Getting excited about new arrivals and emerging prospects is a regular occurrence for UFC fans, but there is something different about the impending debut of Muhammad Mokaev this weekend when he takes on Cody Durden in London.
The 21-year-old flyweight amassed a 23-0 record as an amateur, winning multiple world championship titles while establishing himself as a serious prospect to watch going forward. Since transitioning to the professional ranks, Mokaev has continued his winning ways, posting six victories and one no contest in seven appearances prior to being signed by the UFC.
Last time out, the Dagestan-born, Wigan-based prospect collected a second-round stoppage finish over Irishman Blaine O’Driscoll at Brave CF 54, submitting the SBG Ireland man with a rear naked choke 96 seconds into the middle stanza.
There is a lot more than goes into making Mokaev one of the most intriguing new additions to the roster in some time beyond his unblemished record, although let’s be clear: going unbeaten in 30 fights is an astonishing feat, and one that certainly ups the level of interest surrounding the debuting flyweight.
Mokaev was born in Dagestan, but left the country when he was 12, settling in Wigan with his father. He found wrestling and excelled, but being unable to represent Great Britain at the highest levels prompted him to shift his focus from the Olympics to competing on the biggest stages in mixed martial arts.
Last fall, he secured his British citizenship. Not long after, he signed with the UFC, and Saturday night, he’ll make the walk to the Octagon for the first time.
“I’m feeling good, feeling excited,” he said during his media scrum on Wednesday when asked about making his promotional debut this weekend. “I’ve got a lot of fire in me, and just counting the hours, you know, to eat and smash this guy.”
The newcomer has been locked in on facing Durden since late last year, taking exception to post-fight comments the American made about Aoriqileng following his decision win over the Chinese fighter towards the end of November.
“I was watching this fight with my manager, and said, ‘Let’s get this guy next’ while the fight was on,” explained Mokaev. “He made his comments after interview, and I’m like, ‘Let’s destroy this guy!’
“Also, I like to fight somebody old, experienced in the UFC — this is his fourth fight in the UFC — instead of fighting some debuting guys or somebody on a losing streak to prove the point straight away and climb up the rankings.”
The point he wants to prove is that despite his age and status as a UFC freshman, he’s ready to compete with the best in the world right now.
Many that have watched him compete outside of the Octagon share that same belief, and because of his heritage and pedigree on the canvas has drawn comparisons to former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
It’s lofty praise and hefty expectations to heap on the shoulders of the youngest fighter on the UFC roster at the moment, but listening to Mokaev speak, you understand that his confidence is genuine, his self-belief is sky-high, and he fully intends to climb the ranks even faster than anyone anticipates.
“It is 100 percent and I believe I can,’ he answered when asked if his goal remains to become the youngest champion in UFC history. Jon Jones, who was 23 years and 242 days old when he defeated Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to claim the light heavyweight title at UFC 128 on March 19, 2011, currently holds the record, giving Mokaev more than two years to accomplish the feat.
“This opponent is good to maybe get me Top 15 guys. Even if it’s not Top 15, instead of fighting debut guys or guys on losing streaks — better to fight a good name to get to the top.
Plans and goals are great but, at the end of the day, it comes down to performance and execution on fight night, and despite having yet to set foot inside the Octagon, Mokaev is steadfast in his belief that he can hang with the best the division has to offer right now.
“They’re all good,” he said when asked about the top tier talent in the 125-pound weight class. “At the professional level, it’s not like they have some crazy skills that you don’t know — you’re going in there, you’re going to hit one-two, low kick, takedowns, so you just have to be mentally ready, sharp, having a good training camp without headaches.
“If you go in, you can compete against anybody at the top in the world,” he added. “I don’t see anybody special.”
Saturday night, the young newcomer gets to start justifying his advanced billing and showing others he’s as good as anyone in the flyweight division.
Don’t miss a single round of UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall, live from the O2 Arena in London, on Saturday, March 19 on ESPN+ (US) and UFC Fight Pass (outside the US). Prelims begin at 1pm ET/10am PT. Main card begins at 4pm ET/1pm PT.