World Series of Fighting’s signing of flyweight prospect Magomed Bibulatov last week was the latest in a slew of Russian fighters to venture across the world to compete in the United States. The recent trend of talent emerging from Russia, as well as the North Caucasus region is partly due to inevitability; the cream will always rise to the top.
However, the recent increase in the Dagestani population on the UFC and WSOF rosters is also due to the influence of two men, both of whom consider themselves instrumental to the development of talent from the region, Ali Abdel-Aziz and Rizvan Magomedov. According to Ali, it was mismanagement that brought these fighters to his attention.
“About two years ago, I really looked at Russian MMA and thought that the market should have been in a different place than it is now,” Ali told BloodyElbow.com. “Russian fighters, especially Dagestani fighters, Chechen fighters or others from the Caucasus, were mismanaged. They had 40-50% of their purses taken and they were put on the shelves.
“I’m not sure I want to give myself credit but me and my partner (in Dominance MMA) Rizvan stepped in and started helping Russian fighters. Fighters like Rustam Khabilov, Frodo Khasbulaev, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Timur Valiev.”
Used to dealing with fighters who lack the resources that most professional fighters take from granted in the Untied States, such as complete gyms filled with state-of-the-art equipment, Ali became curious when he was introduced to the recently established Akhmat MMA gym and promotion. Based in Chechnya and seemingly funded by the Chechen Republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov, the gym boasts advanced machinery, limitless resources and impressive sponsorships for fighters who want to dedicate themselves entirely to professional fighting.
Ali found this so interesting that he began to dig deeper into the gym.
“There are several gyms in the Caucasus that are gaining recognition, but over the past year, it is Akhamt MMA gym that really got my attention. They’ve done a great job at developing talent and are really coming into their own. They have a lot of resources and even have the support of the Republic’s president, Ramzan Kadyrov. The fact that he will go and train with these fighters is something remarkable; a leader of a country supporting our sport of MMA and investing in it is great.”
It was through Ali’s intrigue in Akhmat MMA and its operations that he came across one of the promotion’s main stars, Magomed “Gladiator” Bibulatov. Once a member of the Absolute Championship Berkut team and promotion, Magomed recently switched teams to Akhmat MMA, where he was featured in the co-main event slot of their inaugural show and finished his opponent with a vicious knockout.
“Magomed Bibulatov is a very unique individual,” Ali explained. “I was watching his fights online and couldn’t understand how this kid was not signed to the UFC. He is 125 pounds and I am a huge fan of his. He is the complete package. He is like “Showtime” Pettis just with good wrestling. He is a really complete fighter.”
Now 9-0 in his professional career with wins over the likes of Taylor Lapilus, Bibulatov is being touted as one of the top flyweights in the world. Ali agrees with that statement entirely, which is why he jumped at the opportunity to bring the prospect across the pond to WSOF, even if it meant starting an entirely new division from scratch.
“When I look at him I know that I need to be a part of his career, his legacy. We signed him because we were willing to start a whole new division (flyweight) for that one fighter. That is how good he is. He is easily Top five in the world at his weight class and the best flyweight in Europe and Asia. I’m sure we can find him the necessary challenges and he can become a world champion. You saw what we did with Anthony Johnson. He was with us and now he can become a UFC champ.”
While not one to shy away from promoter speak, Ali ultimately believes that he has signed one of the top talents in the flyweight division. In fact, he would not put it past Bibulatov to eventually dethrone ‘Mighty Mouse’ Demetrious Johnson.
“I think he can beat Demetrious Johnson. I think he is faster than DJ and I really believe that he more technical and a better wrestler.”
Apart from a particular interest in Bibulatov, Ali has grown fond of Akhmat MMA and its potential as a gym and promotion in the region. He has also taken a liking to Kadyrov and his “passion” for MMA, so much so that he is open to considering a joint venture or co-promotion between WSOF and Akhmat MMA.
“I would not mind going to Chechnya and putting on a World Series of Fighting event there, even co-promote with Akhmat MMA. That is how confident I am in their production and the value of their fighters. I never thought about co-promoting with anybody before, but a team like that? WSOF would do it. It is the right cost and would be done with the right people.
“There isn’t another promotion in the world I would co-promote with. You know why? Because I know he isn’t doing this for financial reasons and isn’t going to compete with me. It is simply for the good of the team. This is the only guy I would ever get in bed with.
“If all teams had the support system of Akhamt MMA, this sport would be very different today.”
The decision to potentially join forces with Akhmat MMA is a particularly interesting one given that Kadyrov is one of the more controversial rulers in the region. An attempt to blur the lines between politics and sports may bring about an uneasy relationship between the two organizations. However, Ali chose to focus on Kadyrov’s positive approach to sports, which he believes could be hugely beneficial to MMA overall.
“I have never dealt with Kadyrov but I really admire his passion. The guy trains almost everyday with the fighters. He tries to help them and invest in them, which I think is something beautiful. Normally a president only cares about politicians and select people, but when you give yourself to the people, they are going to love you.
“I was told that if you really want to get to Russia, he is the guy that you should be talking to.”
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