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The 10 greatest Russian UFC fighters of all-time

Russia has always been home to some of the most extreme fighters. You can find all kinds of warrior spirit in Russia, from angry drivers to great Octagon warriors.

The majority of Russian MMA fighters now come from Dagestan, the area situated in the North Caucasus region of Eastern Europe, along the Caspian Sea.

The trademark of Dagestani fighters is top-notch MMA wrestling. They are known for keeping their opponent on the ground and not letting him get up or make a transition or reversal.

The basic martial art of Russian UFC fighters is Combat Sambo, but there are also great BJJ fighters and strikers.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Russian female UFC fighters, but they are slowly building careers in other MMA promotions. But we’ll discuss that under the honorable mention section.

About the author

Vladimir is a master of Sports and Physical Education, a Taekwondo black belt, and an MMA commentator who works as an analyst, interviewer, and podcaster. Throughout his career, he has interviewed some of the greatest names from the MMA scene, like Gilbert Burns, Andre Ewell, Cody Stamann, and Herbert Burns.

These are the best Russian UFC fighters of all-time:

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov with UFC belt
Image credit: Steven Ryan

Khabib Nurmagomedov is the all-time greatest Russian UFC fighter, the only champion from Russia who defended the UFC strap three consecutive times.

Khabib put Dagestan on the map with his tremendous pressure and outstanding wrestling technique.

Khabib’s trademark is “Dagestani handcuffs”, a technique where he traps the opponent’s upper leg from the top position and controls him on the ground via holding (adjusting) the bottom arm (the one closer to the canvas).

He’s also known for an outstanding chin and excellent ground and pound skills.

Nurmagomedov holds notable victories over Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Edson Barboza, Dustin Poirier, Rafael dos Anjos and many other top-notch Octagon warriors.

His UFC 229 bout against Conor McGregor sold the greatest number of PPV buys in the history of the promotion thanks to great trash talk between the fighters.

Khabib retired following his second-round triangle choke victory over Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

Many consider him the best wrestler in the history of UFC. Now he leads Eagle FC promotion (he’s not a fan of ring girls).

Instagram: @khabib_nurmagomedov

Oleg Taktarov

Oleg Taktarov first Russian UFC champion
Image credit: Vladimir Velengurin

Oleg Taktarov is a master of Sambo, black belt in Judo and BJJ, and the first European UFC champion. He retired with a record of 17-5-2, and now he’s an actor.

“The Russian Bear” reached the final at UFC 5, but his bout against Dan Severn was stopped due to a cut.

Yet, Taktarov showcased his skills at UFC 6, where he scored three back-to-back submission wins over Dave Beneteau, Anthony Macias (fastest submission in UFC history, nine seconds, guillotine choke), and Tank Abbott.

At UFC 7, his super-fight against Ken Shamrock ended in a draw after 30 minutes of a very technical ground fight.

Rules were different back then, there were no rounds and all bouts took part in one day (tournament system).

The Ultimate Ultimate 1995 was his last UFC appearance. Unfortunately, despite two wins, wrestling phenom Dan Severn controlled him on the ground, which led to a decision win for the American.

Instagram: @olegtaktarov_official

Petr Yan

Petr Yan UFC bantamweight champion
Image credit: Jeff Bottari

Petr Yan is a top-notch pressure boxer and cardio machine from Yekaterinburg.

Yan is a master of sports in MMA too, and a great kicker. Yan showed that in the match versus Urijah Faber when he surprised “The Californian Kid” with a Taekwondo clinch left high kick for a knockout win.

Yan won the vacant UFC 135-pound belt against Jose Aldo at UFC 251 via fifth-round TKO stoppage.

Unfortunately, he was beating Aljamain Sterling but an illegal knee to the head of the grounded opponent led to a disqualification loss.

Petr later won the interim title via UFC 267 decision win over Cory Sandhagen. Many consider this striking toe-to-toe war one of the greatest fights in 2021.

Instagram: @petr_yan

Yana Kunitskaya

Russian female UFC fighter Yana Kunitskaya
Image credit: Ethan Miller

Yana Kunitskaya is a loner on the list of Russian female UFC fighters. She’s known for great long-range strikes, superb ducking, and lovely counters.

Yana won vacant Invicta CF 135-pound belt after a decision win over Raquel Pa’aluhi, and later fought for the UFC featherweight title at UFC 222, but lost the bout via first-round TKO.

Kunitskaya outworked Marlon Reneau, Julija Stoliarenko, Ketlen Vieira, and Lina Lansberg.

She’s married to Brazilian fighter Thiago Santos, and they are expecting a child at the moment.

Instagram: @yanamma

Alexander Volkov

Alexander Volkov Russian UFC fighter

Alexander Volkov is a 6 foot 7 inches tall striker from Moscow with excellent Karate kicks and punches and superb takedown defense.

His nickname “Drago” speaks for itself – fighting toe-to-toe with Volkov is not a smart idea.

The former Bellator 265-pound champ and now-number-five UFC Heavyweight contender turned the lights out on Alistair Overeem, Walt Harris, Stefan Struve, and Fabricio Werdum.

Volkov hasn’t been submitted since 2010 when he lost to Maxim Grishin via rear-naked choke.

Derrick Lewis knocked him out in the dying seconds of their UFC 229 bout, but Volkov later changed his fighting style.

The Russian striker significantly improved his fighting IQ, counter skills, ducking, and anticipation.

Instagram: @volkov_alex

Askar Askarov

partially deaf Russian fighter Askar Askarov

Askar Askarov is deaf, but it didn’t stop him from reaching the top of the UFC Flyweight division.

Askarov is a former ACB champion, an undefeated wrestler with only one draw and 14 victories.

After a draw against the reigning defending division king Brandon Moreno, he outworked Tim Elliott, Alexandre Pantoja, and Joseph Benavidez.

His cage control and wrestling from the top are still an enigma for the UFC 125-pound roster.

Instagram: @askar_mma

Magomed Ankalaev

Russian fighter Magomed Ankalaev punches Nikita Krylov
Image credit: Jeff Bottari

Magomed Ankalaev is a dangerous southpaw striker and, according to many, the potential UFC Light Heavyweight champ in 2023.

Ankalaev’s special technique is left high kick, but he’s also a great boxer and low kicker, with awesome tactical skills.

Interestingly, Ankalaev trained Greco-Roman wrestling first, which explains his superb takedown defense.

The former WFCA Light Heavyweight king turned the lights out on Marcin Prachnio, Dalcha Lungiambula, and Ion Cutelaba.

His current score is 16-1 (the only loss happened to Paul Craig via triangle choke at his UFC debut in the dying seconds of round 3).

Instagram: @ankalaev_magomed

Islam Makhachev

two Russian fighters Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov
Islam Makhachev and Khabib Nurmagomedov | Image credit: Mike Roach

Islam Makhachev is recognized all over the MMA world as the inheritor of Khabib Nurmagomedov in the UFC Lightweight division.

Makhachev is a master of Sambo and a superb grappler with excellent striking skills.

Khabib’s teammate can take a beating, take part in a toe-to-toe exchange, and control the fight on the canvas – he is comfortable making split-second adjustments.

Makhachev is a former Sambo world champion.

Interestingly, he was knocked out by Adriano Martins at his UFC debut. Yet, Islam bounced back and scored notable wins over Gleison Tibau, Drew Dober, and Dan Hooker.

Makhachev is one of the greatest threats to the reigning defending Brazilian champion Charles Oliveira.

Instagram: @islam_makhachev

Alexey Oleynik

UFC fighter Alexey Oleynik with Russian flag
Image credit: Jason Silva

Alexey Oleynik has competed for 20+ years, and he’s the only MMA fighter to compete and score a victory across four different decades (the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s).

Oleynik’s nickname “The Boa Constrictor” speaks for itself – 46 submission wins. Oleynik mostly attacks in the stand-up with an overhand right and tries to drag the fight to the ground by any means necessary.

Oleynik is a real example of a revolutionary fighter. KSW 8 winner, Sambo expert and a black belt in BJJ and Jujutsu scored impressive Ezekiel choke from the bottom victory over Viktor Pesta, which was never seen before.

Instagram: @alexeyoleynik1

Movsar Evloev

Movsar Evloev of Russia punches Mike Grundy
Image credit: Jeff Bottari

We’ve got a wrestling specialist born outside of Dagestan on the list of the best Russian UFC fighters.

Movsar Evloev comes from Sunzha, Ingushetia and he’s an undefeated master of Greco-Roman wrestling, with a perfect score of 15-0.

His superb cage and ground control skills are a challenge for any opponent. You’ll never see Movsar wear down, his cardio rocks!

Instagram: @movsar_evloev_94

Honorable mentions

The list of greatest Russian UFC fighters refers to UFC names, but some Russian fighters are more known than many names from the greatest MMA circuit. So we’ll mention them too.

Fedor Emelianenko is the former Pride Heavyweight FC champion and the most dominant Russian fighter in the early days of UFC.

Unfortunately, the arm bar specialist’s management failed to make a good deal with the UFC, so he’s now a part of the Bellator roster.

Alexander Shlemenko used to be a Bellator Middleweight champion. His impressive record is 61-13, 1 NC. This master of hand-to-hand combat currently fights at EFC.

Sergei Kharitonov has been fighting for 20+ years. “The Paratrooper” scored great results in Pride FC and Bellator. At the moment, the Russian striker holds a record of 34-9, 2 NC.

Alexander Emelianenko is Fedor’s brother, known for superb knockouts in Pride FC. Yet, he’s one of the rare fighters who scored a knockout out of thin air.

This controversial fighter is known for prison sentence too.

Bozigit Ataev is another excellent name on the list of great Russian MMA fighters, known for his great PFL and Pride FC outings.

This former Wushu Sanda world champion is the only guy who knocked UFC star Alistair Overeem down with a spinning heel kick.

Muslim Salikhov is a former Sanda champion of the world who competes at UFC Welterweight roster. His tricky striking makes him a difficult opponent for most fighters.

Umar Nurmagomedov (13-0) and Said Nurmagomedov (15-2) are some of the greatest young Russian UFC fighters.

Said recently defeated Cody Stamann, while Umar choked out Sergey Morozov.

Marina Mokhnatkina (6-2) is a Combat Sambo fighter. She last fought at PFL and scored a win over Claudia Zamora.

Unfortunately, UFC doesn’t have a female 155-pound division, so she will never be on the list of Russian female UFC fighters.


Russia was an average MMA state until Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dagestani wrestling arrived in the UFC.

Khabib brought hard-to-see revolutionary moves to the greatest MMA promotion of the world.

Russia is known for other high-level promotions – M-1 and ACA. Many fighters compete there because Dana White doesn’t like inking too many fighters from one part of the world as he wants to make the sport global.

Emelianenko, Shlemenko, and Kharitonov have never been in the UFC, but their careers lasted for a very long time and they could have given any UFC fighter a run for their money when they were in their prime.

Yana Kunitskaya is the only female from Russia who reached the greatest MMA promotion, but the list of the most promising women from Russia also includes Dariya Zheleznyakova, Viktoriya Dudakova, and Anastasia Feofanova.

Who knows, there might be more Russian female UFC fighters in the years to come!