By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran Photo via Instagram One of the most significant exports of the modern amateur pathway; UFC standout Zabit Magomedsharipov had the biggest challenge of his pro career announced earlier this week, the Russian featherweight contender will face off against number-six ranked Jeremy Stephens at UFC 235 on March 2 in Las Vegas, USA. Zabit, ranked 14th in the UFC featherweight division, is 17-1 in his professional MMA career and undefeated since 2013 with a current 12-fight win streak that has seen him go 4-0 in the UFC with successive highlight performances. He earned two ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses in 2017 and a ‘Fight of the Night’ award for his three round battle with Kyle Bochniak at UFC 223 last April in New York City. The 27-year-old’s seasoned finesse and innovative offence continued most recently on September 8 in Dallas, Texas, where at UFC 228 the Dagestan native pulled off a sensational rolling kneebar setup to complete a stunning modified submission hold over Brandon Davis. As one of the fastest rising UFC stars of 2018, Zabit’s MMA exploits can be traced back to his well structured amateur tenure that provided the necessary development platform with an output of the fine-tuned athlete now competing at the sport’s highest level. “Amateur experience gave me a lot,” he explained. “Every athlete is to start from minor steps. In amateur competition you have multiple bouts in one day as opposed to a professional fight when you know your only one opponent beforehand and prepare accordingly. This experience strengthens you. This experience is essential. Fight in pro with no amateur experience would have made it much more difficult.” Zabit is a graduate of the amateur progression pathway under the Russian MMA Union – a founding member of former IMMAF counterpart, the WMMAA. In April of 2018, an amalgamation of the two world governing bodies (IMMAF & WMMAA) was formally announced as a now united bid for MMA’s global sport recognition and Olympic status. In November, the first IMMAF-WMMAA Unified World Championships was hosted with record breaking global participation. Today, the Russian MMA Union claims a figure of approximately 20,000 registered competitors at the amateur level, divided across a high number of domestic regional bodies spanning the nation. In 2012, Zabit was among the front runners of this amateur conveyor belt as he competed for the Russian national team at the inaugural WMMAA Amateur World Championships in 2012. For Russian athletes, national team selection comes following an extensive qualification series from the city level, to regional championships, district championships and national championship finals. Zabit advanced to the finals of the 2012 WMMAA World Championships, eventually succumbing to title rival Rakhman Makhadzhiev who secured an arm-bar submission in the second round. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwglI8lVV3I&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2nik23oTVzxMWah8RyVN9StZp-DT-crSF_vCFkWRhEjD3gqzosf6hpH0Y The triumph that Zabit would go on to achieve as a professional is one of the great current examples of how the IMMAF-WMMAA amateur platform caters to honing untapped potential. Under the WMMAA banner, Zabit took advantage of the opportunity to develop his talents at the highest international level and face any losses as an amateur before turning professional with experience and a clean slate. He added: “In general, I believe each athlete is to have a background, some foundation he builds his style on. He better not have a bit of skills in grappling, a bit of a stand up. The best way is to have one skill on a really high level and the rest at least on a normal level. Otherwise he will end up losing to the opponents that are much better in one aspect of this game.” As a professional, Zabit’s record shows just a single defeat, and would likely have featured more should he have transitioned at an earlier stage. Bringing forth an athlete’s inner potential can be a delicate process, requiring patience and experience. After submitting Magomedsharipov at WMMAA’s amateur world championship finals, Makhadzhiev today holds a pro record of 6-4. Meanwhile, following the vast tests presented to him as an amateur, Magomedsharipov has flourished to become one of the most talked about up and coming title challengers in the UFC.