Tagir Ulanbekov is the youngest fighter to rise from the Dagestani MMA conveyor belt to the big UFC stage, and the 12-1 flyweight says that a tough MMA upbringing will ensure he stays hungry as he test himself want.
Former GFC and Fight Nights flyweight world champion Ulanbekov will make his UFC debut on Saturday night on UFC Fight Island, where he will face Brazilian Bruno Silva in the first fight of the night.
And the Makhachkala native said things are noticeably different now that he’s ready to compete in the big leagues.
Ulanbekov told RT Sport before his octagon debut: “Everyone said UFC is the best when it comes to event organization and fighter relationships. Now I can see for myself that the conditions here are very different.”
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Ulanbekov’s team prepared in Dubai before entering the UFC’s COVID-safe bubble in Abu Dhabi and after visiting the area for a couple of training camps, he said the locale would become a welcoming, familiar one.
“We have our separate camp there, a three-week training camp. Everything was great there. Other guys are still there, they will be fighting on ‘Fight Island’ in two weeks,” he said.
“It’s like we’ve returned home. We were given a warm welcome. Thank you to the people who do everything for us when we come to Dubai. They really try everything so that we can only focus on training, eating and sleeping can concentrate. “
It is a far cry from his MMA upbringing, which took place at home in Dagestan under very different circumstances.
His spartan training regimen in his early years helped build the inner toughness we have seen from a wide variety of fighters from the area over the years.
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“It’s easier to exercise comfortably, but it’s also necessary to be rough in order to develop character,” he said.
“It’s easy for us at the moment, but before we had a hard time. People who have gone through these camps know the circumstances we have faced.
“We didn’t have hot water, we washed ourselves in ice-cold water. There was no gym. We had to walk up and down mountains for five hours. That’s on foot, it’s an hour by car. That was our circumstances.”
Ulanbekov even revealed that he and his teammates trained with rocks while running in the mountains to build their strength.
“Our late coach Abdulmanap got us to – work with stones,” he said.
“We ran three or four kilometers and when we got to one point we had a group practice session.”
These circumstances helped Ulanbekov become one of the top flyweights outside of the UFC before earning a reputation for appearing on the big show. Now he wants to make a big impression on his debut and take a step towards a big fight against one of the division’s big names.
When asked which current UFC flyweight would represent his dream opponent, Ulanbekov did not hesitate.
“Joseph Benavidez. I’m not at that level right now. I have to make my debut first. I have to fight my fight and come to him, but I would like to try my hand at him,” he said.
“I’ve been following him for a while. By the time I started my career, he was already a seasoned fighter. I would like to try to fight him.”
But before he gets the chance to compete with the likes of Benavidez, Ulanbekov has to negotiate his Octagon debut, and while his teammate and mentor Khabib Nurmagomedov won’t be in his corner to lead him, the flyweight has revealed that he was given some simple advice from the UFC lightweight champion before his first fight in the octagon.
“Yes, he said it’s just a cage, just like everyone else,” he said.
“Just go out there, relax and do your job.”