Khabib Nurmagomedov is only one of the many combat sports icons that have come from the mountainous lands of Dagestan. A prolific breeding ground for fighters, Dagestan is the southernmost of the Russian republics.
Born to an Avar family when Dagestan was still part of the Soviet Union, Khabib - as most of the people born there - engaged from an early age in his training routine. But the young Khabib had an advantage over the other Dagestani kids - his father was the gym owner.
Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov introduced his son Khabib to wrestling when he was just a child. From training with a bear to helping his father in the gym, Khabib was raised in a fighting environment.
When Khabib Nurmagomedov was 13 years old, his family moved to Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. There, the young future UFC lightweight champion would start his training in judo and combat sambo, while his father coached the national combat sambo team.
Besides the fighting tradition, the other practice from Dagestan to be incorporated in Khabib's life is religion. Dagestan is one of the Islamic republics of Russia - a very strict strand of Islam.
In 2020, Khabib put himself in controversy when he criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for his attitude towards Muslims living in France. The criticism followed the assassination of a teacher in the suburbs of Paris.
The infamous post-fight brawl that Khabib had against Conor McGregor's team at UFC 229 also had his religion as a factor. The Irishman made some veiled offensive comments about Islam - besides other provocations directed at Khabib's country and father.
Khabib Nurmagomedov and who else?
Russia is known for producing some of the best fighters ever. From boxing to wrestling and MMA, the giant country has had numerous champions in the course of its history.
Even in popular culture, some of the most notable villains in sports movies are from the 'Motherland.' It is impossible not to remember Ivan Drago, arguably Rocky Balboa's toughest nemesis.
But from all the 22 Russian republics, few have produced as many successful fighters as Dagestan did. With a population of only three million people, Dagestan is the most heterogeneous republic of Russia.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, of course, is the most prominent exponent to have emerged from the mountainous lands. But besides him, many other MMA fighters, boxers, and wrestlers have been produced in this 'small' Russian republic.
In the UFC, a remarkable number of 30 mixed martial artists are from Dagestan. The most notable names at the moment include Islam Makhachev, Ali Bagautinov, Magomed Bibulatov, Muslim Salikhov, Rustam Khabilov, Zubaira Tukhugov, and Zaur Uguev.
Uguev is the first fighter to ever been signed by the UFC without having any experience in mixed martial arts. He is a two-time and current world champion for freestyle wrestling.
Besides all those names in the UFC, 11 other MMA fighters from Dagestan have a contract with the Professional Fighters League. And these are only mixed martial artist names. The Russian republic has various Olympic medalists in judo, boxing, and wrestling as well.
The people of Dagestan definitely have a real passion for fighting. Who out of the current Dagestani names could be the next one to achieve Khabib Nurmagomedov's success in the UFC? Sound off in the comments.Published 07 Jan 2021, 12:48 IST