Mamed Khalidov, Scott Askham, and the 32 seconds that were

The name “Mamed Khalidov” (35-7-2) doesn’t mean an awful lot to the average MMA fan, particularly those located in the Western portion of the globe. But for almost a decade it has had a different ring to it within Europe.

Since 2011, the carnivorous middleweight has wreaked havoc on the region’s stiffest contenders, using solid submission skills to climb the ladder of Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, more commonly known as KSW.

Two championship reigns in two different weight classes, along with a 15 fight unbeaten run, had built Khalidov quite the reputation. And rightfully so — consistently finishing opponents in your mid-to-late thirties isn’t for everyone.  Finishes over the notable Melvin Manhoef and Matt Lindland accompanied by a 21 second KO over Luke Barnett only added to the mystique surrounding Khalidov and his win streak, which further burned a desire within fans to see him truly challenged; if a middleweight were unable to dethrone Poland’s clear-cut king, who could? The answer would lie at 205lbs, as in 2018, aged 37, Mamed Khalidov gambled it all.

On March 3 of that year, “Cannibal” once more made the jump to light-heavyweight in order to face reigning champ Tomasz Narkun, in a fight dubbed “Champion vs. Champion.” Although no belts were officially on the line fans were more than aware of what was at stake, as the victor would own all bragging rights moving ahead.

After being dropped twice in the first two minutes, the more youthful Narkun was able to survive and lock in a triangle choke in the final round, ending a record-breaking run. Months later the pair rematched, with the result remaining the same (just no finish this time around).

Following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Tomasz Narkun, Khalidov retired from the sport that is mixed martial arts. It wouldn’t take a Pulitzer Prize nominee to tell you that age was no longer on his side and in a young man’s game, the chances of absorbing permanent were at an all-time high. But as many athletes in the sport do, Khalidov unretired less than a year later, putting all KSW middleweights back on notice.

Khalidov returned to his usual hunting ground of 185-pounds, eager to regain the very same title he vacated 21 months prior. His return was finalized for December 2019, and awaiting him was UFC and ACB veteran Scott Askham, England’s own knockout machine. Askham was a perfect 3-0 in the KSW cage with three powerful knockouts, thus making him no pushover. Oh, and he was also the proud owner of the middleweight title.

Chapter one — Competitive by Nature

Despite the aura encompassing his opponent’s name, ruling KSW champion Scott Askham burst with confidence entering his scheduled matchup with Mamed Khalidov, the promotions former pound-for-pound king. Names, accolades, and every other external variable were peripheral; fists would do all the talking in this one.

While fans in the West are used to fighters walking to the cage from their dressing rooms, music on, and an intense atmosphere seeping through their television screens, KSW brass has adopted a dissimilar approach, opting for showmanship over simplicity. This approach was on display December 7, as Askham was quite literally driven through the packed and roaring Gliwice Arena in Gliwice, Poland. When he exited the white and black sports car the crowd had a sense of stillness to it as if uncertainty loomed.

The feeling was replicated as Khalidov walked onwards, being inspected by the cutman in a sight many were unsure they would ever see again. Nothing was left to prove, yet the Russian-born trailblazer was peckish for more glory.

Askham started the fight by taking control of the cage, aiming to place his opponent on the backfoot as a means to unload offense. A wildly off-balanced overhand (which was countered by an inside leg kick) forced him into a lackluster takedown attempt, and it was here that Khalidov exhibited his lengthy martial arts experience; a powerful, hip-heavy sprawl to deny Askham’s shot. Following this, he landed an extremely aesthetic trip, as seen below.

From here he moved onto the knee on belly position in an attempt to set up a leg lock. Whether that be a heel hook, Achilles lock, or toe hold, Khalidov has scored them all. And because of his prominence in this department, Askham was well aware of the potential danger that awaited; a brief tussle broke out in which Askham landed in the opposition’s guard.

It’s not recommended for one to rest, lay or play in the guard of the “Cannibal,” where maneuvers such as the triangle or armbar are common course, meaning Askham had to keep busy and aware.

Ground and pound is a superb way to nullify a dangerous guard player’s game and this champion tried some of his own over the course of the initial round, nevertheless was ultimately unable to mount some damage due to Khalidov continually tying up his forearms. This was the story of the first round.

The ensuing round began with a short feeling out process, where Askham finally landed a takedown of his own. Over the course of the five minutes Khalidov was able to tempt his counterpart back to the mat after numerous up-kicks and taunts, thus allowing the Englishman to up his control time and land some more punches. A failed submission effort on behalf of the challenger was enough of a threat to push the fightback on its feet, and it’s here where Khalidov narrowly missed a jumping switch kick (keep this in mind).

The third and final round is where Khalidov showed his striking advantages, tagging the champion in the early phases. Without diving too deep into a proper breakdown, Askham took advantage of a failed takedown and was able to keep his adversary controlled for the remainder of the round, over four minutes to be exact.

In spite of best efforts and previous accomplishments in the cage, Khalidov and his game were, for the most part, negated, leading to a Scott Askham victory. Even with his two successes in the UFC, a win over KSW’s former leading man takes the crown in terms of the most impressive name on his resume.

Chapter two — One final Crack

Have you ever had an event spoiled in your life, whatever the reasons? Think back to that time and the emotions felt; now multiply them. Mamed Khalidov felt all this and more when his emphatic comeback was royally spoiled by in-prime champion Scott Askham, a UFC alum with an experience unrivaled to many in Europe.

As Askham bathed in a career-defining triumph, Khalidov was left with numerous unanswered questions. It wouldn’t be impractical to assume that retiring once more would be the next logical step as recapturing any sort of major title was now out of reach, or so it seemed.

Mere months after the pair headlined KSW 52, the global pandemic that is COVID-19 took the world by storm, closing down sports events and drastically changing the way many lived their day-to-day lives. KSW CEO Martin Lewandowski spoke in April about the pandemic’s effect on his organization and how it was planning to move forward.

“We had to cancel actually [the] next two shows. So, [KSW] 53 and 54 are postponed,” he said, “It depends how we see from which perspective. But the one which was announced [53], we had to cancel, and for sure we are going to be back with the new chapter. So we need to redefine and reschedule all of the fighters — not only about the venue and about the date but also about the fighters. So there will be a lot of changes.

“There are so many restrictions right now, including all the clubs are closed. Fighters cannot fight, cannot train, cannot prepare in [the] proper way. So, we also need to find out who is going to be able to train — at least like with a limited number of people who have the access to these training facilities. So, this is in front of us, just to find out what would be the outcome and how the fighters are feeling.”

A lengthy waiting game saw KSW finally return in July, and since then the Poland-based promotion has fired out two more events, the most recent taking place on October 10. Titled KSW 55, the card was home to a large number of Polish athletes aiming to make a statement, one of these being none other than Mamed Khalidov.

Riding a career-low three-fight losing streak, Khalidov’s stock was still deemed high enough to not only headline a pay-per-view card but fight for the middleweight title, something that is scarcely witnessed for those in their forties (cue Dan Henderson). Although a defeat to Askham was etched into his record it was an opportunity too big to overlook, and a chance to settle a fiery score, also.

Before performing under the bright lights, each gentleman had to build and complete a unique training camp within these turbulent times, an indubitably solid task even for the sports’ more long-serving veterans. Travel restrictions prohibited Askham from preparing at American Top Team in Florida, United States, forcing him to Germany as a means to get “fight fit.” He spoke about this a month before his first title defense.

“It’s been a crazy year!” Askham stated, “Still is crazy. I am out here in Germany preparing this time because I couldn’t get into the States. I will always find the best training possible and I think this will be the difference in the fight.”

Fast forward to October 10 and Askham was again sealed inside the unforgiving cage with Khalidov, his most competitive yet respectful rival. Opening as a -240 favorite, he was expected to win in convincing fashion, with many leaning towards a finish this time around.

Controversially, fans were in attendance for the show, and it is currently unaware whether any positive COVID-19 tests have come as a result.

Five laboring rounds awaited middleweight king Scott Askham and promotional record holder Mamed Khalidov, who was rematching in the wake of their 2019 clash. Support poured in for both champion and challenger, with the latter owning hometown advantage due to KSW 55 taking place in Poland.

Spectators tuning in either live or via the internet had a number of intriguing contests to observe before getting a glimpse of the main event; longtime company man Michal Materla, who has tasted defeat at the hands of both Askham and Khalidov, aimed to steal the limelight in the co-main event slot. In addition to Materla, Damian Stasiak was searching for his first KSW win since a fairly abortive stint in the UFC.

Materla and Stasiak each obtained stoppage victories, giving a decent showing of themselves in the process. Despite these two Pols claiming finishes all excitement and anticipation lay elsewhere; minds were riveting for the big dogs.

Following a pair of tense walkouts, the continent’s top-ranked middleweights touched gloves in the center of the cage after a bell signaled the beginning of the match. A feeling out process began, which was foreseen considering what was at stake along with how the first meeting panned out; neither man was willing to make the same mistakes as before, specifically Khalidov.

Just as the clock crept to 4:30, Khalidov stepped forwards with a throwaway jab and cross combination, prompting Askham to shuffle backward. While many would end their offensive efforts there, the now-40-year-old prizefighter marched on, rounding off his attack with a brutal but picturesque jumping switch kick — the perfect oxymoron. From the cusp of being knocked out of European MMA’s upper echelon to the ultimate career revival, Khalidov had fortified his legend status.

Chapter Three — A Regions Finest?

In a strike that was felt around the world, Mamed Khalidov hit a jumping switch kick to the head of Scott Askham, robbing him of both his consciousness and championship belt. “Knockout of the Year” were the words splattered across social media platforms within seconds of the dramatic finish, however a UFC event just hours later produced arguably the greatest knockout in the sport’s history, shifting the spotlight.

Now, with a professional record of 35-7-2, Khalidov became the winningest fighter in KSW history with 19 wins (alongside Materla), as well as extending his lead with the most finishes at 16. From catching the promotions first ever title to recovering middleweight gold, Khalidov’s story is one befitting for a hero, and that he is for many absorbed by Poland’s MMA scene.

A place among Europe’s best ever mixed martial artists is surely guaranteed for Khalidov in retirement, no matter where specifically you rank him. The rarity of a 40-year-old man becoming champion as part of a major organization speaks volumes to his longevity and championship level heart, with victories over a multitude of noteworthy names only backing his cause.

To conclude this feature piece, Mamed Khalidov’s 32 second upset over his ongoing, resistant adversary Scott Askham is, in my opinion, one of the more eventful results of 2020 so far. A fading virtuoso returning from the brink of additional defeat to reassert himself as one of his nation’s finest certainly makes for a newsworthy story.

One is unable to accurately predict what the next couple of months have in store, but if I were a betting man, I’d put money on Khalidov and Askham to clear up all uncertainty in a third and final grudge match. Whether that be later this year or next, the potential profits and viewership a trilogy bout could bring would do wonders for KSW.