Muhammad Mokaev says he’s just built different, even if that results in the detriment of his long-term health and MMA future.
The 22-year-old flyweight battled through a devastating kneebar attempt at UFC 286 from Jafel Filho that saw Mokaev’s leg bend in ways the human body isn’t built to sustain. In fact, Mokaev posted a photo on social media showing the gruesome swelling in his leg after the event, but he still has no regrets about refusing to tap out before eventually turning the tables and finishing Filho with a submission of his own just minutes later.
“I’ll never tap,” Mokaev said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I will never tap. I know it’s a crazy thing to say. I will go to sleep. They break my arm. If the referee stops [the fight, then it stops]. If they don’t stop, I will never tap, even if I end my career that way.
“I just have this principle. I believe I went through my life the strongest of them hopping inside the cage. Just my principles. I want to be different.”
Mokaev revealed that he underwent an MRI on Monday to learn the extent of the damage on his knee. He has yet to receive the results to know what potential injury he may face.
A torn ACL or other torn ligaments could sideline Mokaev for the better part of 2023, but he’s hopeful the diagnosis will only require rehabilitation and time off rather than surgery.
“Crazy, first day after the fight, I didn’t sleep until the next night,” Mokaev said of the pain in his knee. “It swelled up and I’ve done the MRI and I’m just kind of waiting on the results and hoping it’s all good, because I want to be the youngest UFC champion.
“I don’t think something is ripped there, but it could be partial [tear]. Maybe still holding, I hope. That’s how I feel.”
Replays and photos from the event show just how much torque Filho had on the knee as he continued pulling at Mokaev’s leg just trying to score the submission win. Mokaev said he heard a lot of snapping and cracking in his knee, but he still refused to give up.
Somehow @MuhammadMokaev survived this kneebar #UFC286 pic.twitter.com/yu1pgbyzJF— UFC (@ufc) March 18, 2023
“I just seen Jafel Filho say he heard nine cracks, but in my head, I heard like six or seven,” Mokaev said. “Four cracks first, he asked Herb Dean, ‘Did he tap?’ And I shook my head [no], and Herb Dean said I didn’t, so he re-gripped to a stronger position and he pulled it more.
“I heard all the ripping bits, but I [was] just waiting until it fully rips.”
Mokaev is hoping he gets good news in regards to his knee, but he’s also prepared for the worst if that’s the outcome.
Even if the latter ends up being the case, Mokaev said he won’t regret not tapping out, especially considering how he stormed back to then get the win and remain undefeated.
“It is worth it,” Mokaev said. “Now I would have my heart be in more pain than actually the knee [if I tapped]. I know it’s hard for me to walk or anything to do. I have two floors in our house and I couldn’t get up to the second floor since I got back to my house. But I think it’s worth it.
“An injury can recover. People say he will never be back the same again, all this. If my heart is still strong after that night, I will be back.”
Mokaev also responded to Filho’s claims that he actually felt the Dagestani native tap out several times during the fight, some of which allegedly occurred separate from the kneebar attempt.
“[Mokaev tapped] at least three times,” Filho told MMA Fighting. “I felt him tapping on my back like he was hiding, with malice. There was another situation I went for the guillotine and then attacked his injured shoulder, he tapped and I loosened it up a little bit.
“I was looking at the referee the entire time. The kneebar, I felt him tapping with his foot and the referee asked him, ‘Tap?’ I loosened it, and he was able to twist his knee a little bit.”
Mokaev scoffed at those comments and pointed out that no submission applied by Filho came closer to finishing than the kneebar, and he refused to tap out to that, so why would he just quit in another moment when he wasn’t in nearly as much danger?
“Listen, if I didn’t tap to my knee, do you think I would tap to the guillotine?” Mokaev said. “The guillotine wasn’t even locked. How the hell people actually believe I would tap to his guillotine? They can put me to sleep, but basically his foot was in my boxers and he said sorry, ‘Sorry,’ and he stopped, and I said, ‘All good, let’s go.’ That’s what I said.
“Come on, man. He wants a rematch. I respect this guy. I don’t know why he say this. I got upset actually because I gave him so much respect that I don’t give to anyone. I see he carries a bible before the walkout and I’m like this guy is religious, he came here, just fought for his family. I give him respect, a warm welcome in the U.K. When he says this, it’s not nice, to be honest. He lost. Lose like a man.”