“The #1 prospect in worldwide Mixed Martial Arts today”.
That was the conclusion from the recent musings by various Bloody Elbow staff, and in a recent poll partaken in by hundreds of fans. On the surface it’s a throwaway remark and moniker bestowed on countless fighters of times gone by, all of whom had varying levels of success thereafter. But in this day and age, with the United States of America and Zuffa LLC in particular tightening their stranglehold on Mixed Martial Arts at the elite level, it is an extremely encouraging occurrence for Guram Gugenishvili, M-1 Global and supporters of worldwide MMA in general that in this day and age, the man named as the sports’ foremost current prospect fights under the M-1 banner and comes from the former Eastern Bloc.
It is less difficult to surmise how it came to be that Guram became an object of analysis and praise. A man mountain at 6’5” and 250lbs, he is an impressive specimen with all the physical attributes to go with his formidable skillset, and to top it off he is 24yrs old.
The huge youngster grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he still resides to this day. Georgians have that uniqueness of personality that comes to a people with its own very individual history and national identity; there modern history of course being haunted by producing the monster Josef Djugashvili – the man who became Stalin – who of course achieved something akin to deification in his dictatorship of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or the Soviet Union, what had been and would later once again be Russia) and in the process renounced his nationality and persecuted his own people, who suffered greatly under his communist rule. With the Georgian Stalin a prominent Bolshevik even in the days before power, the Red Army invaded Georgia during the Russian Civil War to consolidate their control over Russia, and they duly conquered the smaller Caucasian state and eventually established a harsh rule that lasted until the Fall of Communism in 1991.
A haunted past can define the personality of a nation, and in Georgia it is apparent. One writer noted that they had more of an “emotion charged personality” than their northerly neighbours such as Russians and Ukrainians, yet they retain a degree of that mental toughness that so defines eastern Europeans and Caucasians. While he is not ‘emotion charged’, in terms of the latter at least Guram is certainly such a man; he speaks freely of the strategic nature of his martial approach during fights. As he told bloodyelbow; “I leverage my freestyle wrestling techniques with combat sambo and this is a good combination to secure advantageous positions. During the fight I’m not really looking for a submission, I’m just trying to make strategic moves to win. As it happens, most of my moves are earning me submission wins.”
As for the iron will, tenacity and endurance that has characterised some of the other notable fighters of Ukrainian nationality – which Guram also shares – such as Fedor and Aleksander Emelianenko, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, Igor Vovchanchyn, it is not verifiable fact yet. Because no one has been able thus far to push Guram to his limits, let alone beyond them, or find a weakness in his game to expose.
The first four fights of Guram’s career all ended in the same manner – submission victories via rear-naked-choke, in round 1. That’s about as emphatic a start in the sport as you can get. The fifth fight, against Dmitry Poberezhets was the first to go past the first round without Guram winning via restricting his opponent’s blood flow to the brain, and the fight would actually go the distance. This was interspersed between the initial four fight Rear-Naked-Choke spree, and a fifth career RnC. In fact, six out of Guram’s first eight fights would end via rear-naked-choke, the Georgian/Ukrainian having a clear affinity for that particular finishing hold. As he himself says, it’s not so much that he is a submission machine, but his grappling ability and positional control can get him into advantageous positions from which he can finish. MMA is a sport that could be dominated by a fighter with natural instincts for finishing combined with high calibre grappling, and Guram Gugenishvili possesses both qualities.
The hardcore fanbase have a selection of talent that for various reasons are enjoying cult status, and/or being tipped for future greatness. There are the two welterweight warriors who just contested the M-1 Global world championship, Shamil ‘Champion’ Zavurov’ and former Sengoku star Yasubey Enomoto. There is perhaps the finest grappler in the sport, the man Carried Away By a Moonlight Shadow, Hatsu Hioki, on a thirteen fight unbeaten streak marred by the Omigawa robbery, with further wins over the murderous Marlon Sandro, Pato Carvalho, Mark Hominick x2, Baret Yoshida (whom he outgrappled!), Lion Takeshi, and Rumina Sato. There is Aleksander Emelianenko, still somewhat in career limbo after wasting a good portion of his 20’s competing infrequently in lower level MMA after beginning his MMA career facing top talent in Pride Fighting Championships, and becoming world Sambo champion. There is Shinya Aoki – no description necessary (see http://bit.ly/jgRSkZ & http://bit.ly/kItzhX for the most comprehensive look at his greatness, by some overrated tomato can writer from “Leeds”, some backwater peasant hovel in England no doubt). There is Lorenz Larkin, a decent prospect by all accounts. There is – rather more obviously, and more known to casual fans – Jon Jones, and a handful of other explosive wrestlers coming to prominence in America. And… there is the hulking, talented, undefeated, formidable Guram Gugenishvili. He can no longer be ignored. He simply cannot be ignored.
He was known to the hardcores long before earning two successive ‘Submission of the Night’ honours in his most recent two outings, firstly securing a guillotine choke on the American Kenny ‘Deuce’ Garner to become M-1 Global World Heavyweight champion, and then in passing his first test as title-holder when he won his recent defence against the M-1 Global Eastern European Heavyweight champion, the Russian Maxim Grishin, whom he submitted via his now trademark rear-naked-choke. It was as a then 7-0 unbeaten giant that Guram’s name began to circulate message boards on the internet (and around the time that legendary forum poster MonaroCountry began claiming that Guram would defeat all UFC heavyweights with ease. Hey, scorn in 2009 was one thing, but with every dominant win it becomes harder to envision the majority of heavyweights having their way with Guram). Word had gotten out, and the fight that followed would only intensify it, to the delight of European fight fans and M-1, and to the chagrin of a section of American based fight fans who – rather typically – considered it inappropriate to hype him up despite the fact he had not competed in America. But they were a minority; it was obvious to most that Guram was a very genuine prospect.
It was July 22nd, and Guram was 7-0, and his previous two victories over Dekker (not the thai boxer) and Scherbakov had launched him into the M-1 Selection Western Europe heavyweight tournament final (ironically held at the Eastern Europe Finals event). He drew the unfortunate Alexander Romaschenko, who was a comparative rookie at the start of the tournament and who was not expected to last against the giant on such a hot streak. He didn’t; Guram took the Western Europe tournament title with a rear-naked choke after only 85 seconds. His opponent threw a wild haymaker that missed, seconds into the bout, and it would be his only offence in the fight, as Guram promptly took him down and positioned for the choke. Three fights later he would ‘unify’ all Heavyweight M-1 titles with his win over Grishin, the Eastern Europe tournament champion, on top of the M-1 World title that he successfully defended.
And that brings us to the current day.
Kenny Garner, by virtue of being American, muscular and a striker who had only gone the distance once in his career – finishing or being finished in literally all his other fights – was somewhat tipped, if not as an outright prospect then certainly one to look out for, with great potential for improvement. His ability was undoubted, but the late stand in for Grishin (who had pulled out with injury some weeks before) had no opportunity to launch his own offence, merely surviving Guram’s top control and submission attempts. Guram looked relaxed – his subs led to Garner gaining top position more than once, but before long the giant Ukraine/Georgian had reversed the position, and was working to wear down the tiring American whose eye was swollen and bloodied, and whose defence was flagging. In the second round, the dam finally broke, and Guram sank in a tight guillotine choke as Garner missed the punches that he threw immediately at the start of the round. It took forty seconds, but eventually the tough and determined Garner lost consciousness, and Guram had won the title. He’d beaten a capable American, and proved that he could beat both American wrestlers and men with arguably superior striking to him. It was an eye opener to the dwindling detractors Stateside.
So where now for Guram Gugenishvili?
Well, first and foremost before we delve into the realm of speculative ‘if only’s and fantasy matchups, I must note that he has a title defence booked against Pat Bennett at M-1 Challenge XXVI in July. Now, Pat is a solid fighter, but he lost handsomely to none other than Kenny ‘Deuce’ Garner by knockout in the first round, and holds a 4-2 record. With no offence intended to him whatsoever, I cannot help but think that M-1 Global are giving Guram an opportunity to smash a competent but frankly overmatched opponent in impressive style on a Challenge card, and further market himself as a true prospect – perhaps THE prospect – on the world stage.
Let me do something that the most diehard Zuffa zombies will undoubtedly be disgusted by – dare to match Guram up against the finest competitors currently plying their trade in the United States of America. Say what you will, MonaroCountry beat me to it long ago. And by this stage, it’s so obvious that Guram is an unbelievable prospect that it’s not silly at all to speculate on his chances against anybody in the world right now. So I’ll do it against probably the world’s most hyped, and highest ranked heavyweight right now.
GURAM vs CAIN
This would be a titanic struggle. The Caucasian giant against the mercurial Brown Pride Mexican monster, who also boasts an undefeated record and a world heavyweight title, his being that of the UFC. It would match up Guram, a man whose grappling base is something of a hybrid between freestyle wrestling and Combat Sambo, and Cain who has considerable ability as a Greco-Roman wrestler, which he clearly showed in his fight against the huge Brock Lesnar. Cain has an uncanny ability to get back to his feet, and to control his opponent positionally and land a huge volume of shots. Guram for his part also likes to gain positional control, but he uses it to secure choke holds and submissions. Regardless, there are clear synergies between the tactical game of both men, and it would indeed be an intriguing encounter.
Would Guram be able to physically dominate the smaller man in the manner he has done all his previous opponents, and lock in a submission? Or would he fall shorts as Brock did, another huge grappler, who was unable to keep Cain on the ground and in the bottom position. If not, could Cain hurt the durable Guram? Cain’s protracted ground and pound of Cheick Kongo did not damage the Frenchman, despite landing an obscene volume of punches, and it has led some to question his ground and pound, and despite what he subsequently did against the green Lesnar, these charges have remained.
Who knows. Either way, it would be an intriguing affair.
M-1 Global have laid Pat Bennett out there to be bludgeoned, and though he is a capable foe, on paper he should not be able to match the rising star that is Guram Gugenishvili. Beyond that, where will he go? Who will he fight? It should be noted that the Challenge card he will next appear on is to be held in the United States of America, and broadcast on Showtime no less. It is a highly significant stage for this potential star to shine on.
One wonders not only if he will, but also what will become of it if he does. His future is tied to M-1 Global, who are no strangers to nurturing and boasting the premier heavyweight in the world among their ranks. Fedor reigned supreme for ten years, a glorious decade, and one wonders if Vadim Finkelstein’s organisation see Guram Gugenishvili as the natural successor in line, heir to the throne, ready to explode on the world stage and leave a trail of bodies in his wake. Well, the world is watching. And one wonders what is on the horizon for the hulking giant with his huge physical presence, tremendous grappling ability and the youth on his side that ensures the 24yr old still has improvement to come. The stage is set, and now only time will tell if Guram Gugenishvili can be all that he can be…