With Russia’s success on the international stage in disciplines like wrestling, sambo, and judo, it really should be no surprise that athletes from the nation have found success in mixed martial arts. But in the last couple years, it seems like more and more Russian fighters have made their way to the elite level, with Dagestan’s Ali Bagautinov the latest to earn a UFC roster spot.
“Over the past years, there have been many successful efforts to raise the level of MMA in Russia,” said Bagautinov through translator Mika Vinokurov, a member of his management team. “Martial arts have always had a special place in sports practiced in Russia. We almost always took the pedestal in the Olympic games in judo, sambo and wrestling, and with the help and right adaptation of technologies practiced in the USA we are now able to achieve a new level of fighters who are able to compete and achieve awards on the highest level.”
The proof is on the list of current UFC fighters, with Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rustam Khabilov, Azamat Gashimov, Adlan Amagov, and Nikita Krylov leading the new wave of standouts that have taken the sport by storm, most of whom have been training in one combat sports discipline or another since they were children. Bagautinov is no exception, having competed in wrestling until he was 19 years old, when the death of his father forced him into the role of breadwinner for his family.
“I worked to support my family, and having had a serious loss, I really had no choice,” said Bagautinov, who worked as an accountant for a financial firm in Makchachkala, Dagestan. “Hard times call for hard measures. I knew I was good at martial arts and it was everything I wanted to do, but statistically not many fighters make a long lasting career out of it in Russia, so I tried to be rational for a period.”
After a couple years though, Bagautinov’s coaches encouraged him to return to the sporting life, and at 22 he began to study combat sambo. He would go on to win two world championships while also beginning to compete in mixed martial arts. A pro by 2009, Bagautinov went 2-2 in his first four bouts and then turned up the heat, winning eight straight and earning a call from the UFC.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I knew it was coming and was hoping for it to come as soon as possible,” he said of the UFC call. “There are many great fighters in my division in Europe, but my coaches kept convincing me that although I have so much to learn, they have even more to teach me. It helped me to gain confidence to look at myself as a champion. I am extremely grateful to my training team and to the Fight Nights Team, who developed a real professional in me and helped me to get to the world’s top fighting arena, the UFC. And when I heard the news it was most certainly one of the happiest and most notable moments in my life. Everything I have done in my career thus far was for this. It’s an amazing opportunity and one for which I am very grateful and will not let myself down.”
At 28, Bagautinov enters a division filled with fighters who are getting opportunities that weren’t available just a couple years ago. Many have even spent careers fighting above their natural weight just because there wasn’t a flyweight division around. In Russia though, Bagautinov says that his weight class was quite the shark tank.
“It (flyweight) is a very competitive division,” he said. “The last Russian championship in combat sambo was comprised of 40 people just in my division. Years ago I became number one in the Russian rankings with the help of FN team and my management, who have never allowed me to stop regarding myself as a top champ. Now it’s time to fulfill my dream, to dominate in the UFC.”
The first step of that journey takes place Wednesday night when he meets Marcos Vinicius in UFC Fight Night action.
“To be honest I wasn’t familiar with Marcos before I found out that he will be my next opponent,” said Bagautinov. “But part of my preparation is to study and analyze my opponent in great detail. Marcos has 20 victories, many of them by knockout and none by decision - which is not for nothing; he is a great fighter, and I am intrigued to see what he’ll prepare for me. I am confident with a strategy that we have been working on against him. I can only wish him good luck and to keep his hands up.”
So what should UFC fans expect from the “Puncher” if they haven’t seen him fight before?
“If I had to describe my style in three words, it would be tactical, ferocious, determined,” he said. “If you look up some of my fights you will get a strong gist of aggresion, but all of the aggression is carefully balanced and highly dependent on tactics. I can finish fights in a matter of seconds, as I really love to punch, but my background is sambo, so I can wrestle too. On September 4th my goal is to win by any means, and I am aiming for nothing less than a belt in this division.”
Ali Bagautinov: The Puncher's Chance
"If I had to describe my style in three words, it would be tactical, ferocious, determined." - Ali Bagautinov