Dagestani wrestling has taken the limelight recently with the dominance of Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC and his comments at the pre-fight UFC 254 new conference where Khabib was asked about what he thinks are the differences between Dagestani wrestling and US wrestling. Khabib credits much of his success to Dagestani wrestling but what exactly is Dagestani wrestling and why are the Dagestanis so good at the grappling art.
The sport of wrestling is practiced globally with an impressive 200 nations taking part in the sport, with so many nations participating in the sport, one must wonder how the small republic of Dagestan with a population of 3.1 million people is such a formidable powerhouse when it comes to producing world class wrestling talent.
A Neighbourhood Made of Wrestling Countries
Dagestan is a republic of Russia that lies on the western shores of the Caspian sea and is part of the Caucuses. A mountainous region with much of the population living in rural areas, Dagestan has been at the crossroads of civilization for centuries thus constantly having the threat of war on its doorstep.
The turbulent history of the Caucuses has developed a warrior spirit that is second to none and it can be seen within the wrestling world as all regions and countries of the Caucuses have been successful in wrestling competition as well as been at the cutting edge of the technical development of wrestling.
With so many regions and countries practicing such high level wrestling packed into one small geographical area, it produces an amazing breeding ground for developing the best wrestlers and wrestling on the planet. Countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as the Southern Russian republics of Dagestan, Ossetia, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Abkhazia all practicing wrestling not only as a sport but a part of their culture, competing against not only within their respective country and region but also against one another for centuries.
On top of the Caucasus geographical significance in regards to wrestling, the area also borders countries where wrestling is practiced at an extremely high level, countries such as Iran, Turkey and Russia, all of which needs to be recognized when trying to answer the reason why Dagestan is so dominant at wrestling.
What Makes Dagestan So Good at Wrestling
Fighting is part of life in Dagestan, it is accepted and loved. Every Dagestani child will enroll in some type of fighting art with most kids enrolling to learn how to wrestle. There are said to be over 50,000 competitive wrestlers just in Makhachkala (Dagestan’s capital city) and with that amount of wrestlers, it is easy to see how their wrestling program will be optimized for success.
Dagestani wrestling is extremely technical, it has a lot of cultural wrestling influences and a very fine tuned wrestling methodology that has been developed over centuries and perfected in the past decades.
Their conditioning is very different from the “lift weight hard bro” type of lifting that is seen in the US, Dagestani wrestling conditioning is very plyometric based, focusing on wrestling movements, posterior chain development, flexibility and exercises that work the transverse plane of movement and specific lifts that would be seen as unorthodox by US wrestling.
Dagestanis are excellent good counter wrestlers, their clinch work and hand fighting is another level, they have a much better understanding of throwing than most countries, their par terre (ground techniques) are much more developed to Freestyle wrestling than other countries, Dagestanis are masters at counter wrestling, circular movement, next level scrambling, blocking with legs and the hand fighting skills they possess are of a much higher level and noticeably much more refined.
Families, villages and cities are well versed in regards to wrestling, somewhat like the average american plays baseball, the average Canadian hockey or average Brazilian with Soccer. Their fathers, brothers, grandparents and generations of family have wrestled, fighting and especially wrestling is part of the essence of being Dagestani.
Notable Dagestani Wrestling Champions
There are so many Dagestani wrestling champions that it is too numerous to write here but some of the most famous wrestlers of Dagestani Origin are:
Ali Aliyev – 5 Time World Champion, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time
Buvaisar Saitiev (Dagestani of Chechen descent) – 3 time Olympic champ, 6 time world champ – widely considered the best freestyle wrestler of all time
Adam Saitiev – 1 time Olympic champ, 2 time World Champ (Buvaisar’s brother)
Mavlet Batirov – 2 time Olympic Champion
Sagid Murtazaliev – Olympic Champion, 2 time World Champion
Zagalav Adbulbekov – Olympic champion and 2 time World Champ
Abdusalam Gadisov – World Champion
Abdulrashid Sadulaev – 2 time Olympic champion and 5 time World champ
A very interesting and not commonly known fact is that Dagestanis are also known to compete for other countries after receiving citizenship in return for competing for a country’s national team, it is not uncommon for many nations to have Dagestani wrestlers wrestling for them and winning medals as well.
Dagestani Wrestling in The UFC and MMA
In recent years there have been a large number of Dagestani fighters being signed to fight in MMA promotions and most noticeable is the heavy presence of Dagestani fighters in the UFC. Many of the fighters coming from Dagestan have a heavy wrestling background and if not, they come from other grappling backgrounds such as Sambo, Judo and Sanda while still being influenced by Dagestan’s deep wrestling culture.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the most dominant if not the most dominant MMA fighters of all time, a Sambo and Judo master who always has given respect and recognition to the fact he also practices wrestling has paved the way for many Dagestani fighters to enter the MMA world and introduce the effectiveness of Dagestani wrestling, fighting and grappling skills on the world stage.
Dagestani wrestling needs to be recognized as one of the most effective grappling systems as well as part of the new revolution we are seeing in mixed martial arts, one wear the fight game is changing and evolving, one where grappling is no longer static but highly dynamic in nature and one where new faces are entering new life into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.