There has been no shortage of Eastern European talent in the UFC throughout its history. However, questions were raised who would pick up the gauntlet following the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov after his victory over Justin Gaethje. Despite that, our guest author, David Todva, says the success achieved by Khabib throughout his career makes the fighter the best to ever come out of Russia.
But who are some of the fighters currently fighting in the UFC that will be looking to continue the Russian success in the octagon over the coming years?
One of the brightest Russian talents in the UFC remains Askar Askarov. The 30-year-old won the ACB Flyweight Championship and the gold medal at the Summer Deaflympics in 2017 before joining the UFC. The Russian was excellent throughout his run in ACB, and continued that momentum after his move to the UFC in 2019.
His first fight ended in a split draw against Brandon Moreno in Mexico City, before he quickly claimed three straight wins. The biggest of those was scored against Alexandre Pantoja at UFC Fight Night in July 2020. However, he will be looking to get back on track after suffering a first career defeat earlier this year, as he was beaten by unanimous decision by Kai Kara-France.
The challenging assignment of carrying the Nurmagomedov name into UFC history rests on the shoulders of Umar- the cousin of former Lightweight champion Khabib. However, he looks to be a bantamweight champion in waiting after impressing throughout his professional career to this point. He made history in 19 when he became world champion in Combat Sambo, and he is currently ranked as the 12th best bantamweight in the UFC rankings.
To date, he has fought on 15 occasions, winning all fights. Only one victory has been scored by knockout, while seven of his wins have come by submission. The latest of his victories came on his return to the bantamweight division, as he scored a unanimous decision victory against Nate Maness in June 2022. He could be one of the brightest up-and-coming Russian athletes to keep an eye on in the UFC.
The only current Russian champion in UFC deserves to be named among the best fighters from the country. Islam Makhachev has been competing professionally since 2010, and like Nurmagomedov, he was a world champion in combat sambo. The 31-year-old is currently ranked as the second-best fighter in the pound-for-pound rankings, and he boasts a near perfect professional record of 23-1. His only professional defeat was suffered in just his second fight in the UFC, as he was beaten by TKO by Adriano Martins at UFC 192.
However, since then, he has won his previous eleven fights in the company. His biggest victory to date was scored earlier this year, as he got his hands on a first UFC title. That victory was secured against Charles Oliveira, as he finished the former champion in the second round by submission. His victory also saw him pick up the Performance of the Night award, and all sights will now be on his first defense of the title in 2023.
When it comes to one of the most talented Russian fighters competing in the UFC, it would be hard to ignore the clear credentials boasted by Petr Yan. The 29-year-old has been involved in some thrilling fights throughout his UFC career, and he is a former Bantamweight Champion in the company. Yan also previously won gold during his time with ACB, and he is now ranked as the third best fighter in the Bantamweight division.
Yan has won 16 of his 19 professional fights, with two of his defeats having been suffered by decision. The only other defeat was suffered against Aljamain Sterling, as he was disqualified for an illegal knee. Yan won the interim Bantamweight gold in October 2021, as he defeated Cory Sandhagen by decision. However, he lost the title earlier this year against Sterling. He will also go into 2023 with something to prove, as he was recently beaten in an instant classic against Sean O’Malley by split decision.
However, it has been rumored that a rematch between the pair could be on the cards. One of his biggest victories came at UFC 251, as he won the Bantamweight title with a stunning fifth round TKO against Jose Aldo. However, he will need to start 2023 in fine form to get back in the title picture.