‘I want to be the youngest UFC champion’: Teenage phenom Muhammad Mokaev on signing his first pro contract and targeting MMA glory
When you enter the professional ranks with as big a reputation as Muhammad Mokaev, there can be some pretty big expectations placed on you. Luckily, the 19-year-old Russian fighter plans to exceed every single one of them.
If we were to ask you to name a Dagestani grappler who walks to the cage sporting a Papakha and is undefeated in 20-something mixed martial arts bouts, you'd most likely point us in the direction of the reigning UFC lightweight champion, right?
Well, there are two correct answers to this question. The second is the 19-year-old bantamweight Muhammad Mokaev, who has just inked his first-ever professional contract with Brave CF after compiling an outstanding amateur record of 23-0. And as he told RT Sport's Darren Russell shortly after signing his deal with the Bahraini fight promoter, this is just the first step on a journey to the top of the sport.Also on rt.com Mo goes pro: Undefeated amateur MMA prodigy Muhammad Mokaev signs for Brave CF
"If we talk about money, ONE and Bellator offered me crazy money," Mokaev explained. "Probably the top 10 fighters in the UFC don't get this money. But if we talk about my long-term goal, I think Brave came with a good offer because my long-term goal is the UFC.
"Brave are aware of this. Brave accept me and will look after me, whereas Bellator... I will get stuck with them for a long time."
Remaining stationary isn't on his mind right now, especially when you have the type of ambition Mokaev possesses. His journey into the sport began with amateur bouts in 2015, back when he wasn't yet in his mid-teens after moving to the United Kingdom when he was 12. Since then, and with every win which followed, his reputation grew further.
Perhaps it is this constant forward momentum he has experienced through his amateur career which has led to him continuing to push for more opportunities. Bellator, he says, is a sideways step.
"If I sign for Bellator I will never fight in the UFC, I think. Of course, it's all about money but my goal is UFC. I want to be the youngest UFC champion and I cannot sit and waste my age in other organizations."
This aspiration has a very evident sell-by date. Jon Jones became the youngest UFC champion to date when he defeated Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua in March 2011 to capture the light heavyweight title at the age of 23. Mokaev, who turns 20 next month, has a little over three years to repeat this feat.
His journey to the top has already garnered the attention of some of the sport's most famous managers - but, in news which may sting some of the fight game's top executives, he won't be signing any deals anytime soon.
"At some point in the UFC I can have a manager, but I give you money for the work," he said. "Not like I keep fighting and he gets the money. This is stupid. Fighters pay 20 percent. What for? For paperwork? For asking a sponsor if they can sponsor this guy? For just one conversation, they get like 10 percent, 20 percent.
"As a fighter you have to know yourself. You put the sweat, you put the blood, you damage yourself. But other guys don't see this. Managers only see paperwork. You have to know your [own] price."
When he makes it to your screens, Mokaev's ring-walk will resemble that of Khabib Nurmagomedov in that they both wear the traditional Papakha hat, but that is where the comparisons end.
"I was wearing it since 2013, 2012," he said. "Probably not many people knew about Khabib at that time. It's not because of him, it's because I represent my people, represent where I come from."Also on rt.com Mystic Khabib: UFC champ Nurmagomedov makes his 'Fight Island' predictions
And when that UFC call does come, Mokaev says that he is ready for what to expect. Such is his reputation in the amateur scene, he has visited, or been invited to, several world-class gyms and has also mixed it up with some of Russia's MMA elite.
"I've sparred with UFC guys. Featherweights, lightweights, and I don't see much difference skill-wise. I see the strength of course because they're grown men, but I've sparred with guys like Petr Yan, I've sparred with Zubaira Tukhugov... Skill-wise, I don't see much difference."
By the sounds of things, we won't have to wait too long to see for ourselves.