When it comes to prospects, Muhammad Mokaev might well be MMA’s finest.
Mokaev is nothing if not brilliant across combat sports: be it in wrestling, jiu jitsu, amateur mixed martial arts, or professional MMA, Mokaev has found success in them all.
Born in the MMA hotbed of Dagestan, Russia, he lived in Russia until he was 12, where political circumstances forced his family to flee to the United Kingdom. He found himself at a refugee center in Liverpool, where he and his father were allocated a home in Wigan.
It was in Wigan he would discover wrestling, and it was within the Wigan youth zone where his path to being the most decorated amateur fighter in MMA history began.
MMA fans spend a lot of time hotly debating what might be the best “base” discipline for MMA. Some claim a striking background is the most efficient way to start a fighter’s martial arts career, while others point to the grappling credentials of the all-time greats.
Lately, a consensus seems to have emerged that wrestling is the best out of the fighting arts in which to start a potential young prospect’s career.
The 20-year-old Mokaev has plenty of experience wrestling. Starting at a young age, he began regularly training in the art after his father insisted he went to the local club in order to stay out of trouble.
What started as a way to stay off of the streets led to the future prospect going on to win six national championships throughout his career. The British bantamweight won cadets, juniors, and even seniors — as a junior — some before his MMA career, some after; his final British championship was won in 2019 at 61 kg, where he is now the current senior champion.
In an interview with MMAfighting.com, Mokaev explained that he was not allowed to progress onto the national stage due to his inability to travel and pending refugee status. When he saw opponents that he had beaten move on to win international tournaments, he decided to move onto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in order to continue competing, and his tradition of grappling success continued.
A growing Mokaev was demonstrating an almost preternatural talent for both grappling and competing, one he would carry over to his illustrious amateur MMA career.
The IMMAF king
While the future amateur MMA pound-for-pound king was already finding great success in BJJ, he was not quite satisfied with that either, so he started taking amateur fights.
Now, to understand why a 4-0 professional fighter is already such a highly-touted prospect, one must understand both the nascent state of amateur MMA in general, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), and just how impressive of a run “The Punisher” was on in the organization.
Individual martial arts tend to have strong amateur pedigrees: wrestling has the U.S. collegiate circuit, international competition, and the Olympics; boxing has national tournaments, international tournaments, and the Olympics; and kickboxing organizations like K-1 hold their own amateur fights.
On the other hand, MMA fighters tend to have one or two fights within amateur promotions in order to test their mettle, then move straight onto professional fights.
Various possible reasons for this exist, with the main potential culprit being a longtime lack of any solid framework to which to climb and aspire. The IMMAF aims to solve this issue by holding tournaments on both a regional and an international level, including its annual World Championships.
Mokaev is the best product to arise out of this framework. He’s arguably the first fighter to rise fully through it too, coming out with a dazzling undefeated amateur record of 22-0.
Starting in 2015, at just 15 years of age, Mokaev fought his way through a smattering of regional UK promotions, finding himself on the right side of decisions and stoppage victories until he entered the 2018 IMMAF junior championships at the age of 18.
There, he would go on to win each of his bouts en route to becoming the Junior bantamweight World Champion under the IMMAF banner. It was on this win streak where he first met Reo Yamaguchi, a fellow bantamweight prospect fighting out of Japan to whom Mokaev would hand his first IMMAF loss.
Mokaev’s fighting style is best characterized by his brutal standup pressure and aggression combined with his crushing, positionally dominant grappling; attentive viewers could see the early roots of Mokaev’s system and general gameplan take hold: take down his opponent, pass the guard, and strike in order to set up an opportunistic submission.
Mokaev would go on to win another gold medal at the 2019 Junior Opens under the Team UK banner, winning another decision over Reo Yamaguchi; Yamaguchi regularly ran into Mokaev on the amateur ranks and was defeated every time, finishing with a trilogy that ended 3-0 in the Brit’s favor.
Mokaev would, when all was said and done, earn two Junior World Championships, one European Junior Open, and a successful Senior debut at the 2020 Oceania Open.
With his spotless record and seemingly endless accolades, Mokaev emerged as perhaps the most credentialed amateur MMA fighter of all time.
It is mostly his amateur career that has led to his widespread acclaim as a prospect to watch. What he picked up during his time there is invaluable.
He’s honed a strong game, improved his skills in every phase of the game, and prepared for the arduous activity of fighting regularly, and that desire for frequent action has carried over to his pro career.
Four wins, four fights, four months
Mokaev debuted as a professional in Middle Eastern promotion BRAVE CF in August of 2020, winning a decision against fellow debuting fighter Glen McVeigh.
A mere twenty days later, he fought at Celtic Gladiator 27, finishing his opponent with a body kick followed up with his trademark ground and pound.
Then he fought and won again in October, climbing to 3-0 with a rear-naked choke submission.
Most recently, he made Dave Jones tap to strikes at Celtic Gladiator 28 just last week.
In summary, Mokaev is a blisteringly active fighter. But it’s not just activity, he’s winning in increasingly more impressive fashion, too.
So, what’s next?
The highly-touted prospect has recently announced on Twitter that he intends to drop to flyweight and make a run for BRAVE CF’s soon-to-be minted flyweight title following the conclusion of the promotion’s star-studded Grand Prix.
This is my last fight this year guys!
February I will be back, I believe I will get top ranked opponent and I believe I will get Brave CF belt after February’s fight!
6th fights in 2020since lockdown, 3 different countries!
Thank you so much for believing in me❤️ love you all!
— Muhammad Mokaev (@muhammadmokaev) November 23, 2020
With his current reputation and the nature of his recent social media posts, it appears likely that the recently-engaged Mokaev will be given a shot at the winner of the flyweight tournament.
Provided he wins the belt, the sky is the limit for the twenty-year-old prospect.
All signs point to a UFC run in The Punisher’s future, the promotion in which he told the BBC he aims to break the legendary Jon Jones’ record for the youngest fighter to win a UFC title.
Mokaev is a fighter with a strong amateur past, a championship pedigree, and incredibly bright future. Keep an eye on him, as a BRAVE CF title victory could herald Mokaev as the top flyweight prospect in the sport.