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Meet The Newest Contender From Dagestan Headlining UFC Saudi Arabia

Ikram Aliskerov will replace Khamzat Chimaev in the main event of UFC Saudi Arabia this Saturday against Robert Whittaker.

If the name doesn't ring a bell, you're not alone. Aliskerov's opponent, Robert Whittaker, said he was unaware of the Russian prospect when he got the call from Dana White after No. 11 ranked Khamzat Chimaev was forced to withdraw from the bout due to food poisoning.

"I had a pretty Chimaev-ready game plan that I worked on for months leading up to this. Ikram brings a different threat to the table; I had never seen or heard of him fighting before. Sometimes, you just have to take things when they come, and I have full faith in my skill sets and ability," Whittaker told the New York Post Sports in an interview on Monday.

Aliskerov, 31, fights out of Makhachkala, Russia, and holds a professional record of 15 wins and one loss, including a 2-0 record in the UFC. While Aliskerov trains in the Republic of Dagestan—the same Republic as lightweight champions Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov—his fight style doesn't exactly emulate the wrestling-heavy background that Dagestan has become so synonymous with.

Instead, Aliskerov takes a boxing-heavy approach to his fights, working off a jab and setting up striking openings when he sees fit. This approach has helped the 31-year-old get off to a hot start in the UFC.

His latest bout was a short-notice scrap against veteran Warlley Alves, in which he made work of the Brazilian, knocking him out in the first round. Aliskerov did similar things in his UFC debut against Phil Hawes, knocking the former JUCO wrestling national champion out with a clean uppercut in the third minute of the fight.

The Regional Scene

Before the UFC, Aliskerov spent much of his time on the regional circuit fighting for Brave CF, a promotion located in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. The Russian went 8-1 in the promotion, with his most notable win coming against current UFC fighter Dennis Tiuliulin, submitting him in the third round by way of kimura.

But perhaps Aliskerov's most well-known result in the promotion came against the man he is set to replace this weekend, Khamzat Chimaev. The two fought in April of 2019 on Brave CF 23, where Chimaev handed Aliskerov his first professional Mixed Martial Arts loss, knocking out the then 27-year-old in the second round.

While the win kept Chimaev's undefeated record intact, he made it a point to voice just how gritty Aliskerov was as an opponent at UFC 273 media day. "I would say my toughest opponent was Ikram Aliskerov, that guy needs to be in the UFC. I think he has won five fights after fighting with me. The guy is really good," Chimaev told reporters.

The loss to Chimaev was simply a bump in the road for Aliskerov, who won his next four fights, ultimately earning himself a shot on Dana White's Contender Series against fellow newcomer Mario Souza. This time, Aliskerov showcased his strong grappling, submitting Souza late in round one to earn himself a contract with the UFC. 

The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

Aliskerov was originally scheduled to fight Antonio Trocoli at UFC Vegas 93 on June 15 but got the call just two days before the contest to fight No. 3 ranked Robert Whittaker at UFC Saudi Arabia. For Aliskerov, it was an opportunity he could not pass up.

"This is what we do, we are fighters. This is our sport, this is our life. I even put it on my Instagram, anyone, anywhere, anytime. This is the kind of motto I live by. Aliskerov told MMAJunkie reporter Mike Bohn. "I was ready for this. I don't care if it's five rounds or 10 rounds. You have to be ready for anything that's thrown your way, and that's what I live by."

Despite the jump up in competition, oddsmakers are not counting the Russian out. Whittaker currently sits at just a slight -140 favorite, with Aliskerov returning as a +115 underdog.


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