Tribute to a Legend: Interview with Mamed Khalidov

Mamed Khalidov
Photo courtesy of KSW MMA

The debate will always continue on “when should a fighter retire?” Who’s to say, but the world of MMA recently had a true legend retire in the form of KSW fighter Mamed Khalidov.

After 40 plus professional fights and over 20 plus KSW fights, the legend decided after his unanimous decision loss at KSW 46 to light heavyweight champion, Tomasz Narkun, it was time to hang up the gloves. The 38-year-old has had quite the journey from his homeland of Russia to become one of the most popular athletes in the history of Poland.

Early Life

Khalidov was born in July, 1980 in the city of Grozny. Grozny is the capital city of the Chechen Republic. In 1997 (at the age of 17) Khalidov left Grozny and relocated to Poland after the First Chechen War.

The war took place between 1994 to 1996 when Russia attempted to take back control of Chechnya. The trek from Grozny to Poland is about 2,593.7km (about 1,611 miles) going all the way through Ukraine.

“I came to Poland as a student to study in the university because I didn’t have a chance to do it in my homeland,” Khalidov told MMA Sucka. “Martial arts is a huge part of Chechen cultural code. We are always involved in protection of our land, so it was pretty natural to me.”

Moving and setting up your life in a new location can be an extremely stressful event. For Khalidov it was no different. “Of course it was a difficult step for me moving away from my family to the new place. Without knowing the Polish language and county in general, but I had a really good group of friends surrounding me since day one here,” Khalidov stated.

“And Arrachion Olsztyn was a huge part of my life since the beginning. I am a lucky guy to have these people with me!” Arrachion MMA is the premier fight team in Poland. It contains such fighters, in addition to Khalidov, as Aslambek Saidov, Karol Celinski, and Paulina Bonkowska, among many others.

Martial Arts Growing Up

“My first martial art was Karate. We had a really great Sensei in Grozny,” Khalidov stated.

“He was a true role model for us. It was old school training process with a great focus on technique.” Around the age of 12 Khalidov had his first taste of combat sports, picking up on Kyokushin. The art is a form of full-contact Karate founded by Masutatsu Oyama in the 1960s. Khalidov is currently a black belt of Kyokushin which is also practiced by other MMA greats such as Georges St. Pierre, Bas Rutten, and Mariusz Pudzianowski among many others. After relocating to Poland in 1997, Khalidov began to pick up on several other forms of combat. At this point, he developed into a true mixed martial artist.

Bumpy Beginnings of a Legendary Career

Khalidov began his professional career with a rough start, losing his first two bouts, both by first-round finishes. His debut came at Shooto Lithuania-Bushido King on May 18, 2004. The event took place in the Forum Palace in Vilinus, Lithuania.

Though Khalidov would suffer a first-round knockout, he returned to battle three months later in September 2004 for Shooto Lithuania-Gladiators. Khalidov’s night ended with a first-round submission loss but he did manage to end 2004 on a high note.

In December 2004, Khalidov got his first taste of victory scoring a unanimous decision victory over Pawel Klimkiewicz on a Poland regional show. Khalidov reeled off two more wins in 2005 to up his record to 3-2 before suffering his last loss he would see until 2010.

The impressive five-year run would contain 17 victories over some of the biggest names in Europe at that time.

A Potential Move to a Larger Organization?

The Desire for PRIDE

“My big dream was PRIDE,” Khalidov told MMA Sucka. “We had talked with the UFC and I was thinking about moving but I decided to stay in KSW. We were growing up together with the organization and without a doubt they became more than just promoters for me. I think that we have made great work together.”

PRIDE FC was the premier MMA organization in the world at the time. The organization was home to many of the best middleweights in the world such as Wanderlei Silva, “Shogun” Rua, and Ricardo Arona. The largest attendance ever for an MMA event took place at PRIDE Shockwave Dynamite on August 28, 2002, which took place in the Tokyo National Stadium. It’s reported nearly 91,000 packed the arena for an event headlined by Mirko Cro Cop vs. Kazushi Sakuraba.

“The Run”

The impressive 17 fight run that spanned from 2005 to 2010 was fought throughout the Polish regional scene, Croatian regional scene, Sengoku, President’s Cup of Grozny, and the future home of Khalidov, KSW.

His victories outside of KSW consisted of such names as future long-time UFC veteran Igor Pokrajac, Swedish heavy striker Tor Troeng, and future KSW and M-1 veteran Jacek Buczko.

Building a Name in the Early KSW Days

The start of the legend really began with the early KSW days. His debut came at KSW 7 on June 02, 2007 against German fighter Alexander Stefanovic, who was 1-1 at the time. Khalidov ended up defeating Stefanovic via first-round corner stoppage. Khalidov’s toughest fight to date was yet to come later on in 2007, just two fights later against Martin Zawada.

Zawada, to this day, still competes for KSW and has nearly 30 wins in his career. Khalidov walked out of the cage with a submission victory. Instead of competing in any of the tournaments KSW originally made their name off of, Khalidov competed in one on one bouts with the toughest names in Europe building his reputation as a deadly MMA fighter able to finish the fight on the feet or on the ground.

Khalidov took on Daniel Acacio at KSW 11 in May 2009 to determine the inaugural KSW light heavyweight champion. Though Khalidov is a natural middleweight fighter who barely breaks 200 pounds in the division, he would defeat Acacio via first-round knockout.

Lone American Appearance

Khalidov’s sole fight on American soil came during his undefeated run as he competed against Jason Guida at ShoXC:9 Elite Challenger Series in October 2008. The event took place in Hammond, Indiana at the Horseshoe Casino.

Guida came out fast but about 15 seconds into the first round Khalidov rolled Guida into a kneebar, later transitioning it to a heel-hook. While on his back, Khalidov threw several very solid upkicks to Guida. Even with one minute left in the round and on the bottom position, Khalidov showed how dangerous he was throwing elbows and staying active.

The second round showed Khalidov’s solid striking skills. There was an incident with Guida’s mouthpiece where it came out of his mouth and was unable to be located for a bit. The referee was obviously upset using profane language in attempts to locate the mouthpiece. Khalidov’s corner was obviously upset as well as it was believed Guida was intentionally stalling to get additional rest.

With ten seconds left in the round, the referee stopped the bout due to strikes. Guida then forcefully pushed the referee in disgust. This was exactly the introduction to the American MMA fan that could make Khalidov a household name with an organization like the UFC. Khalidov’s dream, however, was to fight somewhere else.

The Jorge Santiago Bouts and the End of the Streak

The longest winning streak of Khalidov’s career would come to an end in the second of two bouts with Brazilian UFC veteran, Jorge Santiago. Both matchups took place under the Sengoku banner in November 2009 and March 2010 respectively.

The first bout was a typical Khalidov matchup to this point in his career, a knockout with two minutes and fifteen seconds left in the first round at Sengoku 11. The two were measuring their distance in the first minute with Khalidov throwing a beautiful spinning kick that barely missed. Santiago was able to get the fight to the ground after Khalidov was forced up to the ropes. Khalidov remained composed, striking actively from the bottom. Eventually Khalidov was able to swap positions and delivery heavy shots forcing the referee to stop the bout.

The impressive thing about this matchup is Santiago was the current Sengoku middleweight champion, but this bout was a non-title fight. Khalidov was also the underdog headed into the matchup with many doubting his “strength of schedule”. At this point in his career, Santiago had already had a stint in the UFC, won the Strikeforce and Sengoku middleweight grand prix tournaments, earning the Sengoku middleweight title.

The Second Matchup

The rematch came exactly four months later on March 07, 2010, in the same venue, the Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan. Differentiating from their first matchup, this battle was actually for the middleweight title. The contest was a close five-round battle with Santiago taking the scorecards via unanimous decision (48-47.)

There has been much speculation that the decision was made to keep the Brazilian as the champion. Regardless, after this loss, Khalidov would not experience defeat again for another eight years (another streak of 14.) Every step from here for Khalidov, was a step closer to his immortal legendary status. Khalidov finished off his three-fight contract with Sengoku by defeating Yuki Sasaki via first round TKO in December 2010.

2011 KSW Run Onward

Arguably the prime and high points of Khalidov’s career started around 2011 with the beginning of his second run with KSW. KSW 15 in March 2011 saw Khalidov main event the card against James Irvin, who was coming off of a UFC run.

After the Santiago matchups, Khalidov’s competition took a turn to a level of difficulty even his toughest critics could no longer deny. After slipping from a missed spinning kick, Irvin decided to go into Khalidov’s guard on the ground. With a couple of beautiful, swift moves Khalidov locked in an amazing armbar causing Irvin to tap immediately.

Running through Olympic Silver Medalist

Khalidov’s run of very tough opponents continued as he took on 2008 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist, Matt Lindland, at KSW 16 in May 2011. After a barrage of strikes landed by Khalidov, the two went to the ground where Khalidov was impressive, jumping from the guard to his back for a kneebar which was quickly abandoned.

Khalidov rose to his feet and waited for Lindland to stand. As he did he grabbed ahold of Lindland’s neck, locking in a very tight guillotine choke. Lindland drove Khalidov to the ring corner but fell to the ground and was put to sleep by the choke. In his last two bouts, Khalidov finished Irvin and Lindland with two submissions in a grand total of 128 seconds.

First Round Finishes Continue

In addition to the Irvin and Lindland first-round finishes, Khalidov would handle five of his next six opponents in the first round. From March 2011 to April 2014, Khalidov competed in eight matchups going 8-0 with seven first-round finishes and a second-round finish of Kendall Grove at KSW 21 in December 2012.

Six of the seven first-round finishes came by submission. The only knockout was a first-round stiffening of Rodney Wallace at KSW 19. Khalidov delivered a jab straight down the middle that knocked out Wallace before he hit the mat. The highlight still appears on knockout reels for KSW even to this day.

Khalidov capped off 2014 with a unanimous decision victory over American Brett Cooper at KSW 29. 2015 proved to be a huge year as it would start off for Khalidov with a shot at another KSW title.

The King Receives His Crown

After vacating the light heavyweight title early in his career, Khalidov earned a chance to become a two-division champion in KSW as he took on middleweight champion Michal Materla at KSW 33 in November 2015.

Khalidov threw a heavy right hand that wobbled the champion. He followed in with a flying knee that connected and dropped Materla to the mat. Khalidov pounded on top and rained down strikes until the referee stopped the bout only 31 seconds in, crowning Khalidov the new middleweight champion of the world, a title he would never lose. In his first title defense, Khalidov won a decision over Aziz Karaoglu at KSW 35 before taking a bout in ACB (now known as ACA.)

Quick, Impressive Showing on Foreign Territory

Khalidov’s lone appearance for his homeland organization of ACB came as “the visitor” as he took on British striker, Luke Barnatt at ACB 54 in March 2017.

As accustomed for fans of Khalidov, he did not disappoint with another impressive showing, as Barnatt owned home field advantage. ACB 54 took place in Manchester, England. After landing a devastating overhand right, Barnatt wobbled into the cage and Khalidov went into full predator mode. The referee had no choice but to stop the matchup after heavy strikes from Khalidov. This would be the last finish of Khalidov’s career.

Champion Vs. Champion at the Biggest Show in MMA

May 27, 2017, is marked in history as the biggest day in KSW history. KSW 39: Colosseum took place from Warsaw, Poland and saw middleweight champion Khalidov fight in a catchweight battle with KSW welterweight champion Borys Mankowski.

The event goes down in MMA history as one of the greatest cards ever with 11 fights and five for titles, in addition to the champion vs. champion non-title main event. The attendance of 57,766 is the second largest in history for an MMA event behind PRIDE Shockwave 2002.

Due to PRIDE Shockwave 2002 occurring outside at Tokyo National Stadium, KSW 39 has the largest recorded indoor attendance for an MMA event.

Khalidov capped off an amazing night taking a unanimous decision victory over Mankowski. This matchup would be Khalidov’s last victory in MMA. Mankowski attempted to defend his welterweight title seven months later at KSW 41, dropping the title to current champion Roberto Soldic.

The End of a Special Career

After his impressive victory over welterweight champion Mankowski, Khalidov took the next 10 months off, as it appeared the length of his career and his age were starting to catch up to the legend. In an effort to chase one last goal, Khalidov vacated the middleweight title to chase the light heavyweight title he vacated so long ago in his career.

The man who stood between Khalidov and that dream was the current champion, Tomasz Narkun. Prior to their first matchup, Narkun was 6-1 in KSW with six finishes. His lone loss was to Goran Reljic via majority decision at KSW 29. Narkun shortly after took his revenge, knocking out Reljic in the first round of KSW 32.

The First Meeting

The first battle between Khalidov and Narkun took place at KSW 42 in March 2018. Khalidov appeared to be the fighter of old knocking back Narkun a few times with very hard shots. Near the end of the first round Khalidov put himself into Narkun’s triangle choke and was unable to escape. Ironically, another Russian born fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, lost via triangle choke before he went on a bit of a losing streak. Despite the loss, Khalidov looked very impressive against the much bigger and younger opponent.

The Retirement Match

The end of a dynasty came at KSW 46 on December 01, 2018 in Khalidov’s adopted home of Poland. The bout was very impressive for both fighters, going to a decision which saw Narkun take the unanimous decision victory.

The bout was very close and truly could have gone either way. The memory of the matchup came afterward when Khalidov gave a touching farewell speech and left his gloves in the center of the cage, the universal sign of retirement in combat sports.

Mamed Khalidov retires

So what’s next for Poland’s biggest fighting icon?

“To be honest I don’t know,” Khalidov said to MMA Sucka. “I need to take a break and think about it. Definitely it’s time to give more attention to my family and kids. It’s their turn.”

Khalidov has enjoyed every minute of his journey. When asked his favorite moment or fight of his career he responded, “Every fight is special for me. I can’t name just one.”

Words From a Fellow KSW Fighter

Current KSW middleweight Scott Askham will be competing in the finals for Khalidov’s vacated middleweight title against former champion Michal Materla.

“Khalidov is a superstar in Eastern Europe! If I followed in his footsteps I would be happy at the end of my career,” Askham told MMA Sucka. “I respect his values and some of the things he did out of respect of for himself and his worth. It really is a shame that I wasn’t able to fight him, like a passing of the sword from one warrior to the next. But wish him well in retirement. Still got a feeling he will want one more against me when I win the title.” It would be quite an amazing matchup to see the greatest middleweight in KSW history pass the torch to the future of the division.

Conclusion

In all of the interviews and articles I’ve completed, I have spoken from a personal level. From the first time I saw Khalidov in action, I was instantly a fan. My first memory of Khalidov is when he fought Guida on ShoXC on American TV in October 2008, not too long after I graduated college.

Since then I’ve followed his career as best as possible. Every journalist/writer has that one fighter/athlete who is their dream interview. This was mine. It was an honor to follow such a fighter who not only appealed to Russian and Polish fans, but fans all over the world who said for years, “This is the best fighter outside of the UFC.”

Khalidov will go down not only as one of the greatest fighters in history but for his in, and out of ring connection to fans. On behalf of all MMA fans all over the world, we thank you for your contribution to this sport and hope there is more of you to see in the future.

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