Just over a month after earning a contract on Contender Series, Albert Duraev will make his highly-anticipated UFC debut at UFC 267 this Saturday.
After starting off his career at 5-3, Duraev debuted in ACB in 2015 and put together eight straight victories. During that run he captured both the welterweight and middleweight ACB belts and finished six of his opponents, three of them in the first round. After defending the middleweight belt in September 2018 with a unanimous decision victory over Piotr Strus, Duraev was inactive for three years before making his Contender Series appearance last month.
“Machete” was able to impress Dana White by finishing Caio Bittencourt with a first-round neck crank, showcasing the grappling prowess that has helped him earn nine submissions from his fourteen pro victories. The variety of submissions on his record is notable, though his ability to take the back of opponents has lent itself well to finding rear-naked chokes as well as the previously mentioned neck crank.
Duraev’s takedown game is mainly based around reactive double legs and outside trips from the clinch. In his previous bouts he’s been excellent at timing his double leg entries, shooting in after opponents strike and minimizing their ability to defend it. From the clinch he’ll look for the outside trip to take things to the mat, ideally going straight into side control off the takedown.
While grappling may be his standout skillset, Duraev has no fear of standing and trading with his opponents. On the feet he’ll test his opponents with his jab before blitzing with his favored combo of an overhand right followed by a left hook. One of his best strikes is a hard left hook to the body, though he tends to throw it as a solo shot rather than as part of a combination or with any real set up. “Machete” will also switch stances regularly and will occasionally throw a side kick to the lead knee of his opponents from southpaw.
One concerning trend I’ve noticed in his previous fights is that if Duraev feels comfortable on the feet he has no real urgency to take his opponents down, despite that being where he’s most adept. His offensive stand-up game is decent, but I do have some concerns about his defense on the feet. He relies heavily on leaning back in order to avoid strikes, and when his opponents press forward he has a tendency to cover up and wait for them to finish throwing. While it’s good to be confident in all-aspects of your game, I’d like to see Duraev use his striking more as a tool to get to the ground instead of standing and trading for long periods.
In terms of this matchup, the UFC originally booked him against Alessio Di Chirico who is 1-4 in his last five fights for the organization. He’s been replaced by fellow Russian Roman Kopylov (8-1) who hasn’t fought since being submitted by Karl Roberson (who himself has been submitted in all four of his career losses) in Kopylov’s UFC debut in 2019.
It’s been clear since the Contender Series win that the UFC have high-hopes for Duraev’s future, and the matchmaking for his debut reflects that. Kopylov has the striking to challenge him if Duraev decides to hang around on the feet too long, but on the ground he should be able to lock up the tenth submission of his career.
If he was competing at welterweight I’d have a few more concerns about his ceiling, but Duraev matches up very well with a lot of the middleweight fighters in the UFC. I do think that fighters with sound takedown defense that will attack his body when striking could cause him problems, but those opponents are only found at the very top of the division.
Out Within 1-2 Years 50/50 Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years
Albert Duraev is an incredibly exciting newcomer to the UFC’s middleweight division who figures to be a terrifying thought for anyone matched up against him. He was signed after a dominant submission win on the Contender Series but I would have had no objections if he had been signed without going through that process.
Duraev is now in his 10th year as a professional fighter, as he made his debut all the way back in 2011. He was signed by now-defunct M1-Challenge after just two fights and was immediately thrown into the deep end against a 37-fight veteran. He picked up some good wins with that promotion but also suffered a number of KO/TKO losses and had an unremarkable 5-3 record when ACB picked him up in 2015.
However, he went on an absolute tear in Russia’s best promotion and put together 8 straight victories against high-level competition. Along the way, he won the welterweight title in 2016 but was stripped of it later that year for missing weight for a title defense, only to come back and win the middleweight title in 2017. He defended that title once in 2018 then vanished for 3 years leading up to his DWCS appearance, and that inactivity is likely why he wasn’t signed directly to the roster after his impressive streak.
Its hard to imagine that Duraev once made 170 pounds, as he is now a muscle-bound and powerful middleweight with the ability to dominate just about anyone when it comes to grappling. He has armbars, triangles, rear naked chokes, a neck crank, and even a north-south choke on his submission record, which shows how varied and high-level his attack is. He’s a classic Dagestani wrestler in his initial approach, showing an excellent understanding of how to distribute his weight and opportunistically snatching wrists and ankles to prevent his opponents from building back to their feet.
When he delivers ground strikes they have plenty of power, but Duraev uses his ground and pound more to open up choke opportunities rather than looking to finish with strikes. His stand up game is solid and he packs a bunch of power in his hands, but he doesn’t offer as much with kicking and is definitely at his best when he can force the fight into close quarters.
Duraev claimed that he wanted to fight every month after his Contender Series win, and given that he’s already 32 that urgency is a good sign for his potential career trajectory. He’s already making a fast turnaround by fighting 45 days after earning his contract, and if he can continue to dominate I see no reason why he can’t be one of the UFC’s most active fighters. Dana White was clearly impressed by his performance live, and the opponents Duraev has been booked against make me think he is someone the promotion wants to see succeed. His original opponent was Alessio Di Chirico, who is a strong striker but nowhere near Duraev’s level as a wrestler.
After that fight fell through he was re-booked against Roman Kopylov, who is more of an unknown but is 0-1 in the UFC with that loss coming by submission to Karl Robertson, who is also not as dangerous a grappler as Albert. I see Duraev coming through with a submission in the first two rounds and making a case to get fast-tracked towards taking on ranked opponents. He will struggle against high-level kickboxers who can defend or avoid his takedowns, but there are very few of those guys in the middleweight division, so I see a ton of potential success in his future.
Out Within 1-2 Years 50/50 Winner
A Mainstay Through the Years