MENU
#UFC 217 #UFC Fight Night 55 #GSP #Michael Bisping #Conor McGregor


Shahbulat Shamhalaev - BellatorShahbulat “Sha” Shamhalaev is a man of few words. The 29-year-old M-1 veteran (11-1-1) simply enters the cage and lets his fists do the talking.

Though he acquired his fighting vocabulary in the Russian republic of Dagestan, there was no need for translation when Shamhalaev defeated Cody Bollinger and Mike Richman with first-round TKO wins in the quarter- and semi-finals of the Bellator Season 7 featherweight tournament.

Shamhalaev’s devastating punches have earned him the nickname “The Assassin.” “He’s a natural born killer,” said his manager, Sam Kardan, who brought him over six months ago from Russia’s Team Goretz to train with the BombSquad in Ithaca, N.Y.

There, Shamhalaev quickly made an impression on his new coach, Ryan Ciotoli. “Sha’s a scary dude,” he said. “When he goes out to fight, he fights. He’s trying to punch a hole through your face. Out of all the fighters I’ve ever trained, Jon Jones included, he’s probably the most talented guy.”

While Ciotoli calls Shamhalaev’s technique “unbelievable,” conditioning has been a central aspect of his training in Ithaca. “When he first got here, he was in terrible shape,” said Ciotoli. At the same time, they have been working on his cage game, since in Russia he was more accustomed to fighting in boxing rings.

Shamhalaev, for his part, likes training in Ithaca with such partners as Anthony Leone, Kenny Foster, and Pat Audinwood. “I don’t know exactly what it is, but I kind of click with people here. I feel especially good about the sparring,” he said via an interpreter.

When not training, Shamhalaev has been trying to improve his English by watching movies at a nearby cinema. “I haven’t liked anything so far,” he said. “I don’t know what the movies are called, so I just say ‘can I get a ticket for the next movie?’ I haven’t been lucky yet.”

More reliable forms of entertainment are playing video games or skyping friends on his iPad.

Many of these connections are to Dagestan, where he grew up by the Caspian Sea in the capital, Makhachkala.

“The way people look and behave is completely different from Russia,” he described the predominantly Muslim region. “But I’m not Dagestani. In Dagestan there are forty ethnicities. I’m Dargin.” Thus, although Shamhalaev spoke Russian in our interview, his first language is Dargwa, used by about half a million people in and around the republic.

Asked about the dangers of living in Dagestan – which borders Chechnya, the site of two recent wars, and has seen escalating street warfare since a militant Islamist organization has attracted a local following – Shamhalaev simply said: “It’s normal; one can live there. Generation after generation, there are set rules. Everybody knows what the rules are and what happens if you don’t follow them. But if you’re doing things you’re not supposed to, they will kill you.”

Tradition, respect for elders, and family are big in Dagestan, he said. Quite literally, in fact. Shamhalaev may have only two brothers and a sister, but he doesn’t even bother to count beyond the 18 first cousins.

His family is happy for him to be fighting, especially given Dagestan’s proud history and reputation in combat sports. For example, Dagestani MMA fighters currently hold championship titles in four of M-1 Global’s six weight classes.

Traditionally, however, Dagestan is famous for its wrestlers.

“The whole Russian Olympic wrestling team is Dagestani guys,” Shamhalaev explained. And the republic’s reputation in the sport goes far beyond Russian borders. “Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Macedonia… half of those teams are Dagestani,” he added.

As proud as Shamhalaev is of his republic’s wrestling prowess, his own preference is to be on his feet. That is where he started his training in Sanshou at the tender age of five, later adding kickboxing and Muay Thai.

At 17, he began fighting in earnest. Until 2009, when combat sports were legalized in Russia, that meant traveling to Moscow and muscling his way into underground bouts held in casinos and occasionally circus rings.

Weight-classes existed, but weigh-ins didn’t. Eye-gouging or breaking fingers were generally prohibited, but rules on head-butts or elbows varied by organizer.

Whatever the rules, Shamhalaev was in it for fun. And it’s no wonder he enjoyed himself – he doesn’t remember losing any fights.

Since legalization, Shamhalaev has turned his persistent wins into various Russian national and world titles in Muay Thai, Sanshou, kickboxing, and karate.

Most recently, in the U.S., he has been fighting his way through Bellator, which he likes for its straight-forward tournament format.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt either to be getting paid much better. In Russia, a $1,750 cash wad meant the night had gone well – $500 for showing up, $250 for winning, $1,000 for Fight of the Night. Shamhalaev’s first Bellator payout was a $16,000 check.

Now Shamhalaev has the chance to up the face amount to $100,000 in Bellator’s featherweight tournament final against Rad Martinez (14-2-0).

Is he worried about meeting the Utah native on his home turf in Salt Lake City? “I’m going to be alone with him in the cage,” Shamhalaev shrugged.

Martinez, for one, is looking forward to the challenge. “He’s a killer and likes to knock people out,” he said of his opponent. “His other Bellator fights were a couple of quick ones” – a fate Martinez is determined to avoid. “Hopefully my wrestling will be a strength for me. If I can stretch the fight out into the third round, that would be an advantage.”

Shamhalaev knows that well. “Rad is big,” he said. “He’s going to try to rush at me, and I’m going to try to get out of the way. It’s going to be like bull-fighting. I’ll be the torero.”

Olivia M. Hall is a freelance writer and anthropologist based in Ithaca, NY. Contact her at [email protected].

(Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA)

view original article >>
Report here if this news is invalid.

Comments

Show Comments

Related News

5 reasons to watch Bellator 188, where Noad Lahat headlines in his native Israel

  • 6 days ago
  • 15 views

Bellator is making the most of its time overseas, with Bellator 188 taking place Thursday in Tel Aviv, Israel.Filed under: Bellator, News read news >>

John Salter Questions Bellator 188 Opponent Jason Radcliffe's Chin | MMAWeekly.com

  • 6 days ago
  • 16 views

John Salter (14-3) turns his attention towards facing Jason Radcliffe (12-4) in a main card 185-pound bout at Bellator 188 in Tel Aviv, Israel. read news >>

Bellator 188 weigh-in results: Noad Lahat (146), Jeremiah Labiano (146) official for headliner

  • 6 days ago
  • 13 views

The weigh-ins are in the books for this week’s Bellator 188 event, and the fighters on the main card all hit their marks.Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News read news >>

Who wins Bellator heavyweight grand prix? A primer on the good, the old and the weird

  • 6 days ago
  • 17 views

Bellator’s heavyweight tournament is bound to get weird, which seems to be part of its purpose. So who are these guys, and what are their chances?Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News read news >>

Kimbo Slice the latest to get bobblehead treatment from Bellator – complete with a gold chain

  • 6 days ago
  • 3 views

Want another bobblehead to add to your collection next to Fedor, Royce and Randy? Get ready for the Kimbo Slice edition in January.Filed under: Bellator, Blue Corner, Featured, Featured Videos, News read news >>

From Brazil's karate team to the Bellator cage, Luiz Victor Rocha unshaken by bright lights

  • 6 days ago
  • 12 views

Luiz Victor Rocha is fighting on the Bellator MMA stage sooner than he expected but feels comfortable thanks to a life of competing in karate.Filed under: Bellator, News read news >>

Check out Noad Lahat's highlight reel before his main event at Bellator 188

  • 6 days ago
  • 21 views

Before he steps in the cage for his first main event for a major promotion, check out some of Noad Lahat’s highlights courtesy of Bellator.Filed under: Bellator, News, Videos read news >>

Will home pressure get to Noad Lahat in Bellator 188 headliner? Jimmy Smith weighs in

  • 5 days ago
  • 7 views

Is the pressure on for Noad Lahat when he fights for Bellator for the second time in front of his home fans in Tel Aviv? Filed under: Bellator, Featured, News, Videos read news >>

Matt Serra's take on Conor McGregor's Bellator 187 incident? 'Man, (expletive) that dude'

  • 5 days ago
  • 304 views

If you thought the news cycle was over for the Conor McGregor incident in Dublin, think again. Matt Serra has chimed in with a few F-bombs.Filed under: Bellator, Blue Corner, Featured Videos, News, U read news >>

Watch MMAjunkie Radio here (1 p.m. ET) with Bellator champ Ryan Bader, Phil Baroni

  • 5 days ago
  • 5 views

MMAjunkie Radio kicks off today at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) with guests Ryan Bader and Phil Baroni.Filed under: Bellator, News, Videos read news >>