The Ultimate Fighter
This month marks exactly five years since Shayillan Nuerdanbieke started training MMA. On the eve of his UFC debut, it’s impossible to argue he hasn’t made the most of that time.
After securing a securing a submission victory in his first professional fight under the BFFC banner in China, the lightweight fought a whopping 24 more times between then and now. He fought six times in 2020 alone, topped only by a staggering 2017 campaign that featured ten—yes, ten—pro fights. That’s the kind of frequency that would make the likes of Angela Hill and Donald Cerrone proud, and the dedication ultimately paid off.
“I started my MMA career because I was obsessed with watching UFC,” he explains. “I am super glad to sign with UFC right now. My dream was to step into the UFC Octagon.”
That’s one big dream he can scratch off the list when he stands across from Josh Culibao this Saturday at UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt. But it’s not the first dream he’s been able to conquer: he also secured his favorite fighter to train him.
“Tiequan Zhang, he is the first Chinese UFC fighter, and now my coach,” he says with pride.
Having a BJJ black belt and wrestling master as his guide has served Nuerdanbieke well. He’s compiled a 19-6 overall record in his five years on the mat, winning seven of his last eight dating back to 2019. The UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai took notice during their combine, and he now finds himself among the growing cadre of UFC talents emerging from mainland China.
“There are a lot of great fighters ready to step into the UFC Octagon,” he says, noting that he’ll be far from the last representative of a sport growing like wildfire back home. “New fans are starting to discover the UFC and know more about MMA as a sport lately.”
In his rare downtime at home in Xinjiang, China, he spends a lot of time practicing the dombra, a traditional stringed Kazakh musical instrument. Aside from mere strumming, the instrument requires a lot of banging and clawing to achieve a percussive effect. There’s a metaphor for his fighting style in there somewhere.
“My style has very aggressive wrestling, high-paced striking and suplexes,” he says, painting a mental picture of what fans can expect to see Saturday on the ESPN+ prelims. His record corroborates this description, with nearly as many of his finishes coming by submission as by KO. But make no mistake, there’s one scenario he seeks in every fight.
“Definitely ground, because I’m a wrestler.”
He views his opponent’s skills much like he views his own, calling Culibao “very well-rounded.” But asked to make a prediction, Nuerdanbieke doesn’t hesitate.
“I will win. That’s it.”