Muhammad Mokaev looking to make Wigan proud again as UFC returns to London
Wigan's Muhammad Mokaev is aiming for another showstopping performance at this weekend's UFC supercard in London - to kick the door open towards a top-ranked fight.
The 22-year-old former Deanery High School and St John Rigby student takes on Jafel Filho at the O2 as part of UFC 286.
It's the promotion's second London show in the last 12 months, with Mokaev victorious in last year's event.
The unbeaten flyweight - who has a professional record of 9-0 - has repeatedly called for bosses to match him up against a top-15 opponent.
That would quicken the process towards a title fight but, so far, he's been left frustrated.
All Mokaev can do in the meantime is to keep winning, and keep calling opponents out.
“It’s amazing,” said Mokaev, who was born in Dagestan, but arrived in Wigan as a refugee along with his dad back in 2012.
“I tried to call out all the top-15 guys. I tried to fight anyone, because at this stage I believe I’m ready.
"I never say to the UFC, ‘Can you get me this guy? Can you choose me someone easier just for the show, for the fans?’
“I don’t care. (UFC matchmaker) Mick Maynard offered me David Dvorak, Matt Schnell, Amir Albazi and Tim Elliott - four top-15 guys.
"Amir Albazi didn’t want to, Dvorak blocked me because I called him out on (an Instagram) Story, he didn’t accept it.
"Matt Schnell said he doesn’t want to fight in the UK...I don’t understand, is the cage different in the UK? Maybe he doesn’t like the pressure. And Tim Elliott is actually injured.
“So I couldn’t get anyone from the top 15. One name I was offered, Jafel Filho, accepted."
Although Filho is making his UFC debut, Mokaev is not expecting anything other than a tough fight.
“Of course, debut guys are the most dangerous fighters, more than fighting somebody in the top five,” he said.
“Because sometimes they’ve got nothing to lose, sometimes they come out swinging, just to get their name out there and show they’re different to my other opponents who were in the UFC.
“That’s what I did on my UFC debut too. That’s why I don’t underestimate this guy at all."
Not that Mokaev isn't supremely confident of adding another 'W' to his record.
“He’s wild, an average fighter with the skills," Mokaev told 'The National'. "A little bit strong, but he’s been a professional fighter since 2010.
"And if he’s having his debut now in UFC – that’s 13 years – what he’s been doing all his life?
“Mentally, that’s how I play games with these fighters. It means they skip some sessions, they weren’t consistent.
"And consistency is something that comes from the fighter’s mentality.
“If he couldn’t stay consistent in 13 years, I don’t know how he wants to stay consistent inside the cage.
"I need a finish. I want Round 2. And I will do my best to finish him.”
It's been a fairytale first 12 months since Mokaev made his UFC debut at the O2 almost 12 months ago to the day.
After defeating Cody Durden in 58 seconds, via guillotine choke - which won him 'Performance of the Night', and a $50,000 bonus - Mokaev followed that up with a unanimous decision triumph over Charles Johnson in Las Vegas.
He then beat Malcolm Gordon in Abu Dhabi via armbar in the third round, leading up to this weekend's fight against Filho.
Mokaev is also hoping his ascent to superstardom will help to change people's perceptions of refugees.
"I don't think they (people) understand," he said. "Respect the refugees more. Give them a little bit of a push and motivation to change their life
"Help them to open doors and show them the right path that they can do."
Last year, Mokaev sat down for an exclusive interview with Wigan Today, when he documented his arrival in the borough as a refugee.
And he spoke with great pride as to how his formative years in Wigan had prepared him well for the journey ahead.
"My journey from Dagestan to Wigan was a very interesting one," he said. "People ask me how I found myself in Wigan, and it was not up to me.
"It was what the Home Office decided...I could have ended up anywhere, and luckily I ended up in Wigan.
"I am so thankful this happened, I firmly believe everything happens for a reason and this certainly did.
"My memories of Wigan are all very positive, right from the start.
"Even when I had fights in school, it wasn't because anyone was picking on me, sometimes it was probably my fault.
"I took things too personal, the transitions I was making...everything in Dagestan was different to hear, and I didn't understand that.
"Especially because I didn't fully speak the language, I was using google translate, I took too many things personally.
"People wise, I always found others to be really good to me.
"My father still lives there, and I like to stay with him, because I know so many people in Wigan, and it's a lovely place to be in.
"The main goal of mine is to show the kids of Wigan and anywhere that, whatever you want to achieve, you can get there.
"Whether that is to reach the UFC, or get a contract with Wigan Warriors, or Wigan Athletic, you can get there.”