'The Puncher King' Ali Bagautinov in Search of the Flyweight Crown at UFC 174

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IJune 9, 2014

Ali Bagautinov, of Russia, reacts after defeating John Lineker, of Brazil, during the third round of a UFC 169 flyweight mixed martial arts bout in Newark, N.J., Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. Bagautinov won by unanimous decision. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen)
Tim Larsen/Associated Press

Every king needs a crown, and Ali Bagautinov has his sights set on taking the one he wants at UFC 174. The 28-year-old Dagestani will step into the Octagon to face reigning flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in the main event of the organization's return to Vancouver, British Columbia, this Saturday night.

"Mighty Mouse" is widely recognized as one of the sport's pound-for-pound best and has been on a tear since claiming the inaugural flyweight title back in 2012. He's successfully defended the 125-pound strap on three occasions, with his two most recent title defenses resulting in impressive stoppage victories.

From the look of things, "D.J." is only getting better, but Bagautinov is determined to dethrone the champion when the two men step in to the Octagon on Saturday. Much like the titleholder, Bagautinov will be riding a strong wave of momentum into their title tilt at UFC 174, and he has every intention of keeping things rolling in Vancouver.

In what will undoubtedly be the biggest moment of his mixed martial arts career, Bagautinov is looking to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity in front of him.

Nov 16, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Tim Elliott (red gloves) fights against Ali Bagautinov (blue gloves) in their flyweight bout during UFC 167 at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

"It is the most important thing in my life," Bagautinov told Bleacher Report with the assistance of a translator. "It is the greatest thing in my life, and I do feel a lot responsibility coming into this fight. I believe everything has its own time, and I believe my time has come. The time has come for a new champion to have the belt."

The Moscow-based fighter has found success in 11 consecutive showings on a run that has taken him to the top of the increasingly competitive flyweight division. Bagautinov made an immediate impact in his promotional debut when he earned a third-round TKO victory over Marcos Vinicius last September in Brazil, and he picked up wins over Tim Elliott and John Lineker, respectively, in his next two outings.

While Bagautinov wasted no time carving his way through the ranks of the 125-pound fold, he also believes he picked up a crucial amount of experience along the way.

All three of his bouts have come on the main card portion of the events he's competed at, and fighting when the crowds in attendance were at their most raucous allowed him to quickly adapt to the unique environment of the sport's biggest stage.

When Bagautinov first stepped into the Octagon he was a stranger in a strange land, but he believes this won't be the case at UFC 174. The surging contender feels he's fully adjusted to fighting under the bright lights of the UFC and will be prepared to shine when those lights are at their brightest when he faces Johnson this Saturday night at UFC 174.

Sep 4, 2013; Belo Horizonte, BRAZIL;   Ali Bagautinov reacts after defeating Marcos Vinicius Vina (left) during UFC Fight Night at Mineirinho Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

"The first time I fought for the UFC it was in Brazil and I couldn't even understand what was going on around me," Bagautinov said. "In the second fight, I had more or less acclimated to my surroundings and was able to show a lot of the skills I possess. With every time out there—and with each matchup—I can feel myself becoming stronger, and I'm that much more assured and comfortable in there. I feel better with each fight, and I expect that to continue with this fight coming up.

"Whether the fight is on pay-per-view or not doesn't mean anything to me," he added. "I'm not getting anything from that. From my very first fight inside the Octagon, I have been on the main card, with my last two fights both being on pay-per-view cards. All of my fights in the UFC have come in what has felt like a big setting, so this fight being on pay-per-view won't affect me at all." 


Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise.