Watching former ACA lightweight champion Ali Bagov (29-9) thrash hapless foes inside a locked cage makes an onlooker come to three basic conclusions:
- Bagov’s nickname, “Hulk,” doesn’t come close to explaining the sheer size and muscularity – not to mention the ferocity and strength – of the Baksan, Russia, native.
- Grappling, when conducted by a fighter of Bagov’s caliber and aggressiveness, can be just as violent as striking.
- This shouldn’t be legal.
That’s how this author – an MMA fan and media member of nearly four years – felt the first time he watched Ali Bagov compete, back in 2018 against Brazil’s Gleristone Santos (35-11) at ACB 86.
The Russian welterweight, who crushed a who’s who of top Russian promotion Absolute Championship Akhmat’s (ACA) lightweight division from 2015 to 2019, has amassed 23 submissions and two knockouts to date.
Most notably, Bagov held the ACB and ACA lightweight titles on multiple occasions and competed in what could quite possibly be the most underrated trilogy of all time, against current lightweight champion Abdul Aziz Abdulvakhabov (17-2).
Bagov, a former opponent of undefeated UFC lightweight kingpin Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0), has a game that appears similar to that of the Dagestani legend.
The ACA welterweight pairs a technically adept takedown game with eye-popping physical traits, exploding through opponents’ legs with fierce, relentless shots.
Bagov’s grappling is highly refined, like many of his fellow Caucus fighters’. Bagov sports four national grappling titles, has competed in numerous grappling and Brazilian jiu jitsu exhibitions, and even took home the gold medal at the United World Wrestling (UWW) no-gi championships.
Like Nurmagomedov, Bagov is comfortable chaining together takedown attempts and capitalizing on opportunities to strike provided by often overwhelmed opponents.
Bagov, 29, also possesses a jaw-dropping top game; when “Hulk” puts an opponent on his back, damage – and a lot of it – is inevitable. Bagov’s raw power and emphasis on hunting the finish are bolstered by his suffocating pressure.
It isn’t rare to see Bagov use the infamous knee on belly position, or a barrage of punches to the head, to force opponents into giving up their back, all but ensuring their fate.
Unlike some uni-dimensional power wrestlers, Bagov is also a wonderfully precise and creative grappler. The Russian frequently uses sweeps, plays guard from his back, and attacks a multitude of submissions; Bagov has wins by rear-naked choke, guillotine choke, kimura, armbar, heel hook, triangle choke, anaconda choke, and arm-triangle choke to his credit.
The similarities between Bagov and Nurmagomedov – to some extent, that is – were molded and exacerbated by Bagov’s decision to train alongside his former foe and under the tutelage of Khabib’s father, the late, great Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, in Dagestan.
For far more detailed analysis of the fascinating game and career progression of Ali Bagov, this author cannot recommend any piece of work better than The Fight Site’s and Bloody Elbow’s Ed Gallo’s terrific analysis on Bagov and his career to date, which can be found here.
This Saturday, Bagov will make his second walk to the cage as a welterweight, having moved up in weight in 2019 following his last lightweight title reign. As one might expect when looking at Bagov, the 5’9″ beast struggled with making the lightweight limit healthily and had taken catchweight bouts before in the past.
He faces Murad Abdulaev (19-7), a Russian contender who fell short to then-champion Albert Tumenov (21-4) in a rematch of the pair’s 2011 fight, this time for the ACA welterweight title, in April of 2019.
Abdulaev, whose professional record has been contested largely across Russia’s top promotions – M-1, Fight Nights Global, and ACB/ACA – has won four of his last five, suffering his lone loss to Tumenov.
“Hunter,” as Abdulaev is known, presents as the antithesis of Bagov on paper; he holds a dazzling ten knockouts and just one submission to his name.
With a win, Bagov could undoubtedly solidify his status as the best welterweight in Russia, if not all of Eurasia. With yet another ACA title on his waist, the hulking grappler can prove without a doubt that he is among the best in MMA.
The fight is scheduled to take place as ACA 110’s main event, from Russia on September 5th, on ACA’s PPV service.