One common sight in mixed martial arts, especially in recent years, is the increasing rise of Dagestani fighters. Former UFC lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov is a big reason for this, as he is undoubtedly the biggest superstar from Dagestan, with everyone associating just about every Dagestani fighter with him. Consequently, when a fan sees a fighter from Dagestan, they expect them to maul and smash their opponents on the ground.
So the question is, what makes Dagestan fighters so uniquely dominant in the UFC? Here’s a quick answer to that question:
Dagestan fighters are dominant in the UFC because they are expert wrestlers who use their wrestling effectively to neutralize their opponent’s ability to fight back. As a result, Dagestan fighters have a high winning rate of 89% in the UFC.
This article will dive deeper into the matter and explain everything you need to know about how Dagestan produces many dominant UFC fighters.
Where is Dagestan?
Dagestan is a republic of Russia located in the North Caucasus, with the majority of its population of around 3 million people being Sunni Muslims. In addition, most of the region is extremely mountainous, with higher altitudes and harsh, brutal winters. The unemployment rate is about 25%, with highlanders making up the bulk. Furthermore, a staggering 73% of people live in poverty, and 16% are just above it.
Why are Dagestan UFC fighters so dominant?
Dagestan fighters dominate the UFC because they are exceptionally skilled at wrestling, which has proven to be a highly effective combat skill in MMA fighting. Simply put, the sport of wrestling transitions well into mixed martial arts. So, how does being a good wrestler relate to being a dominant UFC fighter?
Dagestan fighters are expert wrestlers who are good at taking down their opponents on the ground, putting them on their backs, and controlling their opponents’ movements from the top position.
This position disadvantages their opponent by limiting their ability to strike back, resulting in an 89% win rate for Dagestan fighters in the UFC.
So you might ask why Dagestani fighters are so good at wrestling, right? The simple answer to why Dagestani fighters are so good at wrestling is that’s all they did growing up.
Wrestling is essentially, but not officially, the national sport of Dagestan. As such, kids from seven to eight are raised to be wrestlers, almost like a modern-day Sparta. And unlike in America, where you can train in martial arts for a few hours before going on with your day, youngsters from Dagestan do it all day long with extreme discipline.
Here’s a short video that shows how intensely Dagestani children train in wrestling:
RELATED: Why Do Wrestlers Dominate MMA?
Why Do So Many Dagestani Men Train in Wrestling?
Societal expectations may play a role in enticing Dagestani men to train in wrestling. For example, the Dagestani mindset is that you should be wrestling if you’re a healthy male, as wrestling is woven into the fabric of Dagestani culture.
A Vice documentary revealed that Dagestani fighters in a wrestling program wake up early in the morning, run across harsh terrain in the mountains, do pad work, eat, nap, and then hike before wrestling. They also start wrestling at a very young age as mentioned, as evidenced by that famous footage of young Khabib Nurmagomedov grappling with a bear cub. And there’s no partying or socializing; most of the day is spent training. All this, coupled with the harsh conditions they are training in, contributes to Dagestani fighters being not only powerful wrestlers and tough but also mentally.
It’s now even more the case given the popularity of the UFC and Khabib Nurmagomedov, one of the wealthiest athletes to have emerged from the sport.
Who are the best UFC fighters from Dagestan?
Eight to ten years ago, you’d be lucky to see a handful of Dagestani fighters in the UFC. But nowadays, you will not only see Dagestani fighters in just about every UFC weight class but multiple Dagestanis in one division. As a result, Dagestan produces one of the world’s largest numbers of MMA fighters today.
The most popular Dagestani fighter, without a doubt, is former UFC lightweight champion Nurmagomedov. He was a lightweight competitor who made waves with his dominant wrestling, ground and pound, and his famous rivalry with Conor McGregor.
Nurmagomedov is regarded as the best Dagestani fighter of all time and the best lightweight in UFC history. Many MMA fans consider him a contender for the greatest fighter of all time, owing to his undefeated record when he retired.
Islam Makhachev is regarded as the next Khabib Nurmagomedov as he emulates Khabib’s fighting style, which puts maximum pressure on his opponent by relentlessly taking them down during the fight. Some even claim that Makhachev is better than Khabib was, as Makhachev has easily smashed through his opponents so far.
Ankalaev is a UFC light heavyweight fighter who is rising to the top of the competitive light heavyweight division without drawing much attention. Ankalaev trained in Greco-Roman wrestling. Ankalaeve holds the second longest win streak in UFC light heavyweight history.
Magomedshripov is a 145-pound featherweight fighter who started freestyle wrestling training when he was ten. He’s a well-versed fighter who can strike on his feet and can grapple with anyone on the ground. Unfortunately, he announced his retirement in June 2022 from MMA fighting after suffering health issues.
Askarov is a flyweight 125 lb fighter who was born deaf. Despite his physical challenge, Askarov started training in wrestling. He became a national Russian deaf wrestling team member and won gold in the 2017 Deaflympics. He’s fast becoming one of the top contenders in the UFC flyweight division.
Umar Nurmagomedov is a UFC bantamweight (135 lbs) fighter, and Khabib Nurmagomedov is his cousin. He won the gold medal in Combat Sambo at 19 under the WCSF organization. He has a younger brother, Usman Nurmagomedov, a Bellator fighter.
Why are there so many UFC fighters from Dagestan?
There are many UFC fighters from Dagestan because they are excellent MMA fighters who are highly sought after by the UFC.
Wrestling has long been regarded as the best foundation for MMA. For this reason, with so many elite wrestlers in Dagestan, many of them transition to mixed martial arts and turn into unstoppable fighters. Ultimately, these fighters end up signing contracts with the UFC, which always seeks to recruit the best fighters in the world.
More importantly, there are still very few professional venues for amateur wrestlers, and almost none of them pay as well as MMA. As a result, becoming an MMA fighter is a natural progression for many of these Dagestani wrestlers.
Who are the best Dagestani fighters outside the UFC?
While the UFC undoubtedly has a majority of the best Dagestani fighters, there’s plenty of talent in other promotions.
Usman Nurmagomedov is a promising and undefeated lightweight who competes in Bellator.
Saygid Izagakhmaev is another talented fighter competing in the ONE Championship’s welterweight division.
Let’s also not forget the number of talented Dagestani fighters currently competing in promotions back home, such as Eagle FC, Gorilla Fighting Championship, and much more. Whether they all eventually make it to the UFC remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t be a surprise either.
Do all Dagestani fighters use a wrestling style?
More often than not, you will see Dagestani fighters take the fight to the ground and look to out-grapple, TKO, or submit their opponents from there. But that’s not to say all Dagestani fighters use a wrestling or grappling-heavy style.
A former UFC fighter, Zabit Magomedsharipov, is known for his striking and is one of the flashiest strikers in the UFC. He has a wrestling background and is well-versed on the ground but prefers to stand with his opponents. This comes at a cost, as his flashy style often leads him to run out of gas later in the rounds.
Others, like Magomed Ankalaev and Nassourdine Imavov, are also great on the ground but prefer to strike. The main point is that just because someone is from Dagestan, don’t expect the fight to always go to the ground.
Are all Dagestani fighters good at MMA?
If you see a Dagestani fighter in the UFC, make no mistake about it. They more than likely have elite-level grappling, sambo and wrestling.
With that said, there are levels to the game, and not every fighter from Dagestan will perform like Khabib Nurmagomedov or remain undefeated like him. You will see Dagestani fighters who not only will likely remain unranked, but will also suffer defeats by way of finish. Khabib Nurmagomedov’s cousin Abubakar Nurmagomedov notably has three defeats, with one being a huge upset submission loss to David Zawada.
That’s not to say a couple of losses mean a fighter is bad. At the same time, it doesn’t mean Dagestani fighters are invincible. Some will lose and some won’t look so dominant because this is mixed martial arts. You can’t just rely on your grappling; you have to mix up all facets of MMA and be well-rounded in just about everything to emulate what Khabib Nurmagomedov did.
Dagestani fighters in MMA have a very high winning percentage overall, and while they are not unbeatable for the most part, their wrestling style and upbringing make them a tough task for any fighter. One thing is for sure — expect the number of Dagestani MMA fighters to only increase in the near future.