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  • Sleeping Giants Of MMA: Five Nations Who Are Producing The UFC Champions Of Tomorrow

Sleeping giants of MMA: Five nations who are producing the UFC champions of tomorrow

Mixed martial arts is a global sport, with fighters from all corners of the globe fighting for recognition. Here are five countries which will be making a big splash in MMA very soon.

Democratic Republic of Congo

A country that has had little time to rest since gaining independence from Belgium in 1960, the Democratic Republic of Congo has produced some great fighters in its time despite its turbulent past.
Due to war, conflict, and corruption in the region long before their independence, Congolese fighters have often had to leave the country in order to further their fighting careers, thus some have chosen to represent their adopted homelands rather than the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sumbu Kalambay for example, who was the WBA world middleweight champion between 1987 and 1989 chose to represent Italy and Danyo Ilunga, who was the former It's Showtime 95MAX kickboxing champion would often represent Germany.
With the rise of MMA throughout the world, the DRC now have a steady stream of talent coming through and making names for themselves across the world.
Alain Ilunga competes in Russia for ACA and was a recent participant in their lightweight tournament. Tshilomba Mikixi took his professional record to 5-0 and won the EFC interim lightweight title last year at EFC 100, and Ziko Makengele is a welterweight knockout machine, looking to rebound from his first professional loss last year at EFC 102.
The current jewels in the Congolese MMA crown are Dalcha Lungiambula and Igeu Kabesa.
Lungiambula has been a staple of the UFC's middleweight division since 2019 and despite an inconsistent time inside the octagon, he has shown flashes of brilliance in his wins over Dequan Townsend and Markus Perez.
Kabesa is now ready to take his next career step and conquer the wider world, after capturing the EFC featherweight title in South Africa, "Smiley" was booked to compete on the 2023 PFL Challenger Series but was forced to withdraw.
A dynamic striker and grappler who loves a first-round finish, it's only a matter of time before Kabesa hits the big time and takes the world by storm.

Italy

A conveyor belt of prospects making their names on the regional shows across Europe have launched Italy into serious contention as a hotbed of MMA.
Despite the UFC never touching down in Italy, promotions such as Bellator and Cage Warriors have made stops in "The Beautiful Country" on a semi regular basis, and whenever they have electric crowds and hometown talent have been what has greeted them.
The current face of Italian MMA is Marvin "The Italian Dream" Vettori, the current UFC middleweight contender holds a record of 19-5-1 and has previously challenged for the UFC middleweight title, losing a unanimous decision to Israel Adesanya.

With Michele Martignoni, Dumitru Girlean and Dylan Hazan, all competing under the Cage Warriors banner and Francesco Nuzzi and Maxim Radu fighting in the PFL Europe tournament, it's clear to see that Italian prospects are beginning to make a name for themselves.

No two prospects have a potentially higher ceiling though than Michael "Sniper" Pagani and Giuseppe "Gear Fifth" Ruggeri.
"Sniper" as he is affectionately known, showed off his laser focused striking in his most recent win over David Mora at Venator FC 14.
The hard-hitting Spaniard was his biggest career test thus far and looked to cause plenty of problems with his own slick boxing, landing powerful right hands to the face and body.
Pagani remained patient though, showing discipline beyond his years to frustrate his opponent with stance switches before a powerful right hand stunned the Spaniard and the follow up right sent him crashing to the canvas in the first round.
Ruggeri now competes in Cage Warriors after a career on the regional circuit saw him pick up a 7-0 record, early career victories in Italy, Greece and Malta meant "Gear Fifth" had no problem picking up results on the road, but his biggest test would come against Dean Trueman in Manchester.
Trueman was the former Cage Warriors featherweight champion, despite a three-fight losing streak he fought the best competition on offer, meaning Ruggeri would have to be the real deal to pass this test.
A competitive fight saw both men give their all, Ruggeri showed a strong grappling game with powerful striking, Trueman showed the qualities of a former champion never giving up throughout, but Ruggeri got the nod from the judges to take his career to 8-0 and announce himself to the Cage Warriors roster.

Afghanistan

A beautiful country that has never been allowed to reach its full potential; the turbulent history of Afghanistan is a tragic one. Despite all the chaos it has been surrounded by, Afghanistan has quietly become a major contributor to prospects and talented fighters across MMA.
The first representative of Afghanistan in the UFC was welterweight Romie Aram who competed at UFC 42 in a losing effort to Dave Strasser. Since then, fighters such as Siyar Bahadurzada and Nasrat Haqparast have gone on to have successful UFC careers representing Afghanistan, with Haqparast coming close to entering the UFC's rankings in the stacked lightweight division.
But it's a pair of brothers who shine brightest as Afghanistan's clear top prospects, as Javid and Farid Basharat both overcame Dana White's Contender Series bouts to secure UFC contracts in recent years.
Brothers in everything they do, the Basharat boys train at the same gym, fight at the same weight and even share a fighting style as they progress through their careers.
Older brother Javid is the more experienced of the two in life and in the cage, at 27 years old he has racked up three straight UFC victories in the talent rich bantamweight division, taking his overall career record to 14-0.
Younger brother Farid is not far behind, at 25 years old he made his UFC debut earlier this year securing a unanimous decision victory over Da'Mon Blackshear to take his record to an equally impressive 10-0.
Middle Eastern nations tend to have excellent amateur wrestlers, and both Basharat brothers exemplify this with their grappling and overall ground game being their main key to victory.
With both brothers having time and talent on their side, it's not impossible to think the UFC champion could hail from Afghanistan in the not-too-distant future.

Georgia

"There is something in the water over there in Dagestan" is a common phrase uttered by UFC commentators, but the phrase is probably more accurate if one were to say, "There is something in the water over there in the Caucasus".
Georgia has been producing talented wrestlers since its days as part of the USSR, but the modern transition of these men into complete mixed martial artists has given the small country a massive impact in MMA.
Veteran warriors such as Raul Tutarauli and Levan Makashvili have built impressive records fighting across the world and highly touted prospects such as Asaf Chopurov and Mate Sanikidze continue to impress across their professional and amateur careers.
But the UFC is currently home to the finest Georgian fighters around, with middleweight bruiser Roman Dolidze fighting his way up the middleweight ladder, undefeated prospect Ilia Topuria growing into a phenom down at featherweight and lightweight boogeyman Guram Kutateladze living up to his nickname of "The Georgian Viking" with every performance.
One man has risen higher than all of them though, bantamweight top contender and training partner of champion Aljamain Sterling, Merab "The Machine" Dvalishvili has dominated the division since his early UFC setbacks.
Despite losing his opening two UFC bouts to Frankie Saenz and Ricky Simon, the UFC kept faith in "The Machine" and he soon repaid that faith, defeating Casey Kenney, John Dodson, and Cody Stamann on his warpath up the rankings.
A tireless wrestler, Dvalishvili set the UFC record for takedowns attempted in a single fight with a staggering 49 in his matchup with former champion Petr Yan. If he continues at his current pace of securing takedowns, he will pass current record holder Georges St Pierre very soon.
With training partner and close friend Aljamain Sterling sitting atop the division, Dvalishvili has stated he will not fight his friend under any circumstances, that leaves his title chances completely up in the air.
Although "The Machine" is surely good enough to hold the title, a championship belt may take longer than expected to arrive in Georgia, for now at least.

Tajikistan

The smallest nation in central Asia by area, a grueling civil war following independence, and vast mountains that cover 90% of the country. No one can say Tajikistan has ever had things easy, but despite all of their obstacles, they have managed to produce some of the most promising athletes in MMA today.
Beginning with prospects, young bantamweight Bakhtovar Yunusov has a perfect record of 10-0 fighting across Russia, Georgia and Belarus dispatching 80% of his opponents before the final bell.
Sarvarjon Khamidov extended his perfect record to 15-0 at Bellator Paris, dominating hometown favourite and veteran warrior Kevin Petshi for three rounds before submitting him with a rear naked choke 90 seconds into the final round.
Finally, Samandar Murodov put everyone on notice when he dominated his Road to the UFC bout against Gian Siqueira, winning the fight by rear naked choke in the final seconds of round one.
Traditional wrestling is very popular in Tajikistan, with the grappling style often proving as a great base for young Tajik fighters, two of Tajikistan's four Olympic medals came in wrestling at the 2008 games in Beijing.
Entering the UFC has also come naturally for Tajik fighters, Muin Gafurov may have lost a split decision on his Dana White's Contender Series bout, but subsequent wins in LFA have shown its only a matter of time before he enters the big leagues.
Nurullo Aliev and Loik Radzhabov both made the jump to the UFC seamlessly.
Aliev followed up on his Contender Series victory with a majority decision win over all action fighter Rafael Alves, whilst Radzhabov took his short notice opportunity against Esteban Ribovics in his stride to win a unanimous decision and knock the Argentine from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Fighters from Tajikistan are cut from a different cloth, constant trips to enemy territory and ruthless conditions at home have created some of the most rugged fighters around at the moment.

With Radzhabov due to return against another feared lightweight in Mateusz Rebecki on 24/6/23, it's believed that the entire country will be behind him, as he aims to bring recognition and maybe even a championship belt one day back to Tajikistan.

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