Fighters are a competitive breed, and when a setback is suffered inside the Octagon, there is a sting that lingers until the next step can be taken. Rustam Khabilov has been patiently waiting for his chance to get things moving again after a June 2014 loss to Benson Henderson, but the red tape that sometimes accompanies an international sport presented a different type of battle.
The 28-year-old Dagestan-born fighter ran up against visa issues that prevented him from making his scheduled date against Danny Castillo at UFC 182, and that served to prolong his return to competition. Furthermore, that particular dilemma created another obstacle as Khabilov’s inability to travel to the United States also kept him from traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he has been training under Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn for the past two years.
Nevertheless, Khabilov is a fighter through and through and athletes in combat sports are wired to face adversity at every turn. He simply allowed the process time to work itself out and continued his training in
Russia in the interim as he waited for his moment of opportunity to arrive.
“My problems with getting my visa are over,” Khabilov said. “After this fight I will return to the gym and Albuquerque and resume my work with my training. I will be training again with my coaches Brandon Gibson, Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn very soon. For this camp I trained in Russia with my old coach.
“I can’t wait to be back inside the Octagon. I haven’t had a fight for a long time, but I’m ready to come back. It’s great to fight again and I feel very good.”
Waiting to greet him upon his return to the sport’s biggest stage will be a rangy Brazilian striker who also knows a thing or two about putting winning streaks together. Martins has found victory in seven of his past eight outings, with his only loss in that stretch coming against Khabilov’s teammate Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC on FOX: Henderson vs. Thompson in Chicago.
Yet where Cerrone found success in the stand-up department against Martins, the talented Russian fighter is more apt to employ a different type of attack. Where grappling in the modern view of mixed martial arts can sometimes be viewed as somewhat of a sleeper skill where fans are concerned, the variety Khabilov brings to the table registers at the opposite end of that particular spectrum.
The three victories he’s forged inside the Octagon have featured a versatile mixture of power slams and suplexes that helped solidify his place as an exciting talent on the rise. Should the opportunities present themselves against Martins, he has every intention of letting his opponent experience some air time in Porto Alegre.
“In any fight at any moment, if I can get the suplex I will show you guys what I can do,” Khabilov said. “I want to put on a show and the suplex makes fans excited.”
For Khabilov, the bout with Martins will represent the opportunity to get things back on track and reclaim his position in the heated mix of the lightweight fold. The 155-pound collective is arguably the most stacked division under the UFC banner, and the Jackson/Winkeljohn representative had built solid momentum toward the top of the ladder before being derailed by “Smooth” in Albuquerque.
Yet, despite the setback and his time on the shelf, Khabilov has never abandoned his ultimate goal of becoming the lightweight champion. His immediate focus may rest on Martins on Sunday night, but in his mind, the fight will reignite the spark of his championship ambitions.
“I’m not going to stop,” Khabilov said. “I’m going straight for the belt. Right now, I need to keep my focus on this next fight. Yes, I did lose my last fight against Henderson. I won some rounds, but I lost on the ground because I got tired. I went back to the gym and I trained harder to make myself better and I’m going after the belt.”
Khabilov is determined to prove he’s capable of beating the best fighters in the world, and is willing to face each and every one of them inside the Octagon to solidify that notion. He may be a young fighter on the rise, but he’s fully aware that progress comes with an education - one where setbacks and mistakes made can provide the best learning curve available.
The road to the top of the lightweight mountain is a path very few fighters have ever been capable of traveling, but Khabilov believes hard work and dedication to his training will get him there. For him, the first step back will come against Martins in Brazil, and he’s never been more ready for a fight than the one directly in front of him on Sunday night.
“I’ve made a lot of changes and I’m going to show them in this fight,” Khabilov said. “After my last fight, I understand a lot more things about fighting. I’m very happy to be fighting again in the UFC and I’m going to show what I can do.”