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 Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his TKO victory against Sedriques Dumas in a middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Nursulton Ruziboev Has Big Plans

Surging Finisher Details Drop To Welterweight, Desire To Remain Active, And Expectations Ahead Of Co-Main Event Clash.

Nursulton Ruziboev was a mystery man to most when he made his promotional debut on short notice last July.

Filling in for Abdul Razak Alhassan opposite Brazilian slugger Brunno Ferreira, the towering middleweight from Uzbekistan stood as an interesting enigma: a fighter with a wealth of experience, scores of finishes, but with scant few matchups against recognizable names or even in familiar regional promotions. Training with the team at Marquez MMA in Philadelphia provided a sense of the level he could potentially bring with him into the Octagon, and in less than 90 seconds, “Black” showed he belonged.

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“When I was not in the UFC, I used to watch UFC fights and think to myself, ‘Man, I can finish all these guys. How are these fighters in the UFC and I’m not?’” Ruziboev said when asked about his early impressions of life on the UFC roster. “Of course, I knew I can get finishes. I will finish all these fights; just watch me do my magic, Inshallah.”

He did his magic against Ferreira, winning his debut in 67 seconds with a screaming right hand down the pipe after catching a naked low kick. In his sophomore appearance at the end of March in Atlantic City, Ruziboev again delivered on his confident promise, needing some additional time to dispatch Sedriques Dumas, but still getting things done inside the opening round.

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The win pushed his winning streak to 10 and stamped him as someone to keep close tabs on in the 185-pound weight class, which is why the announcement of his rapid return to action this weekend in St. Louis caught more than a few people off guard.

On Saturday night, Ruziboev will step in opposite Joaquin Buckley in the co-main event of the evening, making the move down to welterweight for the first time in a number of years to challenge the streaking local product.

Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan punches Sedriques Dumas in a middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan punches Sedriques Dumas in a middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“Welterweight is my natural weight and I see myself going far in this division,” said Ruziboev, addressing the shift down a division ahead of Saturday’s fascinating matchup with Buckley. “I cut almost no weight at middleweight, so when the opportunity came, it was a no brainer for me to go down a weight class and take this fight.

“I want to fight in both weight classes,” he added, sharing his ideal vision for how things will work going forward. “If they need a short notice fight at middleweight, I will take it for sure, but for now I want to focus on welterweight.”

A big part of what makes this move so intriguing is the figure Ruziboev cuts inside the cage.

Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at Boardwalk Hall Arena on March 30, 2024 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

The 30-year-old stands six-foot-five with a 76-inch reach and has already shown that he brandishes the kind of power and marksmanship to put away sturdy middleweights. He’s competed 46 times, debuting in the summer of 2014 and registering 17 appearances in his first three years as a professional.

There have been a handful of setbacks and stumbles along the way, but following a year-long hiatus in 2020 when global events were brought to a standstill by the coronavirus, Ruziboev has been on a tear, finishing each of the 10 individuals that have stood across from him on fight night.

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His intrigue factor is also upped by the fact that he’s training in a room full of UFC talents.

“I love my gym, my coaches and my teammates,” he began, primed to rightfully sing the praises of his coaches and training partners at Marquez MMA, which includes ranked welterweight Sean Brady, Jeremiah Wells, featherweight Pat Sabatini, and middleweights Andre Petroski and Joe Pyfer. “I learned a lot from them and they added a lot to my experience; they had a big impact in my career.

Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan battles Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan battles Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“I would say Joe Pyfer is the best guy to train with and I consider him the team captain,” added Ruziboev. “And Andre is definitely one of the best grapplers in this division. I love both these guys and respect them a lot.”

He also has a great deal of respect for Buckley, and it’s easy to see why.

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After spending his first nine UFC fights at middleweight and posting a 5-4 record, which included his viral knockout of Impa Kasanganay, consecutive losses to ranked opponents prompted the compact and explosive St. Louis native to head back down to welterweight, where he had spent the first 10 fights of his professional career.

Last year, Buckley began to establish his place in the pecking order with a knockout win over Andre Fialho in his divisional debut, following it up with a unanimous decision win over perennial tough out Alex Morono less than five months later.

Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Earlier this year, he stepped up when Brady was unable to compete in Atlantic City, filling in opposite Vicente Luque and picking up the biggest win of his career by dispatching the Top 15 fixture in the second round.

He lobbied UFC CEO Dana White to be included in the company’s return to his hometown, and now Ruziboev will head to St. Louis looking to spoil his homecoming.

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“Buckley is a very good fighter,” began the divisional debutant. “Fundamentally he is a striker, but we have seen him wrestle in fights before. I will be ready for all situations for this fight. I like this matchup because it’s at welterweight, both of us are strikers, and I like striking fights; they are exciting for the fans.

“I have fought in my opponent’s hometown before and this is nothing new to me,” he added when asked about going from having tremendous support in Atlantic City to battling Buckley on his home turf this weekend. “Of course I like when I have people who come and support me, but if not, then no problem, because inside the Octagon there is only two people.”

 Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Nursulton Ruziboev of Uzbekistan reacts after his victory over Brunno Ferreira of Brazil in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on July 01, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Two people with a maximum of 15 minutes to work, but if Ruziboev has his way, he’ll show a little more of his magic, putting himself in a position to make a quick climb up the welterweight rankings, and perhaps another quick turnaround, as well.

“I’m prepared for three rounds, but I know I will finish this guy in the first round, Inshallah,” he said confidently. “Now I will finish my next opponent and crack the Top 15 rankings, (and) from Top 15, the title is not too far away. I have big plans in this company.

"After this fight, I want to fight at UFC 302 (on) June 1 in Newark.”

UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs Nascimento took place live from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Missouri on May 11, 2024. See the final Prelim and Main Card results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass