Undefeated UFC newcomer Muhammad Mokaev has a bold prediction for his octagon career.
“By end of 2023, I’m going to be UFC champion – the youngest UFC champion,” said the 21-year-old Dagestan native, who regularly draws comparisons to his countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The undefeated former UFC lightweight champion, now retired, regularly grapples on the pound-for-pound list with the man who currently holds the record for youngest modern UFC champion, Jon Jones. After an extensive amateur career that included multiple IMMAF world titles in the bantamweight division, Mokaev promises to “take over” in a debut he hopes will take place at a UFC event rumored for London, his adopted hometown, in March 2022.
This past weekend, a target revealed itself for Mokaev in the form of his first UFC opponent: Cody Durden, whose racist post-fight interview drew immediate backlash from his octagon colleagues. In response to the controversy, Durden apologized on Twitter, but also dared his critics to “do something” if they didn’t like what he said.
The UFC newcomer gives the thumbs up.
“If he accepts, I really want to smash him,” Mokaev said. “I saw a lot of my supporters tweeting, ‘Smash him,’ and if people want to see this, that’s what I’m here for.”
Mokaev isn’t quite convinced by Durden’s walk-back on his behavior toward opponent Aoriqileng, whom he said he had to “send him back to China where he came from” after winning a unanimous decision. Durden later cited Aori Qileng’s refusal to shake his hand at weigh-ins as the source of his bad blood.
“He apologized, but listen, if somebody doesn’t shake your hand, you just call him something – I don’t want to swear – but you call him an idiot,” Mokaev said. “You don’t go to race. Race-wise is lower level mentality, c’mon.
“Now, I have a lot of circles with very rich people who work in top places. We never talk about race. I think it’s lower-level people that talk about race. I don’t believe race should exist if you have a brain. But if you don’t, it’s always going to be there.”
A sponsored athlete of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al Khalifa, the fifth son of the King of Bahrain and a longtime MMA benefactor, Mokaev has done little but benefit from the diversity of his upbringing. He grew up in a refugee camp in the U.K. after fleeing his native country amid reported political turmoil in 2012. He and his father survived in 5 euros a day before finding support at a Church of England school. With a decorated run as an amateur wrestler and a turn later to jiu-jitsu and MMA, he was discovered by al Khalifa and turned pro in the Sheikh’s BRAVE FC promotion.
One of the hottest prospects in MMA, Mokaev interviewed with several big MMA managers before signing with Paradigm Sports. As a Paradigm athlete, he once got a nod of support from its most famous client (and reported co-owner), Conor McGregor. But the former two-division UFC champ’s encouraging message on Twitter wasn’t exactly received with open arms.
Mokaev took notice whenever McGregor targeted the people of Dagestan before and after the promotion of his grudge match with Nurmagomedov at UFC 229. Just as the young upstart was offended by Durden, he didn’t like McGregor using nationality as an insult.
“To be honest, I really want to ask him why he talked bad about Dagestan,” Mokaev said. “I really want to ask him why he talked about every person. I want to see face-to-face his energy, because my managers, everybody talks like he isn’t the same like he is in the media. So I just want to feel myself this energy.
“I don’t have to prove anything; I don’t have to have this on camera. I want to ask him about my people. My people – business is good – but my people is my people. I want to ask him, why everybody? Just pick the person and tell him. It’s not good to call out the whole nation. In Ireland, there’s also bad people; there’s also good people. My boxing coach is Irish. You cannot just say, ‘Dagestan is bad.’ You cannot say this. This is wrong. He has to apologize about this.”
It may be a while before Mokaev gets his moment. But if his ambitious plans materialize in the UFC, it may not be long before he has the world’s attention.