UFC

Zabit Magomedsharipov – MMA’s Biggest “What If”

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The recent retirement of Zabit Magomedsharipov will likely frustrate many fans, yet it was not particularly surprising. With an apparent lack of motivation as well as serious bouts of illness and injury the Dagestani had not fought since November of 2019, over two and a half years ago. Despite not being the most active of fighters, Magomedsharipov was undoubtedly a fan favorite and during his brief tenure with the UFC he captured the imagination of fans and pundits alike with his unique and varied skill set as well as physical attributes. This article will chronicle his career as well as the implications his retirement will have on the featherweight division and ultimately why Zabit Magomedsharipov may go down as the biggest “what if” in MMA history. 

Magomedsharipov Retires, Leaving MMA Fans with a World of Questions

Style

Before entering the UFC in September of 2017, Magomedsharipov had compiled an impressive record of 12 wins with only 1 defeat. It was not just his record that drew fans towards him, however it was his unique one of a kind style. Originally from Dagestan, fans automatically brand fighters with a certain label from the republic of Russia. Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev being two of the most high profile, fighters from that part of the world are considered, tough and resilient cardio machines who are going to take you down to the mat and beat you up on the ground for the whole fight. Magomedsharipov’s style could not have been further from this. It was totally incomparable to any fighter who has been in the UFC before. He did have an excellent wrestling and ground base as can be seen by the 3 submissions finishes that he obtained inside the Octagon, but this was far from his only trick in the bag. 

What really set him apart was his striking. Magomedsharipov would incorporate a variety of switch kicks, roundhouses, flying knees, spinning backfists and a whole host of other unorthodox techniques and would regularly utilize them throughout his fights. Shades of Anthony Pettis jumping off the side of the cage into a kick, yet Magomedsharipov would attempt to do so multiple times in the same round. His unique physical attributes for the weight class only further enhanced his striking ability. Standing at 6″1′,  he was huge for the weight class and was able to utilize his length effectively staying out of the reach of his opponents while landing shots of his own. It was truly extraordinary. As fans, to see someone so accomplished in their wrestling and ground game take such massive gambles when it came to striking, throwing such a wild variety of techniques, was unprecedented. Yet it was not just the fact that Magomedsharipov was throwing these strikes, but it was also how well he threw them. Every strike was picture perfect and his skill level was so obviously high that within 2 fights into his UFC career some people were already claiming him to be the next world champion. 

Hints of a Future Champion

After his debut in 2017, Zabit would go on to fight 5 more times in the organization over the next 2 years. During this time he would remain undefeated and would pick up 4 performance or fight of the night bonuses. While he initially made his name fighting the unranked fighters of the division, his last two fights saw him pick up wins over an inform Jeremy Stephens who had only been beaten by Jose Aldo in his previous 4 fights and also a win over Calvin Kattar who is currently the #4 ranked featherweight in the division, proving that he was able to mix it with the best of the best. A proposed bout against Yair Rodriguez never materialized in 2020 and Magomedsharipov was removed from the rankings due to inactivity in 2021. At the time of his removal he was ranked #3.

Setbacks

Magomedsharipov would suffer from injuries and illness during the time after his fight with Kattar. The most notable of these was the apparent Diaphragm Spasms that afflicted and were supposedly the reason for his one “weak point” in MMA. His cardio. This was to be rectified with surgery. Another surgery was also needed for an unspecified problem with his immune system. These long absences brought on from surgeries, Yair Rodriguez pulling out of their fight with a foot injury, and the pandemic and the removal of Magomedsharipov from the featherweight rankings apparently took a toll on the Dagestani fighter’s motivation with sources close to him saying that he was tired of fighting and no longer holds the love he once did for the sport. Indeed, Magomedsharipov himself has made social media posts that hint he is looking to enter the world of medicine.

Impact on Featherweight Division

While he has not fought in nearly 3 years, if Magomedsharipov announced his return to the Octagon today he would only be one win away from fighting for a title. In a division sorely lacking contenders at the moment, where Volkanovski and Holloway are about to have a trilogy and have clearly established that they are in a different league to the rest of their competitors. The featherweight division is crying out for a fighter to assert themselves and to give either a man a run for their money. There were many who thought and still think that Magomedsharipov was that man and that he would not only be competitive with the likes of Holloway and Volkanovski, but would beat them comprehensively. Yet now we will never know. The dominance and gradual decline of the competitiveness in the division continues and the man who many expected to change this has retired from the sport. In only 2 years in the UFC, Magomedsharipov cemented himself as one of the most interesting and unique fighters that the sport has ever seen and will surely go down as one of MMA’s biggest “what if” stories.

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