Well before Adlan Amagov made it to the States, he issued a kick heard around the world. In a 2009 fight in Rostov Oblast, Russia, Amagov entered the ring against an unsuspecting fighter named Maskhat Akhmetov. Amagov wore a sleepy expression on his face, very much like the ever-soporific Gegard Mousasi, as if the moment meant nothing much in the grand scheme of whatever it is we’re talking about.
Then he casually walked across the ring, sized up a spinning hook kick that came off so perfectly and so effortlessly and with such precision that it felt like the work of Hollywood choreography, dropping poor Akhmetov where he stood. Mother Russia’s jaw dropped, and a random December night in a dim lit theater became for Amagov what sportscasters like to call "a defining moment." That kick traveled across the pond to the U.S. long before Amagov did.
To the point that, when Amagov met his manager Sam Kardan finally convinced him to come to the States, after racking up an 8-1-1 record in Russia and the Ukraine, there weren’t a lot of volunteers willing to welcome him into the western cage.
"That kick definitely brought a lot of attention to me -- it was like Jean-Claude Van Damme," Amagov told MMA Fighting. "The U.S. was never in the plans quite honestly. I met Sam Kardan in Russia in 2008 when he came to meet Fedor Emelianenko, and I got introduced to him at that time. He said that there is a bright future for me in U.S. So we kept in touch, and got me a visa and then I came to America.
"We could not get a local fight as everyone watched that video with a kick as well. After two weeks in U.S., we got a contract with Strikeforce, though. It was a good trip."
That good trip, paved by a good kick, has ultimately led Amagov to the UFC, where he is facing T.J. Waldburger at UFC 166 in Houston Saturday night. The man they call "Borz," which is Chechen for "wolf," is one of the latest Russian intrigues to find his way into the trademarked eight-sided cage. Khabib Nurmagomedov, whom Amagov has trained with both at the Red Fury Fight Club in Russia and at AMA in New Jersey, has been raising eyebrows of late, too.
And Amagov got started into MMA by training with Russian’s highest end clients, names such as Fedor and Alexander Emelianenko. He went onto be a Russian sambo champion himself, which was a nice piece to hybridize into the broader fight game.
These days Amagov spends most of his time training with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque. After going 3-1 in Strikeforce, he had his UFC debut against Chris Spang this past April in Stockholm and he was able to dictate what happened in the fight. Though he didn’t pull of any JCVD-style theatrics, he did present an assortment of kicks -- some familiar, and some impromptu flights of fancy.
"I think I dominated all three rounds," he says. "I demonstrated all of the kicks that exist in MMA, and even invented couple as I was going through the fight -- like kicking from behind while in a clinch against the cage. I wish I would have finished him but it was my first fight in the UFC and I was being cautious the goal was to win the fight."
In his prelim battle with Waldburger, there will be ample opportunity for that finish, because -- for one thing -- both fighters like to move forward. Better still, each has been known to take chances.
"[Waldburger] has good grappling, he submitted 13 out of 16 fights," Amagov says. "He means business. I think he is dangerous on the ground and he is an aggressive fighter -- a very aggressive fighter. I have respect for his skills. I do need to make a statement this fight as I transferred from Strikeforce and need to make a name for myself."
The fact that Amagov made it to the U.S. to pursue MMA is a story in itself. When his native Chechnya tried to gain independence from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union 1991, Amagov was made privy to the horrors of war. In the first Chechnya war, the destruction got very close to his home in the village of Sernovodsk, when such things as air strikes became part of his daily existence.
"When I was eight years old in 1994, my school was blown up in a war that started in 1991," he says. "It was tough for all of us, as we lost our shelter and a lot of friends were forced to move out of the area after going through refugee camps."
The first war went on until late summer of 1996, before a second war began in 1999, and lingered on for long after. Amagov eventually relocated and found his silver lining.
"That's how I ended up in Moscow and started training combat sambo with the Emelianenko brothers," he says. "I think the war and the suffering that I witnessed has made me more composed and calm. I always analyze a situation before making conclusions."
Which goes a long way towards understanding why he looks so poised and unnervingly calm heading into his fights.