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Nassourdine Imavov of Russia celebrates his victory over Joaquin Buckley in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at The Accor Arena on September 03, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Nassourdine Imavov Eager To Show His Improvements

Last Year Wasn’t Ideal For Nassourdine Imavov, But The Middleweight Standout Is Keen To Show What It Taught Him in 2024

Nassourdine Imavov entered 2023 on a three-fight winning streak, parlaying a victory in Paris over Joaquin Buckley into an opportunity to headline the first UFC event of the year opposite Kelvin Gastelum.

A handful of days before that event, Gastelum suffered an injury and was replaced by Sean Strickland, who halted Imavov’s run of success to begin his improbable run to the middleweight title. Six months later, the Russian-born, Paris-based hopeful stepped in with Strickland’s close friend and teammate, Chris Curtis, at UFC 289, dominating the action before an accidental clash of heads brought the fight to a halt midway through the second round, resulting in a no contest.

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A third opportunity to compete in October against Ikram Aliskerov fell through as a result of visa issues.

“I had two fights — one against the former champion, with a training camp focused on a totally different opponent, and one that unfortunately ended in a no contest; a fight in which I was in total domination,” said Imavov when asked to reflect on a year gone wrong ahead of his 2024 debut this weekend opposite Roman Dolidze in Saturday’s main event.

Saturday's Full Fight Card Preview

On the ledger, 2023 looks like a bit of a lost year — two fights, zero victories, and a missed opportunity, all coming at a time when many had forecasted that Imavov could be one of the big movers in the division.

But while wins and losses are important, growth and development are the most critical aspects for someone like Imavov, who turns 29 on March 1 and is embarking on his fourth full year on the UFC roster.

Nassourdine Imavov of Russia poses on the scale during the UFC 289 ceremonial weigh-in at Rogers Arena on June 09, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Nassourdine Imavov of Russia poses on the scale during the UFC 289 ceremonial weigh-in at Rogers Arena on June 09, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

He’s established himself as a fixture in the Top 15, which is a difficult task on its own, but forging ahead is even more daunting, and occasionally forces athletes to take a step or two back before they are able to move forward. The loss to Strickland aged well and taught him valuable lessons, and the matchup with Curtis showcased elements of his game that were previously rarely used, as well as the varied striking that he’d become known for since touching down in the Octagon in the fall of 2020.

With a solid foundation of experience underneath him and the lessons learned over the past year committed to memory, the talented middleweight is eager to show fans and observers the improvements he’s made and continue his ascent in the 185-pound ranks in the coming year.

“I'm still learning from it, forging the athlete I am and the man I am,” continued Imavov, who earned consecutive finishes over Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan in 2021 to catapult himself into the rankings, where he currently sits at No. 11. “I learned how to channel myself better, but also how to gain even more confidence in my abilities in the different areas.

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“I've learned not to underestimate my ability to be a complete fighter, as I showed against Chris Curtis, (and) I’m no longer preparing for a particular fight or fighter. I've learned enough from the change of opponent — Strickland instead of Gastelum — and now I'm concentrating on being the best fighter I can be to get that belt, not on my opponent.

“I took the time to learn,” he added, “and now it's time for me to show the fans how this learning process has benefited me. I can't wait to show them a new, more mature, more destructive version of myself.”

Rise of Nassourdine Imavov
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Rise of Nassourdine Imavov
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Just as he did last year, Imavov gets the opportunity to kick off his 2024 campaign with a main event assignment, positioned against Dolidze, who similarly enters the year looking to get things moving in the right direction again.

Like Imavov, Dolidze rattled off a series of impressive outings to force his way into the rankings, with a trio of 2022 victories producing three consecutive Performance of the Night bonuses, bringing him to the fringes of title contention. But a matchup with Marvin Vettori at UFC 286 in March didn’t go his way before a pair of fight cancellations towards the end of the year left him with just a lone appearance, and a lengthy absence between his last fight and this weekend’s finale.

“(He’s) a very tough, solid fighter,” Imavov said of Dolidze, who brings a 12-2 record into Saturday’s contest. “It's UFC, it's the very highest level — all the Top 10 opponents are solid.”

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It’s a tricky spot for the soft-spoken fighter, as few individuals will review the tape to see how well he was doing in the fight with Curtis prior to their heads coming together and the bout being halted; all they’ll see is that he’s without a victory in his last two outings, and question whether the former burgeoning contender is capable of returning to that position or simply reached his ceiling?

“(There is) always the same pressure to do well, to make my family proud, to repay those who spend their time making me into this war machine,” he said when asked about the weight on his shoulders heading into the weekend. “(But) pressure is a good thing. I'm a fairly sanguine person, and I've learned to channel that pressure into strength.

Nassourdine Imavov of Russia prepares to fight Sean Strickland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nassourdine Imavov of Russia prepares to fight Sean Strickland in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on January 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“It's part of the game and that's why we love it.”

With the experience of going the distance with Strickland last January in his back pocket, and focused on delivering the kind of performances that carry him to where he wants to go, Imavov eagerly awaits the opportunity to begin anew this year, envisioning a busy schedule, and a potential rematch, but it all begins with a strong effort this weekend in Las Vegas.

“I'm not one to talk or call for fights, and I will make a point of letting my performances speak for themselves from now on; they’ll make me an obvious contender for the belt. I'm here for absolutely everyone who's ranked higher than me; they're in my way.

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“If I'm in shape, I'd like to do four fights, as we're starting the year very early,” continued Imavov, mapping out his ideal schedule for the coming year. “I'm also keen to be on a Paris card, so why not stand a chance of winning the title? The French fans put on a sick atmosphere, they're really passionate, and they deserve fights at the highest level.

“I have someone in mind that beat me last time,” he added. “Let's do it again, come meet the new animal I am.”

Get ten dollars off UFC 298: Volkanovski vs Topuria

UFC Fight Night: Dolidze vs Imavov took place live from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 3, 2024. See the final Main Card & Prelim Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!