Here to take over: The Russian fighters poised for potential UFC dominance

With Khabib Nurmagomedov now retired and Fedor Emelianenko soon to join him, space remains at the summit of Russian MMA for some new champions - but who among them is best placed to carve out legendary status in MMA?

A little over a year ago in Abu Dhabi, a tearful Khabib announced his plans to step away from mixed martial arts with an undefeated, impeccable 29-0 record - a career ledger which will quite possibly never see its equal.

But in doing so, the Dagestan icon created a vacuum at the summit of Russian MMA which, particularly when coupled with the 45-year-old Fedor's own impending exit, leaves the throne unoccupied and awaiting a new standard-bearer.

So, who among the latest wave of Russian MMA star is most equipped to do so in the UFC? RT Sport takes a look at some of the brightest stars flying the Russian flag at MMA's top table.

Petr Yan

It could be convincingly argued that Yan is already the standout Russian mixed martial artist in the world today. The former ACB and UFC bantamweight champion has laid waste to practically every fighter he has faced in the Octagon, up to and including the fight in which he lost his UFC 135lbs title for an illegal blow delivered to Aljamain Sterling in a fight in which he was cruising. 

Yan again underscored his status as the world's top bantamweight last weekend in Abu Dhabi with a five-round decision win against the tough American Cory Sandhagen, a fight which earned him an interim UFC title and a clear path to redemption in a rematch with Sterling.

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Petr Yan earned a unanimous points victory at UFC 267 © YouTube
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That bout is set to take place sometime in early-to-mid 2022, at which point the fighter nicknamed 'No Mercy' is expected to show exactly that to a fighter many see as a placeholder keeping the title belt warm for its rightful owner. 

Islam Makhachev

The man anointed by Khabib Nurmagomedov as his true successor, Islam Makhachev is very much following the same blueprint which delivered Khabib UFC gold and a reputation of being one of the finest fighters in history.

The lightweight fighter was forged on the same Dagestani wrestling mats as Khabib under the watchful eye of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov - and continued in following Khabib's footsteps when he transplanted his training base to the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. 

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Makhachev submitted Hooker with Khabib in his corner at UFC 267. © Zuffa LLC / Twitter
‘He’s a cheat code’: Islam Makhachev details vital instructions from cornerman Khabib in victory over Hooker at UFC 267 (VIDEO)

The path has been an occasionally arduous one. Much like Khabib's rise, Makhachev's lowly ranking in his early career juxtaposed with the savage nature of his performances meant that he was one of the most avoided fighters in the UFC's lightweight frame - only recently cracking into upper echelon of the division with a first-round finish of the top-ranked Dan Hooker a little over a week ago.

Further, more punishing tests surely await him at the top of the shark-tank 155lbs division. So far, though? Flying colors. 

Khamzat Chimaev

What is there to be said about the UFC's latest shooting star that hasn't already been said? Four fights, four wins, four finishes and just one significant strike absorbed in all that time. 

It is about as definitive a start to a UFC career as has ever been had in the more than quarter-century history of the organization and has signposted the Chechen-born Chimaev as one of the most feared fighters in a talent-rich UFC welterweight division.

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Khamzat Chimaev made a spectacular comeback at UFC 267 © Twitter / ChillemThreebo
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His dominance took a 13-month hiatus after an initial frenzy of activity due to a particularly troublesome bout with Covid-19 but the 27-year-old returned at UFC 267 against the teak-tough Li Jingliang - and Chimaev showed that he hadn't missed a beat during his enforced time away from the sport. 

Magomed Ankalaev

Of all the top Russian fighter currently plying their trade in the UFC, the 16-1 light heavyweight Ankalaev is perhaps the one flying most under the radar. Of his eight fights for the promotion thus far, he has tasted defeat just one - a literal last-second submission defeat to Scotland's Paul Craig in what was his UFC debut back in 2018.

Since then the 29-year-old Makhachkala man has been faultless and took home his biggest scalp to date from Abu Dhabi last weekend when cruised past former world title challenger Volkan Oezdemir by one-sided unanimous decision.

Now firmly rooted in the UFC's 205lbs top ten, Ankalaev has designs on making his mark in a division currently in a state of flux following the departure of Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira's recent title win - and a fight against one of the division's best is surely next up.

Alexander Volkov

The Giant of Moscow has already made a definitive mark on the UFC's heavyweight fold in his five years with the company and did so again in Abu Dhabi with a win against the gritty Pole Marcin Tybura to take his recent record to three wins from his last four - with that sole defeat coming at the hands of France's outstanding interim champion Ciryl Gane.

Ranked fifth at heavyweight, Volkov remains poised for a run at the crown in he can piece together two or three more high profile wins.

For now, though, Volkov can be more than satisfied with a veteran career which has seen him claim victories against the likes of Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum and Stefan Struve. 

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