This past spring, the UFC signed 2012 Olympic wrestling bronze medalist Bilyal Makhov to a deal, even though he has yet to compete in MMA. Last week, the Russian managed to medal in not just one wrestling sport, but two.
At the United World Wrestling Championships, which took place in Las Vegas, Makhov became the first person in 42 years to medal in both freestyle and Greco-Roman categories at a world championships. The 27 year-old earned a bronze in the 130-kilogram Greco-Roman division, early in the week, and then added a bronze medal in the 125-kilogram freestyle category.
The wrestler will reportedly choose just one style of wrestling to compete at at the 2016 Rio summer games, however. After that, he is expected to begin his MMA training and career, in earnest.
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Makhov promises to take his future MMA career just as seriously as he's taken his wrestling one. "My approach to this is very, very professional," he assured.
"I'm not doing this for some kind of PR. I'm doing this 100 percent. Anything I do, I think about how to do it and the best approach. I know there are some technical aspects of this game I need to work on. I'm still working on [my striking] with my coach. But, it's just a matter of time. My base is wrestling, and the rest I'm going to work hard to get where it needs to be to get up to the level [I need to be in MMA]."
With the recent exception of former WWE talent Phil "CM Punk" Brooks, the UFC hasn't really made a habit of signing athletes who don't have MMA experience. Former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion Brock Lesnar even had one prior pro MMA bout before the UFC signed him and pit him against Frank Mir.
By signing a top amateur talent like Makhov, then, the UFC may be signaling a new willingness to scout top athletes from feeder combat sports like wrestling, and invest in their long-term development, the way Major League Baseball teams often do.
Makhov is shooting for the top in MMA just as he is in wrestling. He went on to say that he's already watching tape on the very best in the UFC's heavyweight division.
"I'm following them. I'm watching their fights - how they train - and I'll do whatever it takes to get to that level in as short a time [as is possible]."