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Why Bellator's Dagestani title challenger is fearless

Why Bellator's Dagestani title challenger is fearless
March 28th 2013

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


  • bill hardy

    Posted at 13:52 on March 29th 2013

    two good fighters, don't blink you may miss it.

    Reply to comment

  • Ac

    Posted at 21:34 on March 29th 2013

    Great article, thank you!

    I just wanna notice that huge popularity of martial arts in Dagestan is not directly connected with tough criminal situation. Yes, for 13-18 year old kids martial arts does become way if nesessary self defense. But most of Dagestanian, Chechen kids take wrestling classes starting 6-7 years old, and it has nothing to do with self-defense, but it's an ancient tradition of raising a man.

    In most Caucasus regions (but especially in Chechnya and Dagestan), there are strong traditions of strong, brave men able to protect their families and land. Those traditions go hundreds of years in the past. A warrior with great horse-riding, sword-fighting skills, brave but honorfull, with strong heart and respecting elders is called "dzhigIt" and it is one of the best compliments to a man or a boy even in modern days.

    And that is why kids take wrestling classes from early age in Dagestan, Chechnya and many Caucasus republics: it helps build strong character; to not be afraid of anything, but to not be overconfident either; be respectful to opponents, but be competitive too; it shows kids how first they come and can do nothing, but in a while, if they try hard and listen to elders, they become stronger and can become anything they dream about.

    Yes, criminal situation in Dagestan does affect popularity of martial arts, like it does in Brazil. But it's only when kids are 14-18 when they come to muai Thai, boxing classes after years of wrestling.

    But it's their parents who send them to wrestling classes when they are 5-7, and not for fighting but for above mentioned qualities a person obtains by training. And those parents we raised the same way by their grand-parents. And they, in turn, had been raised the same way by their grand-grand parents.

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