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Muhammad Mokaev of Russia poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
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Muhammad Mokaev: It Takes A Village

Backed By Friends From Across The Globe, “The Punisher” Is On The Fast Track To The Top

Muhammad Mokaev may only be five fights into his UFC career, but the 23-year-old from England is already ranked inside the flyweight Top 10 and sits on the brink of flyweight championship contention. 

Mokaev’s sixth UFC outing takes place this weekend at the UFC Vegas 87, where he’ll face off against former flyweight title challenger Alex Perez at the UFC APEX. It’s a bout that “The Punisher” hopes will catapult him into a title shot later this year.

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“I think every fight I’m getting stronger … mentally, physically, more experienced,” he told UFC.com during a pre-fight sit down ahead of his bout.

“Now I’m ready to fight a top 10 opponent. I mean, I’ve already fought Tim Elliott, but I think this will get me closer to the title.”

Alex Perez and Muhammad Mokaev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Alex Perez and Muhammad Mokaev of Russia face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 01, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Mokaev arrived in the UFC as one of the most decorated MMA amateurs of all time. Undefeated in 23 fights, Mokaev captured multiple international championships, including two IMMAF World Championships, during a stellar amateur career. 

That top-drawer experience as an amateur gave him a wealth of experience to carry into his pro career, and he’ll step into the Octagon this weekend with an undefeated 11-0, 1 NC record, including five straight victories under the UFC banner. 

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That record hasn’t gone unnoticed by reigning flyweight champ Alexandre Pantoja, who recently told MMA Fighting that a UFC 301 title fight with Mokaev “makes total sense” if he defeats Perez this weekend.

Fighters don’t book fights, but for the champion to be mentioning Mokaev by name means the 23-year-old from Manchester is right where he wants to be as he embarks on the biggest year of his career to date.

Muhammad Mokaev's Quick Round 1 Submission | UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall
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Muhammad Mokaev's Quick Round 1 Submission | UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs Aspinall
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“I think, once I finish Alex Perez, I’m fighting for the belt,” he stated.

“I was listening to Pantoja this morning. He said ‘I think Mokaev is next. Depends on how he wins the fight.’ And he wants new blood, UFC wants new blood. I’m here!”

Mokaev is a student of the flyweight division, having followed it closely since his amateur days. The plan all along was to do his homework, prove his worth, then take his chance.

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“I watched every single guy, even before the UFC,” he explained.

“I’m a big fan of flyweight. I watched Tim Elliott vs. Demetrious Johnson live back in 2017, and I know every single guy in the division.”

Muhammad Mokaev of Russia reacts after his victory over Tim Elliott in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Muhammad Mokaev of Russia reacts after his victory over Tim Elliott in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

His research has certainly paid off so far. A blistering performance on his UFC debut in London saw him stun, then submit, Cody Durden in March of 2022. Then he showed his grit and conditioning as he battled to a unanimous decision victory over former LFA champion Charles Johnson four months later. 

Since then, it’s been finishes all the way, as he armbarred Malcolm Gordon at UFC 280, before his incredible survival of Jafel Filho’s kneebar attempt went viral at UFC 286. After escaping Filho’s clutches, he turned the tables and finished “Pastor” with a last-minute rear-naked choke. 

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Mokaev made a remarkably swift recovery from a knee injury sustained in that fight, and claimed the most significant win of his career to date with a third-round arm-triangle choke finish of The Ultimate Fighter winner and former flyweight title challenger Tim Elliott at UFC 294.

Those victories have him on the cusp of title contention, and while Mokaev has received deserved plaudits for his performances, he is keen to pass on the praise to his team for helping him level up between fights, while keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

 Muhammad Mokaev of Russia punches Tim Elliott in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Muhammad Mokaev of Russia punches Tim Elliott in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 294 event at Etihad Arena on October 21, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are, basically, right?” he said.

“So I try to surround myself with people more experienced than me. I have Rustam Khabilov in my team, Renat Iusubov, Eldar Eldarov. We have a great team. And we have (striking coach) John Boy (Hutchinson) back in Thailand. I have a good team around me, and they’re helping me with this.

“They’re just reminding me that I have to go for the belt. Even when I win, we don’t even celebrate that much. We go to eat, and that’s it. When you take the title, you can relax a little bit. But, for now, it’s just another step to the goal. It’s nothing special.”

Another name who has proved pivotal in Mokaev’s journey is interim UFC heavyweight champion Tom Aspinall, who has served as a coach, mentor and friend to Mokaev ever since he arrived in England with his father as a 12-year-old refugee back in 2013.

Muhammad Mokaev of England celebrates his victory over Cody Durden in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena
Muhammad Mokaev of England celebrates his victory over Cody Durden in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“Ever since I was 12 years old, Andy Aspinall was teaching adults and Tom Aspinall was teaching kids, so I was doing the kids class and went to the adults class to train with his father, Andy. 

“(Tom) was actually coaching the kids. He was always a funny guy; I enjoyed his sessions. It’s not like he would just make you do 60 push-ups and you’re tired and you go home. He played, he smiled, good energy. Having just come to the UK as a refugee, I didn’t have many friends, and being coached like this, I saw Tom as a friend, as a coach, and we went to competitions together. He looked after me like a little brother.”

With Aspinall looking to upgrade his interim belt to the undisputed heavyweight title, and Mokaev laser-focused on capturing undisputed gold at 125 pounds, it’s possible that UK fighters could potentially hold championship gold in the UFC’s lightest and heaviest male weight classes. For Mokaev, that’s an outcome that would carry more significance than just championship status. 

“Holding the titles at flyweight and heavyweight, I think that’s good motivation for the young generation,” he said.

Muhammad Mokaev of Russia kicks Jafel Filho of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Muhammad Mokaev of Russia kicks Jafel Filho of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC 286 event at The O2 Arena on March 18, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

"I want to be a role model for youngsters in the UK, especially now. There’s a lot of crime. A little bit of the UK is (falling into) poverty. Kids on the streets don’t know what they’re doing. Parents are working nine to five, they’re busy. They don’t see what the kids are surrounded with. It’s a new time, right? So, as a young guy, I understand what youngsters are up to, so I want to help them.”

To maximize his impact, Mokaev will need to get past Perez this weekend, and after claiming four of his five UFC wins by submission, he sees a fifth finish as a distinct possibility.

“He’s got like seven defeats by submission, and I will be the eighth ‘submission man’ to finish him,” he stated.

“Since 2020, I’ve had 12 professional MMA fights – 11 wins and one no contest, so it shows the activity, and it will show inside the cage, because his lack of activity makes a big difference inside the cage.

Muhammad Mokaev of England enters the Octagon before facing Cody Durden in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Muhammad Mokaev of England enters the Octagon before facing Cody Durden in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“Alex is in a very good position. He’s in the rankings for a reason. He beat good guys. I remember (his fight with) Jose Torres, he’s from our gym. He was coming in undefeated. But I’m a very different style than Jose Torres – he’s more standing and banging, but I’m moving. 

“I think Alex Perez has like a Mexican style of boxing. Wild hooks, calf kicks, and that’s it. I don’t see anything special. He’s got a not bad headlock. But I’ve been working on everything. There is nothing he has that I haven’t seen, so he’s a simple guy for me. He’s just another guy to step past and go for the belt.”

And, while he sees the potential for the seventh submission win of his professional career, Mokaev said he’ll take whatever opportunity that comes with calmness and composure.

Muhammad Mokaev of Russia kicks Charles Johnson in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Muhammad Mokaev of Russia kicks Charles Johnson in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“In my mind (I’m ready for) three rounds,” he said.

“When the submission comes, I never force the submission. When it comes, I will go for it. But if you aim for it, that’s a bad mistake. Because I’m experienced from my amateur career, I think that’s a mistake that some new up and coming fighters do, and gas themselves out. For example, Jafel Filho in London with my knee. Tim Elliott with the triangle. 

“I’m not one of them.”

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