In recent years, a cavalcade of fighters from the northern part of the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian have descended upon the sport of mixed martial arts.
This region has become a pipeline for intriguing talent, with fighters from Chechnya and Dagestan funneling into the Octagon and making an instant impression thanks to a wealth of experience accumulated fighting throughout Russia and abroad and a well-rounded skill set often rooted in combat sambo.
One of those fighters is welterweight Omari Akhmedov, the 28-year-old welterweight competitor who returns to action this week in Las Vegas looking to extend his winning streak to three.
While Khabib Nurmagomedov quickly established himself as a threat in the lightweight division and fighters like Zubaira Tukhugov and Albert Tumenov arrived in the UFC as hyped prospects and quickly affirmed their advanced billing, Akhmedov’s transition to the highest level in the sport has been much more of a slow burn.
He started out at middleweight, knocking out Thiago Perpetuo in one of the wildest 3:30 fights you’ll ever see in your life before opting to move to down a division, where he was promptly submitted by UFC 194 main card competitor and rising contender Gunnar Nelson in his welterweight debut. After rebounding with a victory over Mats Nilsson, the International Master of Sport in both Combat Sambo and Hand-to-Hand Combat defeated Brian Ebersole in June after the veteran suffered a knee injury early in the opening round of what proved to be the final fight of his extensive career and couldn’t continue.
Settled in the 170-pound weight class and growing more comfortable competing on the biggest stage in the sport with each passing fight, Akhmedov is ready to close out 2015 with a third consecutive victory.
“Having a few fights in the biggest promotion and gaining that experience makes you more comfortable and confident in the cage,” admitted the 15-2 fighter who takes on Sergio Moraes as part of the UFC Fight Night: Namajunas vs. VanZant undercard on Thursday, December 10. “The pressure and concerns (that come with fighting at this level) go away the more you fight in front of big audiences.
“Now that I have fought in the UFC a few times, I am able to use more techniques and move much better inside the Octagon; that’s how important experience is for a fighter.”
Like many of his countrymen, Akhmedov divides his training time between preparing at home and working with one of the more established MMA gyms around the world. In his case, that means drilling wrestling and grappling at the DagFighter Gym under the watchful eye of his long-time head coach Mansur Uchakaev and then making the trek to the Jackson-Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico where, as he puts it, “world-class coaches such as Brandon Gibson and Mike Winkeljohn work with me to sharpen my striking skills.”
It’s a formula that has produced positive results in each of his last two appearances, and one that Akhmedov will rely on as he heads into action again when he deals with a late shift in opponents for the first time in his UFC career.
Originally scheduled to face Team Tiger Schulman product Lyman Good, the 30-year-old New Yorker was forced to withdraw from the contest in late October and was subsequently replaced by Brazilian veteran Moraes, who, like Akhmedov, made the transition to welterweight after beginning his UFC tenure competing as a middleweight.
The 33-year-old Moraes has won three straight, most recently returning from a nearly two-year hiatus to pick up a unanimous decision victory over Mickael Lebout back in April, and he brings a much different style into the cage than Good. But the late shift and change in stylistic matchup is nothing that worries the steadily improving Akhmedov.
“Obviously, the game plan for Sergio will be different than the game plan for Lyman,” he began, “but it’s mixed martial arts; you have to be prepared for all aspects of a fight. Yes, they (Moraes and Good) have totally different fighting styles, but whoever I’m fighting, I’m training to be ready to fight in any position, standing or on the ground.”
As far as Akhmedov is concerned, his current run of success, his ability to continue his winning streak and just about everything else in life all comes down to the same thing.
“There is only one key: hard work and dedication,” he opined. “Without it, nothing can be done and no success can be found, in professional sport or any other industry.”
With that as the foundation of everything he does and since it’s producing positive results, Akhmedov envisions closing out 2015 by collecting a third consecutive victory next week against Moraes and he then has his sights set on accomplishing even more by the end of next year.
“By the end of 2016, I should fight for the title or at least a top contender fight; that’s the plan. With God’s help, I’ll get there.”