Muslim Salikhov, Russia’s legendary 5-time sanda world champion and up and coming UFC star, hails from Dagestan, a mountainous Russian republic in the North Caucasus, bordering the Caspian Sea. Salikhov has made his nation’s sanda famous for its full-contact sport fighters. He’s inspired an entire generation with the confidence to beat the once indomitable Chinese in this sport that is looking to an Olympic bid in the near future. Now Salikhov brings Dagestan’s warrior tradition, and his deadly knockout style, to MMA.
Salikhov’s natural succession from world champion in amateur sanda to professional MMA – notably in Russia’s M1-Global and China’s Kunlun Fights – saw him ascend the ranks of the world’s top Dagestani professional fighters. His nation’s contemporaries include Khabib Nurmagomedov and UFC featherweight sensation Zabit Magomedshapirov among many others. This Dagestani new wave is set to invigorate MMA, and Muslim Salikhov fans welcome his UFC debut in what will also be China’s inaugural live Ultimate Fighting event November 25 at UFC Fight Night 122 in Shanghai.
Salikhov’s fighting roots go back to his hometown of Buynaksk, where he started training in sanda and wushu at Dagestan’s famous Five Directions of the World school at the age of nine. After becoming a seasoned competitor and champion in many Dagestani, Russian national and European wushu competitions, Salikhov won his first gold medal in the 2005 8th World Wushu Championships in Hanoi. He subsequently won the gold medal in the 9th WWC in Beijing (2007), 10th WWC in Toronto (2009), 11th WWC in Ankara (2011), and the 13th WWC in Jakarta (2015). He also won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Wushu Tournament held in conjunction with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the gold medal in the 2013 Combat Games in St. Petersburg.
King of Kungfu
After winning the gold medal in the 2005 World Wushu Championships Salikhov was invited in 2006 to fight in China’s famous “King of Kungfu” competition in Chongqing. The promoters did not believe he would win his weight division – much less the entire tournament. But Salikhov prevailed with his characteristic power and style, stunning a Chinese audience and becoming the first (and only) non-Chinese fighter to win the King of Kungfu (aka “King of Sanda”) title.
Afterwards Salikhov became famous in China and has since remained a much loved sports figure there. Crowds still surge to get autographs and photos when he fights, and his popularity among China’s growing number of MMA fans is huge. Becoming a sanda and MMA star in China also won him deep and lasting respect throughout the Chinese martial arts world, earning him the nickname “Lao Mu” – roughly translated as old, or respected “Master Mu(slim.)”
Sanda to MMA
In 2015 Salikhov won his fifth and final gold medal in the 13th World Wushu Championships in Jakarta, fulfilling his ambition in the sport of sanda. Although Salikhov began fighting in MMA fights in 2011, he officially retired from the amateur sport of sanda in 2015 to focus all his energies on professional MMA. Salikhov has amassed a hefty 12-1 record (10 by knockout) as a welterweight in mostly Russian and Chinese arenas including M-1 Global and Kunlun Fights. His last Kunlun bout in June of 2017 saw him knocking out seasoned fighter Melvin Guillard with a devastating spinning hook kick and finishing him off in 1:33 minutes. Undoubtedly, this also spurred UFC officials to offer him his initial contract in October 2017 for his Shanghai UFC debut.
Salikhov has trained around the globe, including camps with Phuket Top Team in Thailand and American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Currently he trains out of Mark Henry’s camp in New Jersey, and between fights continues training back in Dagestan with a close-knit circle of Dagestani MMA training partners. Muslim lives in his hometown with his wife, son and daughter.