Saygid Izagakhmaev (21-2) is poised to follow in the footsteps of his countryman, mentor, training partner, and MMA luminary Khabib Nurmagomedov.
And according to Nurmagomedov, that showdown at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this coming Saturday will be just another step toward greatness for his protege.
The 28-year-old has taken ONE Championship’s talent-rich lightweight division by storm.
In January, the Eagles MMA representative submitted former ONE welterweight world title challenger James Nakashima in his promotional debut, and eight months later, Izagakhmaev decimated Chinese star Zhang Lipeng en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Few people know the No. 4-ranked lightweight contender better than Nurmagomedov, a four-time MMA world champion who has elevated the sport to new heights.
The retired legend says Izagakhmaev is still improving and will soon be recognized as the top MMA fighter on the planet.
"I’ve been training with Saygid my whole life. I know how much he improves every year. I know how dedicated he is. He’s getting physically stronger and stronger. He’s getting more and more experienced from fight to fight and soon, he’s going to be the best – not only in our team, but in the world. I have a lot of faith in him.”
Across his 21 professional victories, Izagakhmaev has largely followed the gameplan shown to be so effective by Nurmagomedov – utilizing a bevy of unstoppable takedowns, crushing top pressure, ferocious ground-and-pound, and picture-perfect submissions.
The Dagestani phenom has used that grappling-based strategy through his first two bouts inside the ONE circle, but Nurmagomedov believes the lightweight sensation has only given fans a small taste of his true potential.
"The audience expects him to have a good wrestling skillset, but he can surprise them with how good he is on his feet. He has very good elbows and good hands. So far, he hasn’t had a chance to show these skills, to demonstrate his long arms, his striking.”
Against a grappling expert like Aoki, many might expect Izagakhmaev to avoid the ground.
But according to Nurmagomedov, his protege is more than ready to stand and trade on the feet. The issue is no one has been able to prevent his takedowns.
The MMA legend said:
"Nobody has been able to stop him yet. But the moment we get an opponent who can handle his wrestling and then force Saygid to utilize his striking, the audience will be surprised.”
Nurmagomedov predicts Izagakhmaev will soon challenge for world title
A win over Aoki would be a huge feather in Izagakhmaev’s cap. He would be 3-0 in ONE Championship and own a victory against a former titleholder – and legend of the sport at that.
Nurmagomedov sees big things for his protege in the near future. In fact, if he were to finish the Japanese MMA icon at ONE 163, then it could lead to a shot at the ONE lightweight world championship.
"There’s a very good chance that early next year, in the first half of 2023, Saygid will fight for the title because he already has two wins in the promotion and he has a fight ahead of him against a very big star in world of MMA, Shinya Aoki. If Saygid knocks him out or finishes him on the ground, I think he should have his next fight for the title.”
This story first published at ONEFC.com.