By Caoilte de Barra
One of the most decorated amateurs to come through the IMMAF, Muhammad Mokaev, will make his highly anticipated UFC debut at UFC London, on March 19.
The two-time IMMAF World Champion was a standout during his time as an amateur athlete, storming past everyone in his path, amassing an amateur record of 23-0 before ultimately deciding to move to the pro ranks.
At the age of 12, Mokaev entered the UK from Dagestan as a refugee and was unable to speak English. He lived in a refugee camp on £5 a day. The 21-year-old now hopes that he can be an inspiration for all refugees who arrive in the UK.
“I want to be an inspiration for all people who come to a country with just one backpack, you’re not lost,” Mokaev told IMMAF.org. “You can become something better in your life. Maybe if I stayed in Russia I would still be working at the petrol station, so don’t lose your hope and adapt to where you end up.”
Mokaev started his IMMAF career in 2018 after picking up seven wins on the regional English scene. His first outing was at the 2018 Junior World Championships where he made an instant impact, submitting Imran Satiev within a minute. Two more wins set up a gold medal bout with Reo Yamaguchi (Japan). The first of what would become a trilogy of bouts between the two.
Just over seven months later, Mokaev returned to the IMMAF Fighting Area for the 2019 European Open Championships. A quick first-round TKO/KO victory over Abanoub Fares saw him hit the ground running. It was not long before we saw him meet Reo Yamaguchi yet again for a gold medal. The Japanese fighter looked to be the best bet to defeat Mokaev as both stood out at the top of the Bantamweight division for two years.
Yet another win secured European gold and he was beginning to look unstoppable. In his final seven amateur bouts, he picked up two gold medals in less than four months. His wrestling was a level above all those in IMMAF and his striking improved with every fight. His win over top prospect Zhanibek Tynyshtyk saw him pick up his twentieth win before he was even twenty years of age. His second World Championship came in the next fight when he met Yamaguchi for a final time. Yet another classic Mokaev performance saw him cruise to victory.
The pro move looked like it was fast approaching and Mokaev made his final outing in IMMAF at the Oceania Open Championships in 2020, around the time the Covid-19 pandemic began. Two quick wins solidified his final gold medal in his last amateur bout. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, he claims that he would have stayed amateur for a little longer.
“I was going to stay a little bit more at amatuer to become a three-time world champion and make history but Covid happened. Why an amateur career is good, it’s exactly the same as UFC backstage. You got media, you got weigh-ins, you have to make weight also if you get knocked out you’re not competing the next day. Injury-free, making weight every day, if you do not make weight, you’re out.”
He added: “It gets you prepared for the professional level and showing up to the cage every day after fighting decision fights against the number one from each country.”
He remains involved with IMMAF competitions despite not competing, he most recently attended the 2021 IMMAF World Championships where he cornered some of his teammates from Bahrain and KHK.
Fast forward to the present day, the inevitable idea that Mokaev would be in the UFC is now a reality. The two-time IMMAF Jr World Champion will make his highly anticipated UFC debut on March 19 against Cody Durden. His path to UFC was fast, and he received the call to sign with the promotion after a win against the much more experienced, Blaine O’Driscoll on the BRAVE CF platform, answering any doubts that people may have previously had.
Ahead of his bout, Mokaev isn’t feeling any pressure. He explained that he is excited to get in there and “smash” his opponent.
“Pressure wise, I’ve gone past this since my amateur debut. It’s always been like this – media, traveling around the world. I think I’ve visited most countries, I even went and fought in Australia on my own without coaches. The most pressure is in the camp, to not get injured and to make weight, to be professional. This is part of the job I have to do, no pressure at all.”
At UFC London, he will fight in front of a sold-out home crowd in the UK, broadcasted around the world. His debut is one of the most highly anticipated ones in UFC history and is not one to be missed.