As an undefeated prodigy of the UK’s amateur MMA scene, Muhammad Mokaev has now stormed beyond the comforts of home turf to prove himself at the international level.
Mokaev was just 12-years-old when he and his family moved to Manchester, England, all the way from Dagestan in Russia, a famous and sizzling hotbed of mixed martial arts and wrestling talent.
Interestingly, it was in England where Mokaev took up wrestling, the foundation of his MMA skill set, with the City of Manchester Wrestling Club, shortly after arriving in the country. Today, the 18-year-old is a veteran competitor for the GB wrestling team, with ambitions of competing in the Olympic Games.
By his 18th birthday, Mokaev was already among the most recognizable faces in UK MMA, and no doubt one of its most polarizing and confident characters. At 7-0 he opted against the ever tempting professional transition, instead recognising the high volume of remaining experience and opportunity for growth on offer as a young amateur.
Thus, in 2018 he became a multi-sport Olympic hopeful upon joining MMA’s drive for inclusion under the Olympic banner, via IMMAF-WMMAA, the unified global governing body through which Mokaev represented his adoptive nation at the record breaking Amateur MMA World Championships, featuring over 350 athletes representing 50-plus nations.
Flying the flag for Team England, Mokaev competed in the concurrent Junior World Championships (for athletes age 18-20), in the men’s bantamweight division. Three victories in as many days saw him best opposition from Russia, Kazakhstan and Mexico before cruising to a unanimous decision win over Japan’s Asian Open champion, Reo Yamaguchi, in the gold medal decider.
Speaking to IMMAF.org, Mokaev reflected on the differences and any surprising aspects of competing at the international level.
“Actually, I believe that some juniors were stronger than in the senior divisions,” he stated, having grown accustomed to facing older opponents. “The level under IMMAF-WMMAA is higher than I expected, the arena is huge, the cage I believe is the same size as UFC, the medical and cutman team were on point and well organised. Also, the fights started on time and with same day weigh-ins, no delays.”
In the process of capturing the junior world title, Mokaev expanded his record to 11-0 and diversified his experience through the single elimination tournament, in a format unique to MMA, facing off on a day’s notice against diverse opposition from across Europe, Asia and Latin America, each posing their own contrasting style.
Mokaev believes he became a greater competitor having tested himself beyond the limits of the UK.
“I believe those competing internationally are on a different level than those who always compete locally, because when you’re competing abroad and against other countries, then you’re growing and your confidence builds up from each fight.
“If an amateur fighter is planning to fight professional, I think IMMAF-WMMAA is the best platform, as you’re even getting used to travelling to other countries, eating different food, weather conditions, the hotel. These things can effect the your performance, so if you do this in the amateur stage then this will be easier in a professional career.”
While the talent pool of the UK is high as one of the world’s MMA hot spots, Mokaev agrees that it is possible to develop a false sense of security, and that further challenges can be found at the international amateur level, such as Russia’s renowned wrestling prowess that cannot be experienced so easily among UK rivals.
For amateurs, the platform is there to offer growth. The idea of facing difficulty or even defeat against an obscure rival and learning from contrasting national styles is something to be embraced, rather than facing such lessons for the first time as a pro.
“I think it’s ok to just fight in the UK,” Mokaev commented, “but if you’re planning to go to UFC, Bellator or ACA, then you have to fight internationally. There are opponents from other countries who are stronger. For example, in the UK there is good BJJ, but Russia has better wrestling than UK. Get better tested and you will grow as a fighter, 100%.”
He added, “If you face Russians at the IMMAF-WMMAA’s, then when you fight them, for example on ACA, then you will know how to prepare. I believe that the amateur level is very important, as soon as you turn professional you have to be a rounded fighter, be ready to fight any wrestler, boxer, Thai-boxer or BJJ guy. There’s no shame if you lose in amateurs, you have to go out there and fight so when you turn to pro you’re ready for everything. To go out internationally is important because when you sign with promotions like UFC or Bellator, there won’t be just British guys.”
Currently training at the world famous Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket, Mokaev prepares for his next international amateur outing under the IMMAF-WMMAA banner. The reigning junior world champion steps up to battle among the senior ranks (age 18+) as he targets the 2019 Asian Open Championships, taking place from 1-4 May in Bangkok, Thailand.
By IMMAF.org lead writer/photographer: Jorden Curran