The sport of mixed martial arts is, by name and by nature, a cultural melting pot.
Take some Muay Thai boxing from Thailand, some jiu-jitsu from Brazil, some judo from Japan, and some wrestling from Russia, and you have the basic foundation of what makes up most high-level MMA fighters.
A look at the top MMA promotion in the world, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is further proof of the diversity found within the sport. The current champions in UFC’s 12 weight classes includes fighters from Brazil, China, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Poland, Russia and the United States.
There are several Muslim fighters in UFC, and even that group is diverse within the group. Here are the Muslim fighters (that we know of) who are ranked as of March 14 in their respective weight classes in UFC.
Flyweight (125-pound limit)
2. Askar Askarov
The 28-year-old Askarov is legally deaf. He won a gold medal for his native Russia in freestyle wrestling at the 2017 Deaflympics, and a bronze medal at the 2018 World Deaf Championships. Askarov is 14-0-1 in professional MMA, with seven submission victories and four knockouts. He is ranked No. 2 in the UFC flyweight division. At the UFC 259 event on March 6, Askarov defeated Joseph Benavidez by unanimous decision.
“May Allah call every believer to these sacred lands.” (translated)
14. Amir Albazi
While his record isn’t far off from Askarov’s at 14-1-0 with eight submissions and four knockouts, Albazi is ranked several spots below Askarov as the No. 14 flyweight in UFC. Albazi was born in Sweden and is of Iraqi descent. Nicknamed “The Prince,” the 27-year-old most recently beat Zhalgas Zhumagulov by decision in January.
3. Zabit Magomedsharipov
Growing up in Russia, Magomedsharipov trained in wrestling and sanda (Chinese kickboxing). The 30-year-old is now 18-1 in pro MMA with seven submissions and five knockouts. Although he hasn’t had a fight since 2019, he’s still ranked No. 3 in the featherweight division.
Zabit Magomedsharipov (second from left) and friends with Magomed Abdusalamov (seated), a Russian Muslim former heavyweight boxing contender who suffered brain damage during a bout in 2013.
15. Movsar Evloev
The 27-year-old Russian’s first sport was Greco-Roman wrestling. He’s undefeated in 14 pro MMA fights, with four submissions and three knockouts. Evloev has won all of his four UFC fights by decision, most recently outpointing Nik Lentz in January.
Champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Along with LeBron James and Serena Williams, Khabib is part of the exclusive club of elite athletes who are widely known by just their first name. Khabib is not only the lightweight champion in UFC; he’s also the No. 1-ranked fighter pound-for-pound in the promotion. Khabib announced his retirement after retaining his lightweight title and preserving his undefeated record (29-0) against Justin Gaethje in Oct. 2020, but there’s some belief that he’s not really done with the sport. He remains listed in the rankings. Khabib recorded his signature victory when he dominated UFC’s most popular fighter, Conor McGreor, by submission in 2018.
11. Islam Makhachev
After winning a gold medal for Russia at the 2016 combat sambo world championships, Makhachev turned to MMA, where he’s compiled a 19-1 record with eight submissions and three knockouts. A childhhod friend and training partner of Khabib Nurmagomedov, the 29-year-old Makhachev is rising in the UFC ranks.
Champion: Kamaru Usman
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is currently ranked No. 3 in UFC’s pound-for-pound between future Hall of Fame veteran Jon Jones and current heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic. Born in Nigeria into a Muslim family, Usman came to the U.S. at eight years old and became a wrestler. He won an NCAA championship in wrestling at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Usman is 18-1 as an MMA pro with eight knockouts and one submission. He defeated Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title in 2019 and has defended it successfully three times.
13. Belal Muhammad
Muhammad was granted a spot in the main event of UFC Fight Night 187 against Leon Edwards, the 3rd-ranked welterweight in the promotion. The bout ended prematurely, however, when Muhammad was accidentally poked in the eye in the second round and couldn’t continue. The official ruling was a no-contest, snapping a four-fight win streak for Muhammad. The 32-year-old from Chicago is of Palestinian descent.
13. Omari Akhmedov
Akhmedov is a two-time Russian national champion in pankration, the Greek combat sport that combines wrestling and boxing — it could be considered a predecessor to MMA — and dates back to the Olympic Games of the B.C. era. He was also a two-time national champion in hand-to-hand combat. In the pro MMA ranks, Akhmedov is 21-5-1 with six submissions and seven knockouts.
Light Heavyweight (205)
7. Magomed Ankalaev
Ankalaev’s fighting background is in Greco-Roman wrestling and sambo, a martial art that originated in his native Russia. He’s 15-1 in pro MMA with nine knockouts. In his most recent fight, he scored a unanimous decision over Nikita Krylov in February.
7. Shamil Abdurakhimov
If you want to see an action-packed fight, Abdurakhimov tends to deliver. Dating back to 2016, four of his last five fights have ended via knockout — two of those he won, and two he lost. Before he went pro in MMA, Abdurakhiimov was a five-time Russian national Sanda champion. The 39-year-old is ranked No. 7 in UFC’s heavyweight division.
“Sports competition is a manifestation of the abilities and talents of a person given to him by Allah, developed and improved in the process of conscientious and painstaking work. The state of mind of the athlete is of no small importance. Inner calmness, spiritual harmony, which can only be found in sincere worship of Allah Almighty, can help him at the right time in a stressful situation…” (translated)