Askar Askarov: The grappling sensation of the flyweight division
It is considered scarce for people with disabilities to embark on a voyage through the treacherous waters that are professional Mixed Martial Arts; the one-handed Nick Newell and deaf Matt Hamill are perhaps the most successful to do so with their unfortunate impairments.
Unbeknownst to many, one athlete currently doing so with a disability of his own is No. 6 ranked UFC flyweight Askar Askarov, a formidable and sinister force within the division who in addition to racking up 11 victories with zero defeats. He competes with major deafness; the 27-year-old is not entirely unhearing, nonetheless is still at a reasonable disadvantage when contrasted to his peers. It’s not only the Dagestani’s birth defect or perfect professional resume that galvanizes spectators but the method he goes about his business.
“The Bullet” has finished a prodigious 10 opponents throughout his seven-year tear, compiling a remarkable submission rate of 70 percent; modified guillotines, stifling anaconda chokes and recherche twisters are just a few of the composite chokes at his disposal. His ability to slap on a finishing maneuver is nonpareil in the UFC’s 125-pound division; sure, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva is generally perceived at the best jiu-jitsu practitioner flyweight has to offer, yet his aptness when applying chokeholds are matchless to that Askarov’s; the pace, possie and almost arbitrary process at which he lands submissions are superb.
As a former ACB (now ACA) flyweight champion, Askar Askarov registered two title defenses before jumping ship to the UFC, where he has since solidified himself as an elite fighter despite only a couple of appearances. Albeit having weaknesses, each man (bar Brandon Moreno, which we’ll get to later) that has dared enter the cage adjacent to him has looked either impotent or been overthrown, which begs the question: how do you outrun a bullet?
Each year we see more and more Dagestani fighters convulse the MMA scene with their beautifully violent performances and displays of exquisite technique, down to the most minute detail. Along with this comes the comparisons to current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, whose reign of terror on the 155-pound division is outright frightening; it’s evident that the vast majority of fighters from Dagestan hone the same skillset and gameplan – if it works, why change it? – nevertheless, Askarov remains exceedingly divergent from his lightweight counterpart, even if the pair do share some traits.
“The Bullet” has eminently evolved as an athlete over the course of his last four fights; his standup, inconsistent yet respected, and his grappling, fierce but showing clear margins for error. Rewinding back to his sixth professional victory where the flyweight firecracker pounded the skull off his adversary en route to his third TKO finish, it is indisputable that his boxing, as well as defense, was below-par.
Despite finding himself flat-footed and hit flush on numerous occasions, Askarov proved (even early on in his career) why he is a typhoon of a competitor, exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses whilst asserting his own strengths.
After being taken down – which seems to be a regular occurrence in an Askarov fight – the Dagestani rallied back to his feet, only to score a slam of his own. His opponent Marcin Lasota was immediately active, holding onto a secure guillotine attempt; Askarov was unfazed and slid into side control, opting to grab the wrist as a way to rain down clean, unprotected strikes. As you can see from the video above, “The Bullet” threatens the half guard position, eventually finding it; wrist control is one of the more effective gestures in grappling, with the 26-year-old utilizing the movement to perfection: not only does it allow Askarov to openly score on his opponent’s chin, he is able to keep the seemingly-stronger Lasota on his back, enabling him total authority.
One particular skill he excels at is grappling defense. Despite the fact Askarov is often thrown to the canvas, his overall ability to defend submission attempts, sweeps and the preponderance of his oppositions takedowns (specifically against the cage) should be accredited for a large proportion of his success; if he was lacking this expertise, contests with Rasul Albaskhanov, Brandon Moreno, and Tim Elliott would likely have had a different outcome. The video depicts Askarov flawlessly defending the single leg takedown attempt from Lasota; the balance and required hip strength to do conveys the elite level grappling defense he possesses. Immediately upon doing this he breaks, unleashing numerous punches to stun his opponent – he’s fortunate that the comprised Lasota was unfit to trade strikes precisely and efficiently as he was flat-footed; Askarov has a habit of keeping his hands low, leaving his chin exposed to wild, overhand strikes (something which comes back to haunt him later in his career).
Askarov is one of the most offensively active fighters on the UFC roster; shades of Tony Ferguson materialize in one’s mind when he releases elbows off his back. A workhorse may be the best term to describe the 2017 Deaflympic gold medalist, who uses his smothering pressure to either suffocate or batter the substandard sacrificial lambs fed to him on a platter. In the short clip, you can distinctly witness Askarov holding the foot of Lasota temporarily, while firing rapid right hands to his fellow competitors face. He remains busy even when transitioning and switching positions, a task only the elite can consistently execute. Shortly after the video ends, the ACB referee waves off the contest, handing Askarov his sixth professional triumph.
“The Bullet” was briskly building a CV fit for a UFC debutant, and within a few fights would be attending the most pivotal job interview of his life in Mexico City, Mexico.
After dismantling Marcin Losaota within two rounds, Askarov won a further three bouts, which included a stunning twister over UFC veteran Anthony Leone and a title-winning anaconda choke to claim the vacant ACB flyweight strap. In his second title defense – a not so straightforward victory over Rasul Albaskhanov – the 26-year-old showed the full extent of his vicious submission game, with an “all gas, no brakes” approach.
After finding himself on his back early on, Askarov immediately went on the hunt; the flyweight champion snatched an arm from half guard, almost sealing a bone-wrenching kimura; prominently using submissions in order to escape compromising positions. Mere seconds away from escaping the mediocre grappling of his opponent, the No. 6 ranked flyweight had a thick forearm threatening his neck. It was inevitable that Rasul Albaskhanov would have to advance his position in order to pursue the bullying, and within one instantaneous motion, he sought the commonly defenseless back; Askarov remained cool, just as his hand remained clasped on the wrist: wrist control from all angles. Scrambles were in full succession, as the undefeated phenom rolled into half guard; Albaskhanov, trying to establish yet another dominant position, tossed himself into side control, only to be denied by his counterpart, who dragged him back into his hellish guard. Besides being offensive whilst on his back Askarov takes full advantage of his opponent’s positioning of the head by applying firm pressure, during which he creates space for his legs; one step closer to regaining his footing.
As previously mentioned Askarov utilizes submissions as a means to abscond menacing positions (excluding the obvious reason of getting the finish). When Albaskhanov’s arm is on the brink of being fully extended, he wisely steps over onto the back, releasing the majority of tension; “The Bullet” counters this by standing up and wriggling his opponent off. For the first time in the fight, he establishes the dominant position and takes full advantage, harassing the face of Albaskhanov with a multitude of strikes.
Askarov submitted Rasul Albaskhanov in the second round via modified guillotine; the grip, squeeze and positioning applied by the Dagestani were enough to render his adversary unconscious, as he retained the ACB flyweight title. In his next bout, he would debut in the big leagues, and certify himself as one of the world’s elite at 125-pounds.
world champion material
Immediately after news broke that Askarov would be making his UFC debut against Brandon Moreno is Mexico City, Mexico, fans jumped to the conclusion that the contest would go one of two ways: either Askarov would smother the fellow prospect, eventually sinking in an intense chokehold, or Moreno would light him up on the feet in front of his home crowd. Thankfully for all, neither took place.
The fight was critical for the career of both warriors, as it not only marked the arrival of more Russian talent but the beginning of a so-far successful second stint for Moreno.
Less than a minute into the opening round Askarov had secured a rear body lock against the fence, hands fastened tightly to prohibit the opposition slithering away. To add to this Moreno’s right arm was trapped; there was very little he could do to escape. Promptly after the attempted slam, Askarov took the back, only to transition into side control with absolute ease; his raw strength – as well as fight IQ, (note how he switched from a simple grip to the cable grip, further enabling him to keep his opponent at bay) – was on full display.
In the above clip, Askarov once more had his opponent pressed, allowing him to skillfully toss Moreno to the mat using a sambo throw; as sambo originated from judo, the throw shows elements of a traditional harai goshi (sweeping judoka hip throw). “The Bullet” continually demonstrates “The Dagestani way”: a formidable clinch game (which includes persistently chasing the underhook), barbaric ground and pound and meticulously complete takedowns rounded off by the damping turtle rundown. Askarov is a control-based fighter – he thrives off having full authority over his prey.
The pair traded shots over the course of three rounds, with Askarov being knocked down by head kick at one point (due to carrying his hands extremely low, which left his chin exposed to the much larger and rangier Moreno who was happy to boast his superior kickboxing ability.) Despite having several scares on the feet, the fight was ruled a split draw, extending Askarov’s professional record 10-0-1. Many people including Moreno himself disagreed with the outcome, none the less a decision’s a decision, and the Russian’s record would remain near-enough faultless.
Following the intense challenge that was Moreno, the unbeaten flyweight – now ranked – would return to the octagon at UFC 246 with former world title challenger Tim Elliott as his foe. Elliott presented a series of unique challenges: his awkwardness, ferocity and overall unorthodox style are enough to create legitimate issues for the No. 5 – No. 10 ranked contenders. Unfortunately for him, Askarov is no ordinary ranked athlete.
The Dagestani wrestler opened up in the southpaw stance, trying to gauge his range in order to effectively pop off strikes. One weapon he employs deceiving well is the snap kick; Askarov flicks his leg in at upwards motion, aiming for the chin. The true beauty of the move isn’t in the damage it inflicts, but the true basis in which he throws it: his intention is to push his opponent back, creating enough distance to rectify his stance whilst being in near ideal range to exchange. As he became more comfortable on the feet, Askarov neatly thumped Elliot with a 1-2-3 (jab, cross, lead hook) combination, causing him to slip out of consciousness for a minor second. The combination palpably highlights the evident improvement in Askarov’s stand-up, particularly his boxing; flyweights more polished boxers, Alexandre Pantoja and Deiveson Figueiredo to name a few, would cause extensive obstacles that we are yet to see the potential of being broken through from 125’s sambo sovereign. Nevertheless, with constant development in his overall game, Askarov could soon be possessing the dexterous expertise of his aforementioned peers. This would undoubtedly raise the 26-year-old to the next echelon.
Upon hitting the canvas Askarov goes straight to work, manifesting a dominant position in order to inflict serious harm on Elliott. Due to his experience training with 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu (albeit being rumored to only be a blue belt), Elliott was able to temporarily deny the guard passing of his vicious nemesis. In spite of that Askarov ultimately found half guard, fastening his opponent to the mat with a head-and-arm choke; his bicep was applying pressure to the carotid artery, slowly but surely weakening the former title contender.
Askarov continues to show off his refined stand-up skills, punctually sticking his cross on the opposition’s face consistently (he favors the 1-2, a simplistic yet extremely effective combo that is overused by grappling-based fighters); towards the end of the gif, Askarov slyly switches stances in order to throw a powerful uppercut, promptly stunning Elliot; his footwork is fairly adequate, howbeit, evolving.
Within a minute into the third and final round, it was apparent that he had run out of gas, and pressure was being smeared across the cage by the American. Askarov made it to the final bell, even after absorbing a high quantity of robust strikes. He obtained a rightful unanimous decision victory over a top 10 UFC flyweight – the Russian had officially arrived.
Askar Askarov is currently the No. 6 ranked UFC flyweight. His venture into the promotion (so far) has been undeniably compelling; name me another present fighter on the roster that is on the cusp of their divisions A-listers inside two bouts – there are none. In many ways, “The Bullet” is in a league of his own when it comes to 125-pound competition, as his offensive grappling remains unrivaled in spite of being ranked alongside ominous wrestler Joseph Benavidez.
In his next UFC outing, I would like to see Askarov matched with top 5 opposition, for instance, the aforesaid Alexandre Pantoja or Jussier Formiga (depending on how their next fights go, of course). Both would propel him into a number one contender bout. If not Askarov should be paired with Kai Kara-France; this would allow him to boast his ever-enhancing striking against a good kickboxer; picture more competitive exchanges than his fight with Moreno.
To round off the breakdown, it is becoming more and more visible with every performance that Askar Askarov is a pivotal piece in the flyweight division. His overall skill set combined with the fact that he’s below 30 means we can expect the Dagestan native to unleash his curse on the division in the not too distant future; whether he’s an upcoming champion or longtime contender, anticipate Askarov to cement his place at 125 for a long, long time.