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Muslim Salikhov, Russia’s legendary 5-time sanda world champion and “King of Sanda,” is about to break out in his UFC debut and take the MMA world by storm.

Dagestan Muslim Salikhov UFC Debut

Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA

Muslim Salikhov, Russia’s legendary 5-time sanda world champion, is about to break out in his UFC debut. Hailing from Dagestan, a Russian republic nestled between the stunningly beautiful Caucasus mountains and the oil-and-caviar rich Caspian Sea, Salikhov has made his nation’s sanda famous for its full-contact sport fighters. He’s inspired an entire generation with the confidence to beat the once indomitable Chinese in sanda. Now fighting in MMA, he is poised to show UFC fans his lethally dazzling kicks and knockout punches. And signing with the UFC?

“I’m coming for the belt,” he says.

Salikhov’s natural succession from amateur sanda to professional MMA — notably in M1-Global and China’s slick Kunlun Fight — vaulted him to the ranks of the world’s top Dagestani professional fighters, an orbit which also includes his contemporaries Khabib Nurmagomedov and new UFC featherweight sensation Zabit Magomedsharipov. But as Muslim notes, “Now Dagestan is like MMA Republic. Pretty soon I think it’s going to be like Brazil. We have a lot o really, really good fighters here.”

This Dagestani new wave is set to invigorate MMA, and Muslim Salikhov fans won’t have long to wait to see his UFC debut in what will also be China’s inaugural live Ultimate Fighting event on November 25 at UFC Fight Night Shanghai (Silva vs. Gastelum.).

Muslim Salikhov – King of Sanda

Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA

After winning the gold medal in the 2005 World Wushu Championships in the 80kg division, Muslim Salikhov was invited in 2006 to fight in China’s famous “King of Sanda” competition in Chongqing. The promoters didn’t imagine he would win his weight division, much less the entire tournament – but Salikhov was on fire in the ring. He defeated his 80kg opponent, and then, to be the “King” of the entire tournament, defeated the favored heavyweight competitor, stunning a Chinese audience and becoming the first (and only) non-Chinese fighter to win the “King of Sanda” title.

Afterwards Salikhov skyrocketed to fame in China and has, ever since, been a beloved sports figure there. Crowds surge to get autographs and photos, with police holding them back. Becoming a sanda star in China also won him deep and lasting respect throughout the Chinese martial arts world. “Now,” he says, “they call me “Lao Mu” – roughly translated as old, or respected “master Mu(slim.)”

Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA
Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA
Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA

In 2015 Muslim Salikhovwon his fifth and final gold medal in the 13th World Wushu Championships in Jakarta, fulfilling his ambition in the sport of sanda. (He also took the gold medal in the Beijing 2008 Wushu Tournament held in conjunction with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.) He officially retired from the amateur sport to focus all his energies on MMA, and has amassed a hefty 12-1 record as a welterweight in mostly Russian and Chinese arenas including M-1 Global and Kunlun Fight. His last Kunlun bout in June saw him knocking out seasoned fighter Melvin Guillard with a devastating spinning hook kick and finishing him off in 1:33 minutes.

Undoubtedly, this also spurred UFC officials to offer him a contract for the Shanghai UFC debut, with Salikhov’s ready-made fame in China only sweetening the pot.

So close to his UFC fight, Muslim Salikhov is training in camp with coach Mark Henry in New Jersey, but his home is where his heart is and he talks on Face Time with his wife and two children back in Dagestan daily. The house he built for his family in Buynaksk, and his community of sanda and MMA training brothers in Dagestan, land of warriors, always beckons.

“I train now for MMA, but sanda is in my blood, always,” Salikhov says with a smile.

Just down the street from his house is the legendary sanda school Five Directions of the World, owned and run by one of Russia’s most famous and revered martial arts masters Gusein Magomaev, and his wife Olga.

Muslim Salikhov will Shine in MMA

Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA
Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA
Muslim Salikhov Dagestan MMA

Magomaev’s eminent school has produced a wealth of Russia’s most outstanding sanda fighters. It was here that a young, shy nine-year old Muslim Salikhov was brought by his father to study martial arts, and here where his talent was nurtured as he grew to become one of Russia’s top champions. Today the King of Kungfu’s photo hangs large on the courtyard wall, inspiring the hundreds of young boys who attend the school and dream of being the next world champion and Dagestani hero.

When asked about his young student Salikhov, Magomaev says, “Muslim was an unusual person because he’s got a very developed mind. It was easy to teach him, because he was very attentive, and hard working. Maybe at that time he himself could not understand what he was doing, but every defeat was a lesson to him. After watching him closely, for a long time, I saw that he suddenly came to an understanding of some sort, an insight, and I realized he had something inside of him that will help him reach greatness. Not only has he attained a superior level of fighting, but his opponents regard him highly, and with utmost respect. For us it’s more important that an athlete has this inner spirit, the spirit of man.”

It’s certain that Muslim Salikhov’s star is only rising higher, and that his beautiful and powerful fighting style will inject a new electricity into any future UFC events, thrilling a new generation of fans. He says he’s coming for the belt, and we believe him.

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