If Zabit felt little pressure, the opposite was true for Muslim Salikhov, who was debuting in the UFC but already a star favorite in China. Winning the “King of Sanda” title in 2006 (the only non-Chinese to ever do so) shot him to fame in the Middle Kingdom, and after 5 World Championship sanda medals and glamorous victories in China’s Kunlun MMA, Salikhov is a familiar face to Chinese fighting fans. Thus, for his much-hyped debut, he was fourth on the Shanghai UFC main fight card, and the fans were cheering.
Salikhov was facing Dominican Alex Garcia, a tough fighter with strong jiu jitsu skills which ultimately would be the Dagestan star’s undoing. In the first round the crowd was treated to some thrilling strikes from both fighters, as well as a few of Salikhov’s trademark lightning fast kicks, and judged about evenly at the end of the round.
It was in round two that Salikhov admits he made a mistake. “I turned my shoulder, and gave him an opening.” Garcia didn’t miss the chance – he took Salikhov to the mat and ended the fight with a submission by rear naked choke at 3:22. While regarded as something of an upset, Salikhov took his loss in stride, and told us, “I’m disappointed, of course, but I’m just more motivated now. I want to fight again as soon as possible.” Look for an amped up Salikhov seeking redemption in early 2018, most likely either in Europe or the US.