Stretching 20 letters long and a whopping eight syllables, it's a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But UFC fans better learn to pronounce Zabit Magomedsharipov—because the 27-year-old from Dagestan, Russia, looks like someone who is going to be around for an awfully long time.
No, Brandon Davis is no Max Holloway, the UFC's spectacular featherweight champion. He's not even Yair Rodriguez, the dynamic striker Magomedsharipov was supposed to face Saturday night in Dallas, Texas, at UFC 228. But he was a live body and a solid professional, competent enough to push the rising star without presenting him much in the way of risk.
As expected, Magomedsharipov delivered the goods. Like his name, Magomedsharipov is long. Standing 73.5 inches, with a reach almost as impressive, the Dagestani is a featherweight with the build of a welterweight. His striking is diverse and interesting. Against Davis, it included a fast spinning backfist and an inexplicable kick from a handstand.
Yet it's not in the striking game that Magomedsharipov dominated. Instead, as has become the norm for him, it was his wrestling that stole the show. Scoring takedowns from the clinch, a double leg and even a clever trip disguised as a leg kick, Magomedsharipov was persistent in his attempts to take the bout to the mat.
And once there, he delivered the kind of spectacular finish he's become known for, somehow securing a kneebar from the back position that started as a deep stretch and quickly morphed into something significantly more agonizing for Davis—the kind of hold that needs no explanation to make onlookers collectively wince.
"I was just trying to prove to him that I don't have a problem with my grappling," Magomedsharipov said after the fight, crediting his coach Ricardo Almeida with the creative hold.
If Magomedsharipov seems to be a fighter created in a lab, that's because it's practically true.
Nestled in the mountains of Dagestan, a Russian republic, is a school for special boys from all over the country. It's called Five Directions of the World, and while it's one of the nation's better academic institutions, scholarship is not its main purpose.
Instead, with a near-monastic intensity and focus, these boy spend up to a decade with a singular goal: becoming kung fu masters.
It was there that Magomedsharipov, one of the UFC's most promising prospects, grew up, far from family, friends and anything resembling a normal childhood.
"We weren't allowed to go home," Magomedsharipov told the MMA Hour. "We were allowed home only one day at the end of the month. I went to this school for 10 or 12 years. ... There was nothing there except discipline, food and three practices per day."
The combat sports version of kung fu is called Wushu or Sanda. Magomedsharipov was a four-time Russian champion and a contender on the European level. It includes the kind of awkward stand switching and dynamic striking in which he excels. It also allows for the kind of trips and throws that the Russian uses so effectively, including the trip that dumped Davis on to the mat.
Combined with a lifelong devotion to wrestling, it's a good base for mixed martial arts fighting, just different enough to provide opponents a surprise or two while being conventional enough to include time-proven and cage-tested techniques for the Octagon.
His wrestling is sharp. His strikes are crisp. And while Magomedsharipov occasionally still backs up on a straight line and seems way to comfortable with his back on the cage, the positives drastically outweigh the negatives. His physical tools can't be taught. His flaws, by contrast, are easily correctible with time and training.
Davis isn't the kind of opponent who is likely to launch Magomedsharipov up the UFC's official rankings (he sits in 15th). The performance was more than enough to make the promotion look up and take notice. Magomedsharipov isn't there yet—but he's well on his way to joining compatriot Khabib Nurmagomedov at the top of the sport.