Last October at KSW 40, droves of fully-grown men descended on press row like teenyboppers at a Justin Bieber concert. During a break in the action, Polish MMA superstar Mamed Khalidov had entered the building and the fans gravitated to him like moths to a flame.
Heavily tattooed, biceped and balding, the majority of the crowd shuffled nervously in their pockets to find their phones as “Cannibal” posed for pictures. For a lot of media at the 3 Arena, it was the first time that they come face to face with the KSW middleweight champion’s celebrity.
Boasting over a million Facebook followers, Khalidov is clearly a huge name in Poland. Therefore, it was no surprise to hear that the UFC pursued his signature ahead of its trip to Gdansk last year.
Not for the first time, he decided to stay put.
“There was an offer from UFC on the table,” Khalidov explained, with the help of a translator.
“It was a very generous offer, and I really respect the UFC. The main reason why I stuck with KSW was not a financial one, I just feel like KSW is my home. I participated in building organization and the growth of the sport in Poland.
“The UFC is doing great without me, they don’t really need me. I just think it’s best for me to stick with KSW.”
He added: “They know how to promote me. I’m looked after by KSW. I don’t have to worry about my future here, and as I said, this is my home,” he continued.
While Khalidov’s reasons for staying with KSW suggest a need for security, the Grozny-born Pole continues to put himself in the line of fire.
At KSW 42 in Lodz this Saturday, the 37-year-old middleweight champion will face off against the man who holds the light-heavyweight title he vacated many moons ago, Tomasz Narkun, at a catchweight of 203 pounds.
Unbeaten in 20 KSW fights, this will mark the third occasion that he takes on a KSW champion — he has previously taken wins from bouts with former middleweight champion, Michal Materla, and former welterweight champion, Borys Mankowski.
Regardless of his advancing age, he maintains that the challenge alone is what’s motivating him ahead of KSW 42.
“I see these fights as big challenges. I need these big challenges like I had with the Borys Mankowski and now with Tomasz Narkun to motivate myself. These are the fights that excite me and that’s really why I want to test myself in different divisions,” he said.
“As far building my legacy, I leave that up to the fans and media. It comes down to what happens in the fight. It takes something meaningful or spectacular for these fights to be remembered and I hope that I can deliver something like that.”
Khalidov is interested to see how he gets on against a bigger opponent after winning a decision against then-welterweight champion Mankowski at KSW 39.
“I feel like all of these fighters bring a different challenge and a different problem into a fight,” he explained.
“Materla was a very different fight to Mankowski because Mankowski had a big speed advantage as the smaller fighter. This time it’s going to be a completely different challenge because Narkun is a much bigger guy. He’s a lot taller and he’s probably 10 kilos (22 lbs) heavier.
“It’s hard for me to weigh up how this will compare to the other fights because the fight hasn’t happened yet, but I think it’s a very interesting matchup.”
For a lot of fans, the real test of a fighter comes within the UFC, but after 40 fights across a career that has spanned 14 years so far, Khalidov doesn’t feel like he needs any sort of validation from the world’s flagship promotion.
“It can’t bother me because I live here,” he explained, nodding to his avid Polish fan base. “The majority of my fans are European MMA fans and Polish MMA fans. I’m content with the following that I have in this part of the world.”
Khalidov does see the finish line ahead in the distance. That being said, he seems to think he has three or four years left at the top of his game before he will think about hanging up his gloves.
“I don’t think 40 or 41 years of age is a good age to still be competing in MMA,” he said. “Right now, I still feel at the top of my game. I take one fight at a time, but once I still feel like I’m able to compete at this level I will continue to fight.”