Mairbek Taisumov confident he’ll soon be fighting ranked opponents on US soil

Mairbek Taisumov, Conor McGregor

Mairbek Taisumov has won his last six fights — five of them via knockout. Under ordinary circumstances, the Russian-Austrian lightweight would have earned a ranked opponent by now. Yet his situation has been anything but normal.

Despite his incredible success in the UFC lightweight division, Taisumov has been hindered by a litany of issues unrelated to fighting — most notably a longstanding difficulty obtaining a United States visa, and more recently, a United States Anti-Doping Agency suspension due to a tainted dietary supplement.

With his suspension over and his visa issues potentially nearing a solution, however, Mairbek Taisumov is feeling optimistic. He’s set to return to the cage opposite Brazil’s Carlos Diego Ferreira at UFC 242 on September 7 in Abu Dhabi, and he’s confident good things will follow if he’s victorious.

“I’m feeling very good,” Taisumov told BJPenn.com one week before UFC 242. “I had a great training camp. I can’t wait to step back in the cage.”

Taisumov has split his training for this fight between Baku, Azerbaijan, Amsterdam, Netherlands, and Phuket, Thailand, fine-tuning specific facets of his game in each of these far-flung destinations.

“The first part of my training camp started in Baku, Azerbaijan where I’ve trained in the Olympic Center with the national wrestling team,” he explained. “I’m always honored and very motivated when I have the chance to train with such strong and skilled people.

“The second part of my camp was in Amsterdam, Holland where I sharpened my stand-up skills with Dutch style kickboxing. I enjoyed every training session, especially the sparring sessions with very talented kickboxers.

“From Amsterdam I went to Phuket, Thailand — my second home and last part of my camp,” Taisumov continued. “At Tiger Muay Thai I had my own team and trainers. I trained 2-3 times per day from 5am to 6 pm. We worked a lot on my strength and conditioning worked hard on my boxing skills and I was lucky enough to have fighters and brothers who were preparing as well for UFC 242, and ONE Championship fights. So I had enough sparring partners.”

Ferreira is not ranked in the UFC lightweight division, but Taisumov considers him an  interesting challenge. The Brazilian also recently defeated Taisumov’s friend Rustam Khabilov, so there is vengeance to be had.

“To be honest I stopped complaining [about not getting ranked opponents] a while ago, I accept whoever steps into the cage with me,” Taisumov said of the matchup. “It’s the UFC — the Champions League of this sport. There’s nobody in the organization you can call a ‘nobody’.

“Also Diego is a great fighter,” he added. “He fought Dustin [Poirier] and many other strong guys. The fact that he won against my brother Rustam Khabilov made me very happy to accept the fight. The loss of my brother is my loss, so I see this like a rematch, or better said, payback for my brother.”

While Taisumov has been angling for a ranked opponent, he understands that his long-standing inability to fight in the United States has weakened his case for one. Because he’s been unable to fight on US soil, the UFC has been forced to relegate him to smaller cards in smaller markets, against lower-profile opponents.

“The main reason why it hasn’t happened is most likely my US visa issue,” he said. “Outside the USA the UFC usually doesn’t arrange pay-per-view events, and therefore it doesn’t make sense for them to give me big fights since it’s not profitable. From an organizational perspective it makes sense, because you need to sell fights as well to earn money.

“I like [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby’s work and I respect what he’s doing,” Taisumov added. “Sean understands well that I deserve a ranked fighter, but we need to solve the visa issues and he’d happily give me the fight that fans are looking for. He’d like to see me fighting the top-10 [of the division].”

Taisumov’s visa issues have certainly slowed his rise through the UFC lightweight division, but he’s optimistic that those issues will soon be a thing of the past. He and his team have been hard at work solving the problem, and the hope is that he’ll be able to fight on American soil next year.

“My manager Sufyan Cultrera is working on the case together with my lawyers and after my fight in Abu Dhabi we’re requesting a petition via the UFC organization, and we will go for a new and hopefully successful visa run this time,” he explained. “Hopefully things will change by the end of this year or beginning next year.”

Mairbek Taisumov is hopeful that a United States visa will open the door to higher-profile fights in the Octagon. The foremost priority, of course, is defeating Ferreira in Abu Dhabi.

“First I have to win,” he said. “Nobody is perfect, neither Diego nor me. Anything can happen inside the Octagon. Presuming I win the fight, it definitely makes me deserve a great upcoming fight.”

While Taisumov is well-aware of the unpredictable nature of a cage fight, he is confident he can hang with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Ferreira no matter where the fight unfolds — and perhaps even submit him.

“I really like this [Brazilian jiu-jitsu],” he said. “It’s very challenging and I definitely enjoy rolling with the boys. When it’s necessary and I end up on the ground with [Ferreira], nothing is impossible. I’m not new to this sport and it’s mixed martial arts so I need to defend takedowns as well as submit whenever it’s possible or necessary. He’s a good fighter and good at BJJ, but nobody is perfect. So let’s see what will happen.

“I know that I can win,” he added. “I have to prove it in the cage and I’m definitely ready. But like always, no predictions from my side. Only God knows what’s gonna happen, but I’ll give my best. On the 7th of September you’ll see a very hungry Mairbek Taisumov. I won’t back down in the stand-up or on the ground ground, I’m ready for war.”

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/29/2019.