Everything you need to know about Zabit Magomedsharipov before his UFC debut
The heavyweights are taking up the spotlight for this week's UFC event, but a fresh face might have hijacked it by the time they enter the cage.
Before Alexander Volkov and Stefan Struve square off in a battle of behemoths at Saturday's UFC Fight Night 115 in Rotterdam, highly-touted prospect and winner of eight straight Zabit Magomedsharipov will make his long-awaited promotional debut on the afternoon's prelims.
Here's everything you need to know about the deadly Dagestani ahead of his first walk to the Octagon.
Record: 6-0 ACB, 12-1 overall
Next Fight: Mike Santiago at UFC Fight Night 115
The featherweight blue-chipper cut his teeth in eastern Europe before finding a home in fledgling Russian promotion Absolute Championship Berkut in late 2014. Magomedsharipov dispatched all six of his foes before the final bell while competing under the ACB banner, winning both a tournament and a divisional title before punching his ticket stateside earlier this year.
What the 26-year-old has lacked in elite competition in the cage, he found in a New Jersey gym last year. Magomedsharipov now trains out of a camp run by Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace and UFC alum Ricardo Almeida and boxing coach Mark Henry, where he sharpens his proverbial sword alongside UFC standouts Frankie Edgar, Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza, and Marlon Moraes - most of whom have already anointed him a future titleholder in the talent-rich featherweight division.
This may be putting him in lofty company, but in a nutshell, Magomedsharipov's build and style bear shades of Tony Ferguson and Gegard Mousasi, respectively.
At 6-foot-1, the lanky Russian not only towers over most of his fellow featherweights, but much like "El Cucuy," his abnormally long reach allows him to tune them up without stepping into the pocket.
Where Magomedsharipov conjures Mousasi is his methodical approach. Despite a pro record that hasn't seen a decision in nearly four years, the prospect's tape reveals a cerebral, technically proficient striker who rarely, if ever, goes headhunting.
Magomedsharipov needn't punch in bunches or even rely on an active jab. As evidenced in the fight that crowned him ACB champ, he stoically takes the center of the cage and picks his foe apart with a tight rotation of tools: the 1-2, a stinging and accurate straight right, and rarely telegraphed, often spinning kicks to the body that would make Barboza tip his cap.
While even top-tier fighters are susceptible to the blunder of charging in for a finish once they've visibly rocked their opponent - thereby leaving themselves nearly as vulnerable - Magomedsharipov maintains his sniper-esque composure to the very end, as in his first-round, ever so casual KO of Sheikh-Magomed Arapkhanov.
Those who've looked to neutralize Magomedsharipov's striking have found out the hard way he boasts the kind of takedown defense that would afford many a man the luxury of throwing leather with reckless abandon.
Much like Mousasi in the latter part of his career, the Russian rarely accepts the precarious position if he's brought to the canvas, and more often than not, he's made his way back to his feet before the takedown has been recorded on the stat sheet.
He isn't above putting a foe away by submission, but it's the grappling department that raises questions regarding Magomedsharipov's game. He's largely untested off his back, and stout as his takedown D is, he'll be forced to work from there sooner than later by one of countless sharks swimming in the UFC featherweight waters.
The Russian often ends up on top when staving off a shot, although he's betrayed an apparent aversion to teeing off with ground-and-pound, angling to pass guard or working for submissions from the dominant position, often allowing the fight to get back to the feet - where he's at his best.
The maligned habit known as "laying and praying" has yet to do him in, but it begs wondering whether it will when he's pitted against the Brian Ortegas and Jason Knights of the world.
Call Magomedsharipov untested if you will, but he'll pass his first in emphatic fashion.
Hacran Dias was rumored to be the man who'd welcome Magomedsharipov to the Octagon in August before Nick Hein was tapped, but an injury to the latter has netted him a far more experienced - and beatable - dance partner: fellow newcomer Mike Santiago.
The 28-year-old trains with perennial contender Ricardo Lamas and earned his roster spot with a first-round knockout of Mark Cherico on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series last week. Santiago has squared off against UFC vets Frankie Perez and Phillipe Nover in his day, but he's been finished in eight of nine career losses. Expect Magomedsharipov to give the Ahoy Rotterdam audience its money's worth and make Santiago pay for his reckless ways on the feet inside the distance.
Projection: Whether he's a future champion remains to be seen, but Magomedsharipov will have cracked the UFC featherweight top 10 within five-to-seven fights
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