Shamil Zavurov, president of Eagle Fighting Championship, says that the fight league’s backer, Khabib Nurmagomedov, is paving a path for a new generation of Russian fighters to make their mark at the top level of global MMA.
For Khabib, that came in early 2012 when the then 16-0 fighter took his first steps in the UFC’s cage in a journey which would eventually lead to a world title and the status of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
The undefeated (and recently retired) Khabib stepped out of the limelight last year after defending his UFC lightweight championship against the gritty American Justin Gaethje, and has worked since then to switch the focus to the next generation of Russian fighters following in his footsteps, with his cousins Usman and Umar, as well as the highly thought of Islam Makhachev battling their way to the top of the list.
But according to Eagle Fighting Championship president Shamil Zavurov, Khabib’s investment into Russian MMA doesn’t end there.
“They discuss it every time they meet,” Zavurov said to the media, including RT Sport, after a recent Eagle FC event. “I believe that at every meeting Khabib will try to get some of our top fighters signed to the UFC.
“We have an oral agreement with our fighters that if they prove themselves in our league we will push to get them signed to the UFC. Nobody will hold them in EFC.”
Eagle FC’s would-be status as a feeder league to the UFC is a similar arrangement to that of Irish MMA promotion Cage Warriors, who consistently provide a steady stream of European talent to the major leagues – with two of the most prominent, Conor McGregor and Michael Bisping, winning world titles and becoming legitimate sports star along the way.
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Chief among the UFC’s potential imports is Mehdi Dakaev, the fighter who made headlines at this week’s EFC event for breaking his opponent’s leg with a scything low-kick. The EFC lightweight champ, who is 13-2 in MMA, is thought to be making ever-louder ‘blips’ on the radars of both the UFC and Bellator, another major promotion who have made significant inroads into securing up and coming Russian talent.
But even amid all of Khabib’s achievements, there is one man who stands alone as the most prominent figure in the history of Russian mixed martial arts: Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.
The fighting patriarch of the Nurmagomedov clan, who passed away last summer after experiencing complications following a Covid-19 diagnosis, is responsible for guiding the careers of a swath of fighters to emerge from Russia – Zavurov included – and the Eagle FC president says that the promotion will honor the fallen Nurmagomedov with a tribute event later this year.
“We’re going to have one event in September and it’ll be the Abdulmanap memorial event,” he said. “We haven’t talked about co-hosting it with anyone because we’re capable of hosting a high-level event ourselves.
“So there aren’t any discussions about that at the moment, but we’ll see. If our organization and Fight Nights are both interested, why not? We hosted a great event last year and we can do it again.
“Nothing is set in stone yet but we’re preparing for that event.”
As for who might compete on the card, Zavurov hopes that at least one Nurmagomedov will be available to fight – and pointed to recent Bellator signing Usman Nurmagomedov as one name he is courting.
“He fought last year,” Zavurov explained. “If everything goes well, why not let him do it again? Usman will be there, I will be there – we both carry Abdulmanap’s legacy and we’ll try to partake in this event.”
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But one fighter who is confirmed for the event is Zavurov himself, with the 39-6-1 fighter set for his final career bout on a card i tribute to his mentor.
“Yes, I’ll be fighting,” he said. “It will be my last fight. I want to have my final fight at that event as a final goodbye to Abdulmanap, the man who raised me and made me who I am today.”