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Why Bellator's Dagestani title challenger is fearless

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Bellator FC has done a really good job of picking up rising talent from Russia and the surrounding regions. One such example is top featherweight contender Shahbulat Shamhalaev, from the Dagestan region.

At 12-1-1 and 3-0 in Bellator, with all three wins inside the distance, he has more than lived up to his nickname of The Assassin.

On April 4 he gets a shot at the belt held by Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran, who has said Shamhalaev will “have to kill me” if he wants to take the title.

“If he knew how often people are killed in Dagestan, then he would not say such a thing,” says Shamhalaev to MixFight.ru in a contender for 'Most Gangster Answer of the Year'.

He's not joking – does anyone from Russia ever joke? - and you only have to look at the happenings in Dagestan to see why. A few years ago, Chechnya was synonymous with bombed-out buildings and civilians getting caught up in guerrila conflict – now its Dagestan.

Life can be very hard there and people need to tread carefully, because there is a thin line between militias and gangsters. Crossing one can easily be crossing the other, and the results are usually spectacularly gruesome.

Wrestling and boxing are leading sports in the mountainous region, and Dagestan is producing a wave of MMA talent at present. The region supplies a hugely disproportionate amount of athletes to Russian national martial arts teams – with a population of three million, it has put an average of ten fighters a year into the Russian kickboxing squad, for example

Fight Sport Asia recently put the following list together, which gives you a pretty good insight into the kind of talent this tiny region is producing:

Khabib Nurmagomedov (19-0) UFC Lightweight

Rustam Khabilov (15-1) UFC Lightweight

Azamat-Gashimov (7-2) UFC Bantamweight 

Shahbulat-Shamhalaev (12-1) Bellator Featherweight

Magomed Saadulaev (14-2) Bellator Lightweight

Magomedrasul “Frodo” Khasbulaev (20-5) Bellator Featherweight

Ruslan Magamedov (10-1) Bellator Heavyweight 

Murad Machaev (11-1) Lightweight Bellator

Rasul Mirzaev (5-0 & world combat sambo champion) Featherweight Bellator (possibly cut after prison sentence)

Magomed Shikshabekov (7-1) Welterweight M-1 global

Rashid Magomedov (15-1) Welterweight M-1 Global

Arthur Guseinov (11-3) Middleweight M-1 Global

Shamil Zavurov (20-2) Welterweight M-1 Global

Muslim Salihov (Sanda world champion, Kickboxing world champion) Middleweight M-1 Global

Ali Bagautinov (9-2) Flyweight Fight Nights

Zubair Tukhugov (12-3) Lightweight Fight Nights

Yusup Saadulaev (9-2) Bantamweight ONE FC

Malik Omarov (4-1) lightweight Dubai FC