Misha Cirkunov is quickly making a name for himself in the UFC light heavyweight division.
The Latvian-born, Toronto-based fighter debuted last summer in Saskatoon, making quick work of Daniel Jolly in the opening bout of the debut card in “The Paris of The Prairies,” picking up a first-round stoppage victory to push his record to 10-2 and extend his winning streak to five.
This past weekend, the hulking 28-year-old returned to action against Alex Nicholson and picked up where he left off back in August.
After getting the better of things as the two felt each other out in the first round, Cirkunov took the fight to the canvas early in the second, slipped around to Nicholson’s back and looked to sink in a rear naked choke. Rather than slipping his forearm under his opponent’s chin, Cirkunov opted instead to clamp down across the UFC newcomer’s jaw, clasping his hands and almost immediately drawing the tap from Nicholson.
“I’m excited that I was able to get a submission,” Cirkunov said Thursday morning, a couple days removed from collecting his second straight stoppage win inside the Octagon. “Unfortunately, my opponent got injured; that’s part of fighting, but I hope he recovers. I found out after the fight that his jaw was already fractured before, so basically I just re-injured the old injury.”
It was a stark reminder of the hazards of this sport, but also an indication of the grappling prowess the promising light heavyweight prospect possesses and something Cirkunov is sure future opponents will remember when faced with the prospect of trying to fight through a submission next time out.
“Before the fight, people asked, ‘How do you think the fight’s going to go? What’s going to be the outcome of the fight?’ and honestly, I was thinking about many, many different things, but I would never think there would be that kind of a pretty nasty injury – I would never think that – but it is what it is.
“If people follow my fighting, I’m a grappler and it just shows that if people don’t tap on time or they’re thinking about holding out a little bit longer, that can happen,” he added. “If I’m known for that – that’s what I do, that’s my style and I’m just going to work at it more and more and I’m excited to get a lot better. I’m not going to be the same fighter when I fight next.”
More from Fight Night Las Vegas: Full results | Post-fight bonuses | Thompson pounces on Hendricks for victory | Nelson, Saint Preux and Benavidez wins take time | Gall gets job done to set up CM Punk clash | Burkman, Lewis among prelim winners | Backstage interviews: Stephen Thompson, CM Punk, Ovince Saint Preux, Joseph Benavidez, Misha Cirkunov, Diego Rivas | Octagon interviews: Stephen Thompson and Johny Hendricks, Mickey Gall | Watch: Post-fight press conference highlights
The UFC website lists just 44 men in the light heavyweight division, creating the opportunity for an up and coming talent like Cirkunov to potentially make a rapid ascent up the rankings and into contention. But while working his way up the divisional ladder and taking on more established competition each time out is definitely in the judoka’s plans, Cirkunov is committed to taking his time and guaranteeing that he dedicates time between each fight to working on his craft and continuing to round out his skill set so that as those stiffer tests come, so too do more victories.
“Before this fight, I wanted to fight way sooner because I was ready to fight and I was kind of hoping they would put me on a Vegas card before,” admitted Cirkunov, who joined New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis in having a rap song made about him by the Latvian group Transleiteris prior to his last outing. “After this fight, even though I won and everything, now I feel like I have a few things that I have to work on.
“My next challenger, I’m sure it’s going to be somebody with a bigger name and more of a challenge and they’re going to study all my tapes and they will know what to expect, so I just want to have maybe a similar amount of time before my next fight. There are a few things I want to work on so that when I do fight next, I will guarantee a completely different me again and I will be a lot better. I’m excited to work on different things. I see things I have to work on and I’m going to be a lot better for my next opponent.
“I know with the finishes that I have and what I do to my competition, sooner or later they will have to be top, top guys. I’ll fight anyone, but I think some guys that are ranked not as high aren’t going to want to fight me,” he added. “In the UFC, I don’t care how tough you are – you’re going to get tested, so I just want to be ready for the test and that’s why ideally it’s four or five months before my next fight. That will give me some time to prepare and work on certain things that I will work on and I will get better.”