denis Goltsov | Heavyweight | 22-5
It might be a stretch to call Denis Goltsov a prospect at this point, but it’s not wrong technically speaking. The 6’6” behemoth is still just 28 years of age and has been trying to latch onto a major American promotion for quite some time now.
Originally on the PFL’s roster this past season, Goltsov’s ongoing visa issues forced him out of the tournament. If he can solve these issues, look for the well-rounded finisher to take storm of whichever promotion he lands in.
Salman Zhamaldaev |Featherweight |15-1
It hasn’t been an easy road for Salman Zhmaldaev, but nonetheless, it’s been successful. The 29-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler has won sixteen straight bouts since dropping his professional debut in 2012.
Currently fighting for Ramzan Kadyrov’s Akhmat Fight Club, Zhamaldaev has run through all of the Chechen promotion’s top-tier talent including Magmedrasul Khasbulaev (twice) and Felipe Froes.
Ivan Shtyrkov | Light Heavyweight | 15-0-1
There are very few dominant rising stars in professional MMA at 205 pounds. Ivan Shtyrkov is an exception to the rule
The beastly 30-year-old fighter has defeated numerous MMA notables including Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez, Fabio Maldonado, Satoshi Ishii, KSW Heavyweight Champion Phil De Fries, and many more.
Writer for MMA Today and MY MMA News.
Russia is loaded with talent inside and outside the big promotions. Gamzat Khiramagomedov is a name that has flown massively under the radar. With already a few big setbacks in his career not fighting much has really had him go unknown to even the more hardcore fans. If Gamzat is healthy he can be one of the top prospects in Russia and even win the ACB title. The Russian hardly ever shoots for takedowns as he has success when so but his stand-up is far superior. Gamzat does have a problem throwing single shots with not much volume. With that said, he does have laser accuracy and has a quick release. When he dies double up and throws two strikes he always makes his opponents pay. He does a great job at controlling range with an aggressive opponent moving backwards landing beautiful counters. Gamzat is very diverse and creative with his hands and legs while cutting slight angles perfectly. Earlier in his career, he would show a bit of Anthony Pettis style using the cage to try to land the big shot. He’s shown no flaws and against some good competition as in result, this guy is legit.
Roman Kopylov is a four-time hand-to-hand combat fighting world champion. That background has made him a very bright talent and given him the potential to be the future of Russian MMA. Kopylov is the current Fight Night Global middleweight champion who will defend his title on December on December 27th against veteran Yasubey Enomoto. He’s beaten stiff competition where his seven foes (7-0) have a combined record of 76-46. Kopylov is quite the advanced striker on the feet favoring combinations with up to four strikes at a time. His ability to cover the distance with kicks and step-in knees are fanatically done. Kopylov is a very methodical fighter with excellent fight IQ and vision and there is no doubt he is one of the best prospects in not just Russia but the world.
Akhmed Shervaniev is a product out of Grozny, Russia training out of top camp, Akhmat Fight Club with many other top level fighters. The 21-year-old is still growing as a fighter but at his age, I really think the kid has a great future ahead. Shervaniev is 12-0 with a draw on his record and nine finishes to his name. Shervaniev has four submission wins but he really wants to keep the fight on the feet and his excellent takedown defense really helps that. On the feet, you can always see him switching stances and throwing more than one strike. As he can be too patient at times he is very accurate and quick. I really like everything Shervaniev does
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Bantamweight: Mukhamed Eminov (12-0)
Fighting out of the city of Kaspisyk along the eastern coast of Dagestan, Mukhamed Eminov is my top 135-pound prospect out of the Russian region. Eminov is primarily a grappling-based fighter, and you can notice that almost immediately when watching tape from his previous encounters. His immediate gameplan is almost always implemented with a low single-leg takedown, and his ability to pass into half guard and ultimately side control is an elite skill he possesses. His favorite technique is definitely the armbar, as indicative by his professional track sheet that includes five armbar finishes out of his eleven career finishes. An out of ordinary technique he’s also used to success is the elbow lever, which is an incredibly rare submission to which he has achieved two. Watch out for Eminov in 2019, as a jump to the UFC is certainly in the cards for the Dagestani.
Featherweight: Rasul Mirzaev (18-1)
Switching styles up here for this next fighter, a bloodthirsty featherweight with 10 of his 13 finishes by knockout known simply as the ‘Black Tiger’. Razul Mirzaev fights out of the revered Fight Nights Team in Moscow, Russia and is certainly a name at 145-pounds to remember on the Russian circuit. He has a Shogun-esque within his ability to smell blood when his opponent is hurt, and while that’s an incredible company to keep when mentioning a quality that Shogun became a legendary figure for, Mirzaev’s finishing ability is cut from the same cloth. He uses quick combinations paired with devastating knockout power for a featherweight, which was shown in his last victory over Gleristone Santos at ACB 90 a few weeks ago. A beautiful left hook that looked like it came out of a loaded cannon sent Santos crashing to the canvas, with his arms out and eyes rolled back into his cranium. Don’t trust ME to give you this information, search his highlights on YouTube for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Light Heavyweight/Heavyweight: Ivan Shtyrkov (15-0-1)
A popular insertion throughout this article is a man that is certainly on the radar of the biggest fight promotions in the world at this point. Ivan ‘Ural Hulk’ Shtyrkov looks like a create-your-own character in a Madden NFL football game, but only if you gave every aspect of muscle the highest level of ripped that it could possibly go. The man looks like Hercules with a rampant creatine addiction, a true genetic work of art or so it seems. Shtrykov uses his strength very well inside of the cage, working his way into positional advantages in the clinch as well as using his brute strength to power into takedowns. Once takedowns are secured, it seems almost effortless in which how he can pass straight into mount at times. Shtyrkov already has wins over legends and veterans of the sport on his track sheet as well. These wins include the likes of Fabio Maldonado, Antonio ‘Big Foot’ Silva, Ricco Rodriguez, and a fight currently booked for RCC 5 against Thiago Silva. Of the three on this list, it’s certainly to be expected that Shtyrkov lands in a UFC or Bellator situation the quickest, and being the number one ranked fighter at heavyweight, light heavyweight, and pound-for-pound in the Russian region will get you there for sure.
The talented Kemerovo-born starlet, Roman Kopylov, had already taken home a multitude of accolades while still a teen, continually showing progression with each passing year and championship. Now 27 years old, the owner of a world-class hand-to-hand combat pedigree, which includes no less than three world championships and an abundance of European and Russian titles, Kopylov’s natural talent and remarkable cognizance for Armeyskiy Rukopashniy Boy has translated phenomenally well into a thriving mixed martial arts career.
Currently standing at 7-0 and with a shiny Fight Nights Global middleweight belt around his waist, Kopylov portrays all the gifts of a generational talent and epitomizes the kind of talent-rich, multi-sport combat stars that Russia has become renowned for producing.
A cultured southpaw, Kopylov works behind a versatile jab which easily switches from a probing range finder, to piston, to shovel, in an instant, often following heavier shots up with an accurate, sniping left hand to the head or body. He utilizes feints and hand traps to create openings and is capable of leading or pressing his opponent to force mistakes where he can utilize counters. He’s also the owner of a solid kicking arsenal, with heavy left body kicks used frequently, while his use of spinning back kicks to the body is surprisingly effective. To add to that, Kopylov has a strong sense of timing and excels in knowing when to close the distance, while defensively his management of distance is sublime, with him rarely allowing his opponents the opportunity to get in range. A defensively responsible striker who attacks at opportune moments is a wonderful thing to see in MMA.
We haven’t seen much offensive grappling from Kopylov thus far in MMA, although I can assure you he has the chops for it having followed his hand-to-hand exploits. Defensively he uses some effective yet simple techniques to negate opponents advances and create space so he can break. He stuffs shots in the open fairly easily, using his agility and impressive leg dexterity to get himself out of trouble, and against the cage wall he favors the right overhook/left underhook, while also alternating to the left wrist control when he wants to break. He generally bides his time before successfully implementing clinch-breaking wrist control. And throughout his career, Kopylov has displayed a cool head in there, even utilizing this defense while defending a torrent of chain wrestling.
Primarily, Kopylov is a thoughtful striker who has the capability of forcing his opponents to fight where he wants to fight — and where he wants to fight, he excels. You can watch Kopylov at the upcoming co-promoted FNG-GTC event in Moscow in late December, where he defends his middleweight belt against the former M-1 champion, Yasubey Enomoto.
One half of Sambo’s golden couple, Mikhail Mokhnatkin has repeatedly proven himself on the world stage in Combat Sambo, picking up three golds in nationals, one in the euros and a further gold in the worlds, to complement the other eight medals he’s won in the sport since 2011— including a bronze in November’s world championships in Bucharest. In Russia, the master of sports accolade is generally reserved for fighters at the pinnacle of their discipline, and Mokhnatkin is one such fighter adorned with the complimentary title. It also gives us an idea of the kind of drive and determination a fighter possesses in order to succeed at a particular endeavor, and one which can arguably translate over to a similar discipline.
For Mokhnatkin, his poise and craft in Combat Sambo and the successful tendencies that drove him to world titles translated effortlessly into a burgeoning MMA career. One which had him on the verge of a UFC call-up just a few short months ago. Now 11-2-2 in MMA, Mokhnatkin boasts a couple of former UFC fighters as notches in his belt; Ednaldo Oliveira and Fabio Maldonado — while also beating former big show vets like Derrick Mehmen and Valentijn Overeem.
Mokhnatkin is most definitely a cerebral fighter who relies on his technical acumen and ability to read situations first and foremost. He doesn’t throw a lot of volume, favoring to counter with ones or two punch combinations that are equally accurate as they are well-timed. And his jab is a beautiful precursor to most things he does both offensively or defensively, as you would expect from a thinking man’s fighter. As with the aforementioned Kopylov, Mokhnatkin is also a southpaw and a superb range dictator, showing his opponents just enough so that they inevitably look to strike with him while he swiftly slides back, intuitively countering with stiff jabs, hooks, and hard left straights. Defensively Mokhnatkin’s aptitude at dictating range makes him an elusive target for most. Offensive fighters get countered regularly and counter strikers and grapplers struggle to meaningfully close distance against the Sambo-Piter standout, perpetually leaving them in Mokhnatkin’s favored range.
In the grappling department, Mokhnatkin shows a strong base for defending takedowns, employing a wide stance and smart use of leverage to avoid them by the cage wall. Another facet to his arsenal is that he strikes well on breaks, using elbows and short punches. His ability to stuff takedowns in the center is unknown to a large extent as his impeccable use of distance keeps him out of most trouble in that area. He also benefits from having a knack for reactive takedowns and clinch work if his opponent does manage to close distance. Offensively he’s a very strong, patient grappler, who again uses leverage to his advantage, along with the added benefit of him being rather strong and able to maneuver opponents handily. His top game is equal parts smart, patient, opportunistic and positional. He favors forcing openings so he can strike with single shots, as to retain a strong base, while his selective striking often opens up opponents for submission attempts. Defensively he has shown on the occasions he’s been on his back that he’s more than capable of creating distance between the hips and shrimping his way back to his feet in a timely manner.
At heart, Mokhnatkin is a patient and cerebral, pressure counter fighter who knows how to utilize his best assets at opportune moments. Although he is prone to lulls in output, which would be my only criticism. Mikhail Mokhnatkin fights former UFC fighter Francimar Barroso at RCC 5 in Yekaterinburg, December 15.
Bibert Tumenov. Tumenov is a name known to many MMA fans. Albert Tumenov was a successful UFC fighter who went on to leave the promotion and capture the ACB welterweight title shortly thereafter. The Tumenov lineage doesn’t stop there, though. Albert is trained by his father Husein, while his cousins, Kazim and Bibert, complete the family’s sporting patriarchy.
Bibert is a former amateur boxing standout who won at the 2014 Youth Boxing World Championships, where, as a result, he would later go on to represent Russia at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. Adding to his success he would also pick up gold in the Russia Cup in the same year.
While Bibert’s MMA game isn’t yet as deep and nuanced as the previous two fighters, he is a talent with a lot of potential upsides. He’s just a lot earlier in his career trajectory. At only 21 years old and a respectable 5-0, Bibert has been learning his craft on the job. His boxing background has certainly given him a leg up and he’s starting to improve other facets of his game.
Bibert is a refined switch-hitter who throws from each stance with comparable efficacy. Range finding jabs and feints set up polished 1-2s or straight lefts. He throws a tasty lead uppercut from southpaw, and well-timed overhand rights when orthodox to dissuade his opponent’s low kicks. Most notably though, it’s his shot selection which separates him from the pack. Bibert throws varied combinations and switches levels with ease – ripping the left to the body off of the left hook is a favorite. He doesn’t really use lateral movement or triangular footwork to create angles, instead favoring stalking his opponent and relying on deft accuracy and timing to land. Defensively Bibert has hair-trigger reactions which accentuate his countering and head movement, leading him to rarely being hit clean.
For a guy who came into the sport as a boxer, Bibert’s anti-wrestling has been a pleasant surprise. The same reactive speed he shows avoiding strikes has proven every bit as transferable to defending shots or clinches, meaning he regularly seems to get that split second to position himself in the best possible way to sprawl or break and create distance. That’s not to say he has mastered it. He has been put on his back for brief periods, but he’s shown enough savvy to scramble back to his feet or butt-scoot towards the cage wall to wall walk while spending minimal time on the mat.
All in all, Bibert Tumenov is far from the finished product, but at only 21 years old he’s proven to be a gifted boxer with a growing knowledge of the grappling game. Should he continue on this trajectory then he will likely be challenging for a title in the future. Tumenov fights Roman Avdalyan at Berkut Young Eagles 7 on December 22, in Tolstoy Yurt, Chechnya.