Khabib Nurmagomedov is now retired and doesn’t appear to be about to return any time soon. So, could another of the current fighters from Dagestan emulate him and capture UFC gold?
With plenty of current title contenders hailing from the Republic, there’s definitely a chance that one of them will do so in the near future.
With that in mind, here are five fighters from Dagestan who could follow in Khabib’s footsteps and win UFC gold.
#5. Magomed Ankalaev – UFC light heavyweight contender
Magomed Ankalaev is set to fight Thiago Santos in the headline bout of this weekend’s UFC Fight Night card. While he might not be granted an instant title shot with a victory, putting ‘Marreta’ away will probably put him one fight at most away from that spot.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far of him inside the octagon, it’s going to be pretty tricky to stop the Dagestani fighter from climbing to the top of the 205lbs division, regardless of who holds the title when his eventual shot comes.
Ankalaev has won a total of seven straight bouts since his arrival in the promotion in 2018. He has impressed hugely in practically all of them.
Not only does he possess the kind of powerful, smothering wrestling game that the majority of his countrymen have also displayed, but his striking is on point, too. He’s picked up four KO or TKO stoppages in the octagon – earning three $50k bonus awards in the process – and most recently dominated former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir on the feet.
Essentially, whether Glover Teixeira or Jiri Prochazka holds the light heavyweight crown, if Ankalaev captures a title shot it probably won’t matter. He’d likely be confident in taking either man down, and may be able to outstrike Teixeira if it came to that.
Ankalaev may not be as marketable as the trash-talking, charismatic Khabib, but there’s no doubt that he’s got a good chance of following him to glory in the octagon.
#4. Askar Askarov – UFC flyweight contender
It seems likely that the UFC may decide to book a fourth fight between flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo and former titleholder Brandon Moreno. There’s a highly dangerous contender from Dagestan waiting in the wings to challenge the winner.
That fighter is Askar Askarov, who has been unbeaten in the octagon since arriving there in September 2019.
Interestingly, ‘The Bullet’ actually debuted against Moreno in a wildly entertaining fight. The two men battled to a split draw, with Moreno’s grappling and striking eventually being able to somewhat tame the wrestling of Askarov.
However, given the improvements he’s shown since – clearly outpointing Tim Elliott, Alexandre Pantoja and Joseph Benavidez – it seems highly likely that Askarov might be able to unseat either Moreno or Figueiredo for the title.
The only thing holding him back right now is probably his lack of finishes in the octagon. However, to be fair, prior to arriving in the UFC, he’d picked up seven submission wins, and even tapped former WEC fighter Anthony Leone with a twister.
Given that he’s clearly the best wrestler in the flyweight division right now, it seems like it's only a matter of time before he secures a title shot. To see him capture the gold wouldn’t be shocking at all.
#3. Umar Nurmagomedov – UFC bantamweight contender
Sure, Umar Nurmagomedov is still at a very early stage in his UFC career. However, if what we’ve seen from the bantamweight prospect so far is anything to go by, it won’t be long before he’s considered a genuine title challenger.
The cousin of former lightweight kingpin Khabib, Umar Nurmagomedov arrived in the promotion for the first time last January, bringing an impressive 12-0 record with him.
It didn’t take him long to make an impact, as he choked out Sergey Morozov in his debut. While it took him over a year to return to the octagon for a second fight, it was hard not to be impressed when he choked out Brian Kelleher in just over three minutes – particularly as the fight took place at 145lbs.
Essentially, Nurmagomedov seems to possess all the skills – the smothering wrestling, powerful takedowns and crushing top game – that allowed his cousin to climb to the top of the mountain. Given his connections, it’s not likely to take long for the UFC to push Umar up the card, too.
Given how raw he is, it might be a while before we see him in a title bout. Given that many of the top bantamweights in the promotion are aging, he may get there quicker than some expect. If he’s anything like his cousin, then it won’t be long before he claims gold.
#2. Zabit Magomedsharipov – UFC featherweight contender
Had a list like this been compiled at the end of 2019, featherweight prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov likely would’ve been at the very top.
That year ended with Zabit outpointing Calvin Kattar in his first UFC headline bout, putting a cap on a lengthy 14-fight win streak, with six of those wins coming in the octagon.
The plan appeared to be to match him with Yair Rodriguez in a No.1 contender’s bout in early 2020. When that clash fell through, Zabit’s entire UFC career dropped off a cliff as he was forced onto the shelf with some undisclosed health issues.
The Dagestani fighter has not fought since but, according to reports, it’s likely that he’ll be ready to return to action in the near future, probably at some point in 2022.
So if he returns in the same form that he was showing when he last fought, is Zabit capable of capturing the featherweight title? Absolutely.
The division obviously has some tough fighters, including champion Alexander Volkanovski and contenders like Max Holloway and Brian Ortega, but Zabit’s brand of slick wrestling, unorthodox striking and nasty submissions makes him a threat to any 145lber.
It won’t be easy for him, but there’s a definite chance that he could follow in the footsteps of his countryman Khabib and claim gold in the octagon.
#1. Islam Makhachev – UFC lightweight contender
Naturally, the Dagestani fighter most likely to follow in Khabib Nurmagomedov’s footsteps and claim gold in the octagon is Islam Makhachev. If he achieves this, it’ll almost be poetic, as he’ll be hoping to capture the UFC lightweight title that Khabib never lost.
However, despite what many fans believe, Makhachev is definitely not the same fighter his mentor was. Both men possess incredible wrestling skills and seemingly have the ability to take any opponent down. However, Khabib’s game, for the most part, was based around his ground strikes.
While Makhachev does have TKO victories on his ledger – most recently stopping Bobby Green with punches from the mount – he’s more of a dangerous submission artist than Khabib was, with four of the wins in his current ten-fight streak coming via tapout.
This means that he’s more of a threat to current champ Charles Oliveira – who is the most successful submission artist in UFC history – and would be favored against any other 155lber on the roster.
Essentially, it seems like a matter of when, not if Makhachev claims lightweight gold in the octagon – making him the most likely Dagestani champion in the promotion.