Dagestan UFC Fighters: Why Do So Many MMA Fighters Come From Here

Dagestan UFC Fighters: Why Do So Many MMA Fighters Come From Here


Khabib Nurmagomedov put Dagestan on the MMA map when he defeated Conor McGregor at UFC 229 to retain the UFC lightweight championship; Islam Makhachev solidified the Russian republic’s status as an MMA elite when he followed in Khabib’s footsteps and became lightweight champion by defeating Charles Oliveira at UFC 280. But why is Dagestan producing so many champion fighters?

Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev are two of the most prominent fighters from Dagestan the UFC has seen, but they’re certainly not alone.

Bellator lightweight champion Usman Nurmagomedov is Khabib’s cousin; current UFC No. 2 light heavyweight Magomed Ankalaev and world No. 15 bantamweight Said Nurmagomedov both hail from Makhachkala in the Dagestan region.

Other prominent MMA fighters from Dagestan include Zabit Magomedsharipov, Omari Akhmedov, Muslim Salikhov, Rashid Magomedov, Rustan Khabilov, and Ali Bagautinov… the list could go on.

It seems that what Brazil was to MMA during the 90s and 2000s decade, Dagestan is right now. But why Dagestan? To answer that question, let’s take a little geography lesson because location is the main reason why Dagestan breeds so many mixed martial arts fighters today.

Where is Dagestan?

The Caucasus is a mountainous region that is sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Russian Federation, and Russian divisions including Chechnya and Dagestan.

These places have a history of conflicts against each other or their neighbouring countries. 

Because of that, most Caucasians learn to fight to defend themselves at a young age. These kids train in various disciplines but mainly in wrestling and sambo, the two popular forms of martial arts in the region.

Most of these children end up joining the military service; those who don’t, pursue a career in combat sports – wrestling, sambo, or mixed martial arts. Of course, the most prominent combat sports league on the planet is the UFC so that’s why all fighters – not just Caucasians, dream to fight inside the Octagon. 

With Khabib’s resounding success in the UFC, many Dagestanis have been inspired to follow in his footsteps. And since Khabib retired and became an MMA promoter, Dagestanis have sprouted in almost every division in the UFC, and almost every major MMA promotion in the world.

Dagestan MMA

Wrestling has always been the staple sport in Dagestan with most men from the area having trained and wrestled in some form of traditional wrestling competition. In the modern era, Dagestanis use wrestling training to keep their children from getting involved in Islamic terrorist groups. 

Meanwhile, sambo was developed by the Soviet Red Army during the 1920s. It was designed to improve the hand-to-hand combat skills of its servicemen. Almost two decades later, the USSR sports federation recognized sambo as a sport and it became popular in the former Soviet Union, including Dagestan. Sambo has branched out into many types, including combat sambo which resembles modern mixed martial arts.

Both wrestling and combat sambo translate very well into mixed martial arts. That’s because MMA is a combat sport that incorporates various fight disciplines and allows striking, grappling, and group fighting. 

MMA fighters are generally categorized into two – wrestlers and strikers. While strikers make the sport more exciting, it’s often the wrestlers who find more success because while Westerners call them boring, they can dictate where the fight goes. With their wrestling and combat sambo background, Dagestanis have found it rather easy to transition into mixed martial arts.

From Khabib to Makhachev, why is Dagestan producing elite MMA fighters?

Transitioning to MMA is one thing, excelling in it is another. But when it comes to Dagestanis in mixed martial arts, most of them are very good MMA fighters and possess excellent fight records. Last year, ESPN tallied the aggregate record of Dagestani fighters under Team Khabib and according to the media outlet, it was 142-11-3 as of November 21, 2022.

Perhaps the most logical reason why Dagestanis excel in mixed martial arts is because they have dedicated a huge part of their lives to wrestling or sambo training. To them, it’s not just a sport or a hobby but a part of their culture. With extensive knowledge and experience, it’s easier for Dagestanis to succeed.

Speaking of culture, Dagestanis are also inherently tough people, given the history of violence in their region. Their religion is also high on discipline which gives them focus when training for fights. Dagestanis also train in high altitudes because of where their country is located. Because of this, they can easily fight five rounds without slowing down in the championship rounds.

Lastly, many Dagestanis are poor with the North Caucasus having higher poverty rates than other Russian regions. With Khabib becoming rich from fighting, Dagestanis take fighting seriously because, for many, it is their way out of poverty.

The Rise of Dagestan

Royce Gracie was one of the first mixed martial arts superstars. The Brazilian was the winner of the first-ever UFC tournament at UFC 1 and also won UFC 2 and UFC 4 when the fights were held at open weight.

When the UFC became mainstream, Brazil was the most dominant country in mixed martial arts with champions like Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, and Jose Aldo. But those days are gone. These days, it’s the Dagestanis that rules MMA.

Khabib Nurmagomedov entered the UFC in 2012 and put the promotion on notice with his unbeaten streak. At UFC 223 six years later, he became lightweight champion by defeating Al Iaquinta.

The Rise of Dagestan
Image: Getty

One fight later, Khabib easily defeated the UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor in a title fight. After a successful title defence against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, Nurmagomedov announced his retirement.

Two years after Khabib retired, his protege Islam Makhachev won the UFC lightweight championship. Makhachev has since successfully defended the belt twice, both against Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski, the reigning UFC featherweight champion.

In his most recent Octagon appearance, Makhachev scored a sensational first-round head-kick knockout against Volkanovski, showing that his game isn’t just all about wrestling and proving that Dagestani fighters have evolved in the sport, making them more dangerous than ever.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov Ethnicity

The most popular fighter to come out of Dagestan is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Born in the village of Sildi in the Tsumadinsky District of Dagestan, Khabib’s ethnicity is Russian, or ethnic Avar. He began his wrestling training at a young age under his father Abdulmanap, a former member of the Soviet Army, who converted the ground floor of their two-story building into a gym to allow Khabib to train properly.

In September 2008, Khabib began his professional MMA career in Russia and quickly made a name for himself with an unbeaten record. A year later, he won the Tsumada Fighting Championship Tournament and then moved on to the ProFC promotion.

Armed with a 16-0 record, Nurmagomedov entered the UFC in 2012.

Nurmagomedov defeated former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in his sixth UFC bout and emerged as a serious contender to win the belt.

At UFC 223, Khabib became lightweight champion by defeating Al Iaquinta and only one fight later, Khabib easily defeated the UFC’s biggest and most notorious star, Conor McGregor in a title fight.

RELATED: Khabib Training: Cold-Blooded UFC Star New Regime Shocks Even His Own Fans

Khabib Nurmagomedov Record

After a successful title defence against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, Nurmagomedov announced his retirement, ending his career with a 29-0 record with 8 knockouts and 11 wins via submission.

Following his retirement, Khabib purchased the Russian-based promotion Gorilla Fighting Championships for $1 million USD ($1.5 million AUD) and renamed it Eagle Fighting Championships.

Last year, Khabib was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame during the 2022 International Fight Week.

Islam Makhachev

Two years after Khabib retired, his protégé Islam Makhachev won the UFC lightweight championship.

Islam makhachev vs Alexander Volkanovski

Since then, Makhachev has successfully defended the belt twice, both times against the reigning UFC featherweight champion, the Australian fighter Alexander Volkanovski. In his most recent Octagon appearance, Makhachev scored a sensational first-round head-kick knockout against Volkanovski.

Born in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala, Makhachev began training in Taekwondo at the age of seven. The young Islam briefly quit combat sports to play football but ultimately, he began to train again, this time in mixed martial arts under Khabib’s father, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

While training, Islam went to college at Dagestan State University where he took up physical education and sports. To support his studies, he worked as a security guard but continued to train when he had no school or work.

Islam Makhachev Record

Makhachev made his MMA debut in 2010 while fighting for the Tsumada Fighting Championships in Russia. After picking up four consecutive wins at the Russian M-1 Challenge promotion, he joined the UFC. In only his second UFC bout, Makhachev suffered the first loss of his MMA career after getting knocked out by Adriano Martins at UFC 192. The defeat would make him a better fighter.

Charles Oliveira vs Islam Makhachev

Islam racked up eight consecutive wins before he faced the first real test of his UFC career in New Zealand’s Dan Hooker. Makhachev submitted Hooker inside one round at UFC 267 and then knocked out Bobby Green at UFC Fight Night 202 to earn a title shot against then champion Charles Oliveira.

In perhaps the best performance of his MMA career, Makhachev submitted Oliveira via arm-triangle choke at UFC 280.


Born in Makhachkala, Dagestan on July 7, 2002, Hasbulla Magomedov is a social media influencer and internet sensation who has collaborated with UFC personalities like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Islam Makhachev, Alexander Volkanovski, and UFC President Dana White.

Image: Getty

It is unknown if he is a relative of Khabib, but he is famous for being very close to the former UFC lightweight king. Hasbulla has even been dubbed mini-Khabib owing to his Dagestani origin.

When Khabib was in the UFC, Hasbulla was always seen tagging along with Khabib’s entourage, carrying the champ’s belt during events and title fights.

Although he isn’t an MMA fighter, Hasbulla signed a five-year contract with the UFC. He, however, will not be fighting inside the Octagon, although in 2021, he was linked to a fight with fellow little person Abdu Rozik of Tajikistan.

RELATED: Meet Hasbulla, The Pint-sized Internet Superstar Everyone’s Talking About

Under his UFC contract, Hasbulla’s job is purely commercial, as he continues to attend UFC fights and events to help promote the sport.

Last August, Hasbulla became controversial after he was arrested in Dagestan due to multiple driving violations involving a group of his friends while celebrating a wedding.

The group reportedly blocked a main road to perform doughnuts in their cars, and Hasbulla later apologised for the incident, claiming he wasn’t driving their vehicle when the incident happened.