Zhora Ayvazyan is ready to make a statement at Khabib Nurmagomedov’s newly-bought EFC

Zhora Ayvazyan walks to the cage. Credit: Gloria Marfil Photo, Mix Fight.

The words “sambo fighter” are enough to strike fear into the hearts of many MMA competitors, and former FMMAS featherweight champion Zhora Ayvazyan (9-0) is a lot more than just a regular ol’ sambo fighter.

With four first-round TKOs and a combat sambo world championship to his name, Ayvasyan, 25, demands to be taken seriously. Racking up nine pro MMA wins within a year-and-a-half, he seemed to be on the fast track to greatness before circumstances outside the cage slowed things down.

This weekend, Ayvasyan returns for a fight that was supposed to happen almost exactly one year ago – his shot at the vacant GFC — renamed Eagle FC following UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov’s purchase of the promotion –  featherweight title against Krepost Fight Club’s Rasul Magomedov (7-2).

Translation: “Finals of the Russian Combat Sambo Championship in St. Petersburg 2018″

Early career

Ayvazyan’s early career consisted of what one might expect from a combat sambo champion-turned MMA fighter – unstoppable takedowns and a terrifying top game. Many of his fights have featured little more than Ayvazyan blasting his opponents off their feet with high-power takedowns, then raining ground-and-pound upon the hapless foes until the referee had seen enough. Of his seven fights in 2018, most of which were only scheduled for two rounds, Ayvazyan only went to a decision in his pro debut, a fight he looked on track to finish had it been scheduled for a third.

Ayvazyan’s takedown game appears to be quite deep. He demonstrates a strong ability and willingness to chain wrestle. In his seventy-three second win over Bakhtovar Naimov (3-3), the fight-ending sequence – shown below – started with what appeared to be a slip on Ayvazyan’s part.

The Armenian used the slip to transition into a dive for his opponent’s leg, which then became a single-leg and ended with a slam, and Ayvazyan in side-control. Ayvazyan proceeded to rain ground-and-pound virtually unchallenged, leading to the fastest finish of his career.

Ayvazyan has also shown a knack for punishing his opponent’s kicks. Even if Ayvazyan fails to catch the kick, he immediately uses the opportunity to blitz his opponent before they can return to their stance. Furthermore, in the rare instance that he’s taken down, Ayvazyan’s been able to threaten his own takedown attempts from his back to force his opponent to let him back up.

However, there’s only so much that can be determined from low-level competition, which is a fair way to describe most of Ayvazyan’s fights; the seven opponents he faced in 2018 had a combined record of 12-16. It wasn’t until he fought for the Federation of MMA of Samara (FMMAS) title against the Khabib Nurmagomedov-cornered Abdurakhman Gitinovasov (5-1) that the real potential of Zhora Ayvazyan became apparent.

The FMMAS featherweight championship

When watching a rising prospect force opponents into their game, one occasionally wonders – what happens when they can’t? What happens when the technical out-fighter has to brawl? What happens when a submission artist can’t get a hold of their opponent?

Up until Ayvazyan’s FMMAS featherweight title shot, all that was available was speculation. Now, it’s apparent — Zhora Ayvazyan is no one-trick pony.

Round one featured many takedown attempts from both parties, with neither of them ending up on the ground. In between grappling, Ayvazyan worked carefully behind his jab, occasionally mixing in a right overhand or short combination. Ayvazyan seemed averse to throwing long combinations, possibly trying to avoid leaving himself open to takedowns. The round ended without a clear lead for either fighter.

In between rounds, Ayvazyan and his team at Lion Heart MMA seemed to decide that initiating with grappling was not going to work. From the round two bell onward, Ayvazyan fought with his weight consistently forward. Leaning so far over his feet took power off of his punches, but gave him a head start in stuffing takedowns, allowing him to punish Gitinovasov’s attempts to grapple. This proved valuable, as Gitinovasov shot often, but saw only one successful takedown in round two, which Ayvazyan countered with a single-leg attempt from the ground to return to his feet. Meanwhile, Ayvazyan was peppering his opponent with jabs, and punishing every failed takedown attempt with single strikes and short combinations.

In addition, while Ayvazyan shot several times in the first round, he stopped beginning exchanges with a takedown attempt. Instead, Ayvazyan seemed to ration his cardio by reserving takedowns for when Gitinovasov left an opening, allowing Ayvazyan more success with fewer takedown attempts.

With round two’s approach having worked, and Gitinovasov looking exhausted from failed takedown attempts, Ayvazyan spent round three repeating what worked so well in round two. One particularly impressive takedown featured Ayvazyan trapping Gitinovasov’s arm in a body lock, leaving him absolutely helpless as he was taken down. At one point, Ayvazyan nearly finished the fight by putting his opponent against the fence and pummeling him with left hooks to the ear.

As Gitinovasov covered up, and the ref warned him to improve his position; only a thumbs-up to the ref and Ayvazyan’s gassing left arm kept Gitinovasov in the fight.

The fight ended with one final successful takedown from Gitinovasov, and, as the bell rang, with Ayvazyan in the process of using a single-leg to get back up again, two things were clear – this had been the hardest fight of Ayvazyan’s career, and he had absolutely won it.

Looking ahead

Ayvazyan’s takedown game is a serious asset, but maybe more promising is his ability to adjust between rounds and fight outside of his usual gameplan.

Ayvazyan went on to pick up an easy win against Brazil’s Julio Cesar Alves (16-12) and ended 2019 with his featherweight title fight with Rasul Magomedov being taken away, as doctors refused to let him continue cutting weight.

With COVID restrictions and meniscus surgery sidelining him for much of 2020, Ayvazyan has had a long, long time to plan for his rescheduled fight with Magomedov.

Considering the fight IQ he’s shown, Ayvazyan and his team seem unlikely to waste such an opportunity, especially following the added attention expected for GFC following reports that Nurmagomedov purchased ownership of the promotion for $1 million.

MMA fans should expect a fight to remember as Ayvazyan takes on Magomedov at GFC 30 for the featherweight championship on December 4.