A 23-0 amateur record followed by a 5-0 pro record would be something for most fighters to advertise, but for 20-year-old flyweight Muhammad Mokaev, leaving it at “28-fight win streak” would be entirely underselling his appeal. Mokaev’s confidence feels absolute. His ambition seems endless. More importantly, he has the skill and athleticism to let that manifest as something spectacular.
His bantamweight fight with two-time IMMAF silver medalist Reo Yamaguchi (13-4 amateur) is a great example of this. Mokaev put Yamaguchi against the fence almost immediately and began kneeing Yamaguchi’s thighs and body. After over a minute of control and safe damage for Mokaev, Yamaguchi finally reversed position and started throwing knees to the body of his own. Excited at the small success for their fighter, the Japanese corner and fans began cheering.
Mokaev noticed. He looked up at them and smiled. Then, this happened.
About 15 seconds after the end of that clip, he suplexed Yamaguchi – hard.
30 seconds later, he followed it up with another.
Mokaev seemed determined to make a statement early in the fight. This may have been due to some kind of rivalry, as this was their third fight. Mokaev is the reason that Yamaguchi is a two-time IMMAF silver medalist, having beaten him and taken gold for himself in both the 2018 and 2019 finals.
It’s possible, however, that the slams had nothing to do with competitiveness. That may have just been Mokaev doing what Mokaev does; making the fight as entertaining as possible. The Dagestani prospect seems quite conscious of his audience. His fights alone say enough on the subject, but his social media also seems to be a priority, full of everything from travel photos to highlight reels, and a surprising amount of engagement with fans. He’s a great account to follow, especially on Instagram. One particular highlight reel from before he went pro seems to be dedicated specifically to some of his more ridiculous slams.
Mokaev being Mokaev was on full display in his pro debut against Irish prospect Glenn McVeigh (0-1). With Mokaev’s original opponent pulling out of the fight and five more replacements falling through, McVeigh stepped up to make his own pro debut on three days notice.
However, McVeigh did more than just sign the contract. He called Mokaev a hype train that he planned to derail. His promotional video for the fight featured McVeigh saying “I don’t like him. I don’t like who he is, I don’t like how he gets on.” McVeigh made every attempt to make it personal. A brawl nearly erupted when the fighters met in the lobby of the host hotel. Mokaev, already prone to fantastic displays of athleticism, seemed at risk of getting reckless and exposing himself – which is likely what McVeigh was hoping for.
The night of the fight, referee Kevin Sataki struggled to keep the fighters apart. The two nearly began fighting with the cage door still wide open, and had to be sent back to their corners. As the fight started, Mokaev seemed to fall into McVeigh’s trap, throwing wild combinations of punches and head kicks without any setup. As Mokaev chased his opponent around the cage, one particular body kick got so wild that he ended up with his leg flailed out behind him at a 90 degree angle, and his chin terribly exposed.
Seeming to realize how dangerous of a game he was playing, Mokaev settled in. He began cutting McVeigh off instead of chasing him. While still very aggressive, he took a little power off of his shots, shortened his combinations and started varying his strikes. While in minute one of his pro career, Mokaev looked like the kind of action fighter who never makes it out of the regional scene. By minute two, he was looking like a bona fide prospect again. He was all business – except that he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
In his defense, McVeigh seemed to be instigating the trash talk. Before round two, an exasperated Kevin Sataki yelled “Gentlemen, let your hands do the words,” seemingly a confused combination of “Let your hands do the talking” and “Let your hands do the work”, and a request that they would ignore.
Despite a commendable effort from McVeigh, Mokaev proceeded to dominate every minute of the fight and earn his first professional win. While Mokaev cleanly won the striking exchanges, the ground game was where he really shined, with McVeigh helpless to improve his position. After the fight, Mokaev accused McVeigh of grabbing his gloves in the grappling exchanges in a desperate attempt to stall, explaining “Of course, he can’t do much, or I’ll smash him. He don’t want my elbows.” He chastised his opponent for his trash talk. A couple months later, he even posted this:
Emphasizing respect for one’s opponent isn’t new for Mokaev, either. He posted this two months before the fight, before he’d likely even heard of McVeigh.
— Muhammad Mokaev (@muhammadmokaev) June 8, 2020
Three weeks after winning his pro debut against McVeigh, Mokaev picked up a 51-second KO win over Hayden Sherriff (0-11). Six weeks after that, he submitted the then-undefeated Jamie Kelly (3-1). Eight weeks after Kelly, he made Dave Jones (0-2) tap to strikes in 87 seconds.
Mokaev’s pro career thus far can be summarized as a rampage. His accomplishments and attitude would be inspiring on their own. Then, there’s the context; that roughly eight years ago, Mokaev was just a child in a car full of clothes, as his father drove across Europe in an attempt to restart their lives.
Following the death of Muhummad’s mother, his father, Murad, “had problems” as his son explained to CNN sports reporter Alex Thomas in an interview. Murad’s solution was to leave Dagestan and Russia behind.
The Mokaev’s came to the UK as refugees. Only Murad spoke English. As Muhummad put it, his “life started from zero.”
“It was crazy,” he told CNN. “A different country, new language, new tradition of the people. And it was scary.”
As refugees, the UK provided them with a house, and little else.
“I came to UK as a refugee and I was getting like £5 a day. Me and my father on £5 a day, it’s like maybe $6-7, and it’s like you have to split this for food and clothes and Internet for your phone. It’s not enough. I was hungry.”
School was difficult for Mokaev. “In the UK, I understood my English wasn’t the best to go to university, like Oxford, Cambridge, like my father … Maybe I’ll not make him proud. So I have to make him proud [in a] different way.”
A teacher told Mokaev of a local youth center. As Mokaev put it, “Basically there’s like football, wrestling, boxing; there was everything. So I went to boxing and then next hour I went to wrestling.” Back in Dagestan, Mokaev had skipped school to practice martial arts. Here in the UK, Mokaev had found an outlet, and an introduction to MMA. As it turned out, Mokaev had found a career.
In the present day, Mokaev announced his move to flyweight by calling out Brave CF flyweight prospect Abdul Hussein (7-2), stating “I respect this guy but this is my division!”
Hussein, who was coming off of a first round win via ninja choke, responded via Instragram “This fight is not to determine only who is one of the top flyweights in BRAVE, but in the whole world. This is a challenge that i live for and i’m gonna bring the best version of myself and Inshallah we will get the W.“
“Me and Khabib are different people, I think. When I fought in amateurs, people knew me, like my charisma is different to Khabib’s.
“My charisma is different [than] Khabib’s because people found out about Khabib maybe when he was on a like a 26-fight winning streak, maybe 27. People knew about me when I was [on] like my third amateur fight. The difference when I get to that level, you will see the difference.”