In such a young sport like MMA, the notion that the route to stardom relies on a brash attitude seems to have taken over, but Salford fighter Muhammed Mokaev is paving his own way to the top, not with his mouth, but with unmatched determination and an overwhelming level of talent.
When it comes to young sports stars who have limitless potential, Muhammad Mokaev is the cream of the crop. From Politics forcing him to move to Russia with his father at aged 12 following his mother’s death, to having to adjust to a whole new country and culture, this young man certainly doesn’t lack will and ambition. Not only is this portrayed through Muhammad as a person, it also very evidently rubs off on his work inside the mixed martial arts cage.
The fighting begins
It’s no secret that settling into England as a 12 year old refugee was difficult, but it was in Wigan, where he and his father were allocated their first home, where Mokaev truly got into martial arts, specifically wrestling.
This wrestling base has served him well throughout one of the most dominant amateur careers we have ever seen in the sport of MMA, 23-0, a record with no blemishes and packed with talent. Although being known for his wrestling, Mokaev is regarded as a complete fighter, he has the striking to match the suffocating ground game and stresses how important being well rounded is in modern day MMA.
“Very important, this is not like old school where you can just hold someone down and win. People will call it boring, but a win is a win. When I was fighting in IMMAF against a guy from Kazakhstan the referee stands me up twice, you have to be active nowadays and good at everything”.
Mokaev’s birthplace of Dagestan has been a hotbed for MMA talent in recent years, the wrestling systems out there in the Caucasus region being some of the best in combat sports. Spearheading this effort is undefeated UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov, a man Mokaev often gets compared to due to their undefeated records and dominant business inside the cage.
“People compare me and Khabib because we are both undefeated and wear the same hat (papakha), the hat is a part of Dagestani culture, I was wearing it before people even knew about Khabib. Khabib is a very good role model to young fighters but we had different paths, I came to this country (England) and worked through the amateurs”.
Mokaev had a go at wrestling while growing up in Dagestan but only really took to it in the UK, the place where he truly immersed himself in martial arts. Mokaev soon became European BJJ champ, British wrestling champ and won multiple titles across various combat sports. He trains at Manchester Wrestling Club in Salford, coached by Oleg Druzhynets. Mokaev explained to me the difference he sees between the UK and Russia in terms of combat sports and why Dagestan are so successful.
“In England there are some very good fighters, some very good fighters but a lot of them fight for different reasons. In Dagestan they are so hungry, and a hungry fighter is a dangerous fighter, they are fighting to put food on the table for their family”.
Why go the amateur route?
Although only turning pro in August of this year, Mokaev was already widely known in the Amateur scene prior to this, a scene which he says was very important for his growth and the growth of MMA fighters in general. Mokaev competed in the IMMAF format, a tournament which pits the best amateur fighters from around the world against each other. He is a two-time amateur MMA Junior World Champion and prior to turning pro, was the number 1 ranked pound for pound amateur on the IMMAF roster.
“It (IMMAF) was very good” Mokaev said, “The guys in IMMAF are very good guys and hard fights, it’s not an easy place to compete, a lot of guys lose their undefeated records there and it gets you ready to go pro”.
The Amateur scene was not only instrumental for experience purposes, Mokaev explained how it’s a huge source of exposure and it gets you mentally ready to become a pro, something which if not prepared for would “mentally break a lot of guys”.
“Amateur is very important, it helps build up your profile, so people know who you are and it prepares you for being a pro. You often travel alone on the same coach as your opponents and are in a hotel on your own, if you went straight to pro, I think it would mentally break a lot of guys”.
Building up his profile was necessary for moving onto the pro stage of his career, another chapter he would excel in through the platform of middle eastern royalty. Sheikh Khalid, the 5th son of the king of Bahrain, a keen MMA fan, had taken a notice to Mokaev in his amateur days. “He tagged he on Instagram after one of my amateur fights and said, watch out for this guy” said Mokaev. Sheikh Khalid assisted Mokaev in 2018 to get into Bahrain for the IMMAF as his travel documents were not accepted and has remained very loyal to him throughout his career so far.
“My coach was injured in Bahrain and they got him to the best hospital. They don’t just care for me they care for my whole team”.
Khalid formed his own MMA promotion, BRAVE CF in 2016, thus the decision as to where to compete when he turned pro was simple for Mokaev although he had many top organizations vying for his signature. “He (Sheikh Khalid) was always loyal to me, so I had to be loyal to BRAVE, loyalty is very big for me” says Mokaev.
Mokaev has stormed the pro scene so far, going 3-0 in the opening stanza of his career and at just 20 years of age, I truly believe he is an MMA great in the making. He loves the city of Salford and represents them when he competes, and I can assure you he is a virtuoso. He competes this Sunday in his 4th pro bout at Celtic Gladiator 28.
The future is certainly looking bright for Mokaev and he certainly has ambitious goals for himself, ambitious yet very very achievable. He wants to give talented children a chance to tap into the talent they haven’t had an opportunity to show, children who may be in a situation like he was when he was younger and first came to the UK.
“I will have the UFC belt, BRAVE belt and will leave the sport and help kids who don’t have opportunities. When I came to England, I didn’t have many opportunities and it was hard. There are a lot of kids who are very talented but just need the opportunity to be able to show it”.
Classy intentions in and out of the ring, this sums Mokaev up as not just a fighter but as a person to. Virtuoso, warrior, fighter, a man looking to shape the future for himself and create a positive one for others, Muhammad Mokaev ladies and gentlemen.