Wigan's Muhammad Mokaev ready for anything the UFC can throw at him
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He says his grounding at the Deanery High School, where he played both rugby league and football, means nothing will faze him ever again!
How and why 21-year-old Mokaev's journey from the Russian republic of Dagestan to the bright lights of the Ultimate Fighting Championship detoured through Wigan is something the Hollywood script writers will surely be looking at in years to come.
Sitting down with Wigan Today, his tale should provide inspiration to anyone and everyone who dares to dream.
Literally anything is possible.
For a kid who arrived in Wigan with his father as a refugee in 2012, shortly after the death of his mum, with nothing but the clothes on his back, labelling it a fairytale would be a serious disservice.
"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."
Starting high school presents challenges for every youngster - let alone those from almost 4,000km away, who don't speak a word of English.
There were teething problems - including several playground fights.
But Mokaev has only happy memories of his schooling in the borough.
"My memories of Wigan are all very positive, right from the start," he said.
"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.
"Also there was too much going on in my head, we were always waiting for decisions from the Home Office, and I'd lost my mother in 2012.
"So with all this going on, mentally I wasn't always in a good place, I was angry, upset, over sensitive.
"But 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."
Unsurprisingly, Mokaev was bitten by the sporting bug almost immediately.
"When I first arrived in Wigan, I immediately saw what a sporting town it was," he said.
"I saw kids walking about with rugby balls, with footballs, in every park there was a game going on with many people playing.
"I played football and rugby at school, we used to go down to the SoccerDome next to the stadium.
"I enjoyed that, but I just wanted to cheat!
"In rugby, all of the lads were bigger than me...I loved to tackle them, but I didn't really know the rules.
"When I got the ball, I used to run from one side of the field to the other so they couldn't catch me!
"I also went to Wigan Youth Zone when it opened, and the first time I went there was a boxing session.
"The facilities there were fantastic, it was very cheap, and I enjoyed it.
"My father gave me £20 to last me the week, and I kept going there.
"I did wrestling, boxing, and sometimes a mix of that with shoot boxing.
"I loved it, messing around, because it meant I could take down wrestlers and take down boxers.
"From there I joined a wrestling club in Wigan, and from then it was a wrestling club in Salford, the headquarters of wrestling in the UK.
"I was getting the train there every day after school, and that's what gave me my grounding in the sport."
It wasn't long before Mokaev realised his hobby had become a calling.
"In 2015 when I made my amateur debut in Liverpool, and I was training in Wigan, I knew I could beat these guys," he said.
"I was beating professionals right from the start, and I was thinking: 'Why don't I train for this?'
"I knew I had power that the other guys didn't have, and I knew there was even more to come.
"Back in Dagestan, everybody watches wrestling on the television.
"There's nothing much else to do, it's either criminality or wrestling, that's it.
"That's why I wanted to try wrestling over here.
"At first I didn't have the right documents, and I would see guys who I had beaten travelling to take part in major championships, competing when I should have been there.
"That upset me, but I was determined to get all my documents, and when I signed with the UFC, I finally received my UK citizenship."
As for the future? That's simple.
"I am excited with the way it's going, but this is not my final goal," he said.
"I don't want to just be a fighter in the UFC, I want to be a champion in the UFC.
"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."
Mokaev faces Charles Johnson on Saturday evening on the UFC’s second big London supercard of the year.
Back in March, he destroyed Cody Durden inside one minute at the O2 Arena on his UFC debut.