15 Best Combat Sambo Fighters in UFC History

Sambo is a Russian martial art and combat sport that has been gaining popularity in mixed martial arts. Many fighters have trained in Sambo before competing in MMA, using the techniques and skills they have learned to gain an edge over their opponents. These are the best Sambo fighters in MMA history.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov is one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. The Russian fighter boasts an impressive record of 29 wins and 0 losses, making him the former undisputed UFC lightweight champion. Khabib’s record includes eight wins by knockout, 11 by submission, and ten by decision. He retired from the sport in 2020 after defeating Justin Gaethje in his final bout.

Before becoming a dominant force in MMA, Khabib honed his skills in Sambo. This Russian martial art focuses on throws, takedowns, and ground grappling. Khabib has an impressive sambo record, having won numerous championships at both the national and international levels. He is a two-time Combat Sambo World Champion and a two-time WCSF gold medalist.

Khabib’s background in Sambo has been instrumental in his success in MMA. His grappling skills are unparalleled, and he is known for his relentless takedowns and ground-and-pound techniques. Khabib’s use of Sambo in MMA has helped him secure multiple victories, including his famous win over Conor McGregor in 2018, where he submitted the Irishman with a neck crank.

In addition to his impressive record and use of Sambo, Khabib is known for his humility and respect for his opponents. He has become a role model for many MMA fans worldwide. His legacy in the sport will undoubtedly be remembered for years.

Rustam Khabilov

Rustam Khabilov is a professional mixed martial artist known for his expertise in Sambo, a Russian martial art and combat sport. He was born in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, Russia. Khabilov began his sambo career in his hometown at a young age and quickly became a standout athlete. He went on to win numerous national and international Sambo championships, including the Combat Sambo World Lightweight Championship.

In 2007, Khabilov transitioned to MMA and quickly made a name for himself. He gained a reputation for his dominant grappling and explosive takedowns, which he attributes to his extensive training in Sambo. Khabilov made his UFC debut in 2013 and had a successful career with the organization. He holds a professional record of 24 wins and four losses, with notable victories over fighters such as Jorge Masvidal, Chris Wade, and Kajan Johnson.

Khabilov’s use of Sambo in MMA has been instrumental in his success. Sambo is known for its emphasis on throws, takedowns, and submissions, all valuable MMA skills. Khabilov’s expertise in Sambo has allowed him to control his opponents on the ground and secure victories through submissions or dominant positions.

Merab Dvalishvili

Merab Dvalishvili is a Georgian mixed martial artist who competes in the UFC bantamweight division. He was born on November 10, 1990, in Tbilisi, Georgia, and began training in martial arts at a young age. Dvalishvili is known for his exceptional grappling skills, which he developed through extensive training in Sambo.

Sambo is a combat sport and martial art that originated in the Soviet Union. It combines wrestling, judo, and other martial arts and emphasizes throws, grappling, and submissions. Dvalishvili began training in Sambo when he was six and quickly developed a talent for the sport. He went on to win multiple national and international sambo championships as a youth. As an adult, he continued to compete in the sport at the highest levels.

Dvalishvili’s success in Sambo has translated well to his MMA career. He has a professional record of 16 wins and four losses, with 3 of those wins coming by way of knockout. Dvalishvili has used his sambo skills in the cage, dominating opponents with his grappling and ground-and-pound. He is also willing to stand and trade strikes, making him a well-rounded fighter.

Dvalishvili’s accomplishments in MMA include a 9-fight win streak in the UFC, including a victory over highly ranked bantamweight fighters such as Petr Yan and Jose Aldo. He is currently ranked #1 in the UFC bantamweight division and is considered one of the top up-and-coming fighters in the sport.

Islam Makhachev

Islam Makhachev is a UFC lightweight division champion from Russia with a background in mixed martial arts. Born in Dagestan, Russia, Makhachev is considered one of the most promising talents in the sport of MMA. He is also known for his expertise in the sport of Sambo.

Makhachev began his Sambo career at a young age and quickly rose through the ranks to become a world-class competitor. He has won numerous sports accolades, including two gold medals at the Combat Sambo World Championships, one gold medal at the World Sambo Championships, and a gold medalist at the Russian National Sambo Championships.

In MMA, Makhachev has also proven to be a dominant force, with an impressive record of 25 wins and only one loss. He made his UFC debut in 2015 and has since racked up wins against top-ranked opponents such as Charles Oliveria, Alexander Volkanovski, and Bobby Green.

One of Makhachev’s greatest strengths in MMA is his use of sambo techniques. He seamlessly integrates his sambo expertise with other grappling styles to create a unique and highly effective fighting style. Makhachev’s grappling prowess has allowed him to control his opponents on the ground and secure an impressive 11 submissions in MMA.

Omari Akhmedov

Omari Akhmedov is a professional mixed martial artist from Dagestan, Russia, who has made a name for himself in the UFC. Akhmedov began his martial arts journey with Sambo, a Russian martial art emphasizing grappling and throwing techniques. His experience in Sambo has served him well in his MMA career, where he has used his grappling skills to dominate opponents.

Akhmedov has an impressive record of 24 wins, eight losses, and one draw in his professional MMA career. He has defeated top fighters such as Zak Cummings, Tom Breese, and Tim Boetsch. Akhmedov’s impressive record speaks to his skill and dedication to the sport.

Before transitioning to MMA, Akhmedov was an accomplished sambo practitioner. In fact, he was a World Combat Sambo champion. Akhmedov’s success in Sambo has undoubtedly helped him in his MMA career. Sambo techniques such as throws, takedowns, and submissions are all useful skills in MMA. Akhmedov’s background in Sambo has allowed him to execute these techniques precisely.

In his MMA fights, Akhmedov has demonstrated his mastery of Sambo. He has used his grappling skills to take down opponents and control them on the ground. He has also used Sambo throws to put his opponents off-balance and gain an advantage in the fight. Akhmedov’s use of Sambo in MMA has not only helped him win fights but has also brought attention to the effectiveness of Sambo in combat sports.

Magomed Mustafaev

Magomed Mustafaev is a Russian mixed martial artist who has gained international recognition for his proficiency in Sambo. This Russian martial art combines elements of judo, wrestling, and other combat sports. Mustafaev has an impressive record in Sambo competitions, having won numerous regional and national championships in Russia.

In addition to his success in Sambo, Mustafaev has made a name for himself in the MMA world, with a professional record of 14 wins and three losses. He has competed in some of the world’s most prestigious MMA organizations, including the UFC. He has achieved notable victories over tough opponents.

Mustafaev’s mastery of Sambo has undoubtedly contributed to his success in MMA. Mustafaev’s ability to precisely execute these techniques has earned him a reputation as a skilled and formidable fighter. Aside from his athletic achievements, Mustafaev is also respected for his dedication and work ethic. He has trained under some of the most respected coaches in the sport, and his commitment to constant improvement has allowed him to continually elevate his game.

Dan Severn

Dan Severn is a former professional mixed martial artist and a wrestling legend with an impressive record of 101 wins, 19 losses seven draws. He is known for his remarkable contributions to the sport of Sambo and his use of Sambo techniques in MMA. Severn competed in the heavyweight division and was a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion. He also represented the United States in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Severn’s Sambo career began in the early 1990s when he became one of the first Americans to train in the sport. He quickly became a force to be reckoned with in Sambo, winning multiple championships in the United States and Russia. He earned the prestigious rank of Master of Sport in Sambo, which is the highest level of achievement in the sport.

Severn’s success in Sambo translated well into his MMA career, where he effectively utilized his Sambo techniques. He was particularly known for his ground-and-pound and his ability to control his opponents on the ground. Severn’s Sambo background also gave him an edge in grappling. He could blend his wrestling and Sambo skills to create a unique style that few opponents could counter.

Throughout his MMA career, Severn faced off against some of the sport’s most notable figures, including Ken Shamrock, Royce Gracie, and Mark Coleman. His achievements in MMA include winning the UFC 5 tournament and being a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion in professional wrestling.

Umar Nurmagomedov

Umar Nurmagomedov competes in the bantamweight division of the UFC as a mixed martial artist from Russia. He is also a highly accomplished sambo practitioner, having won numerous sports championships.

In his professional MMA career, Umar Nurmagomedov has amassed an impressive record of 13 wins and no losses, with 2 of those wins coming by knockout and seven by submission. He made his UFC debut in January 2021 and has since been on a winning streak.

In the world of Sambo, Umar Nurmagomedov has also achieved great success. This fighter has accomplished a great deal in their career in combat sports, including winning the WCSF and becoming the Sambo Champion at 62kg. He also earned first place and a gold medal in the WMMAA World Championship at Bantamweight.

Umar Nurmagomedov’s proficiency in Sambo has been a key factor in his success in MMA. His ability to take opponents down and control them on the ground has been a major part of his game. His submission skills have also been on display in several of his fights.

Blagoy Ivanov

Blagoj Ivanov was born on October 9, 1986, in Sandanski, Blagoevgrad Region is a Bulgarian mixed martial arts and sambo wrestler who competes in the heavyweight category. Actively engaged in martial arts began at the age of seven at his father’s instruction, a Bulgarian sambo champion. Practiced Sambo and Judo in the sports club “Lokomotiv,” and later joined the CSKA.

He is the World Combat Sambo Champion, World Championship bronze medalist in Sports Sambo, European Champion, and International Master of Sports. He has participated in professional MMA fights since 2007, known for his performances at tournaments of the American organization Bellator. He is a finalist in the tenth season of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.  

Currently, he trains at Absolut Club in Sofia. Since 2018, he has performed in UFC and as of January 2024, he has three wins and five losses in this promotion.

Sergei Pavlovich

Sergei Pavlovich is a Russian mixed martial artist known for his impressive record in the sport of Sambo. Throughout his career, Pavlovich has achieved numerous accomplishments and established himself as a formidable force in combat sports.

Pavlovich gained significant experience from practicing wrestling at a young age. He later went to the army, where he trained in hand-to-hand fighting and combat Sambo. This has significantly influenced his career as a mixed martial artist. These disciplines have helped him develop his striking skills and takedown defense, which are crucial aspects of his fighting style.

Pavlovich has also successfully incorporated his sambo skills into his MMA career. He debuted professionally in 2015 and quickly gained attention for his explosive style and grappling prowess. Pavlovich has racked up several impressive victories in his MMA career, with 18 wins and two losses. He has notable victories over Derek Lewis, Tai Tuivasa, and Shamil Abdurakhimov.

Pavlovich’s use of Sambo in MMA has been particularly effective, as he has demonstrated a mastery of the art’s throws, takedowns, and ground control techniques. His ability to transition seamlessly between striking and grappling has made him a dangerous opponent for any fighter in the heavyweight division.

Nikita Krylov

Nikita Krylov is a Ukrainian mixed martial artist who has made a name in Sambo. He boasts an impressive list of accomplishments in Sambo and MMA, which have solidified his reputation as a formidable fighter.

Krylov began his sambo career young and quickly showed promise as a competitor. He earned a Master of Sports of Ukraine in Kyokushin karate and hand-to-hand combat, a Master of Sports in Submission Fighting, and the 2013 ADCC Ukraine Champion.

In MMA, Krylov has amassed a record of 30 wins and 9 losses, with 12 of those wins coming through knockout and 16 submissions. He has used his sambo skills in the octagon, utilizing his grappling and submission techniques to secure victories over some of the sport’s top competitors.

Krylov’s use of Sambo in MMA has been equally impressive, as he has showcased his skills in several high-profile fights. In 2023, he submitted Ryan Spann with a triangle choke in the first round, and in 2022 he knocked out Alexander Gustafsson in the first round. His combination of Sambo and MMA skills has made him a formidable opponent in the octagon. His impressive accomplishments in both sports are a testament to his dedication and hard work.

Shavkat Rakhmonov

Shavkat Rakhmonov is a Kazakhstani mixed martial artist who has made a name for himself in the sport of Sambo. Rakhmonov holds an impressive record of 18 wins and no losses in his professional MMA career. 

Rakhmonov’s use of Sambo in MMA has been highly effective, as he has been able to dominate opponents with his grappling skills. His aggressive style of fighting, combined with his expertise in Sambo, has made him a formidable opponent in the octagon. In fact, 9 of his 18 wins have come through submission and 8 via knockout, highlighting his proficiency in Sambo.

Rakhmonov’s most notable victory was against Alex Oliveira in October 2020. Rakhmonov was able to submit Oliveira with a guillotine choke in the first round, showcasing his dominance in the grappling department. Rakhmonov’s undefeated record and success in MMA have made him a rising star in combat sports. With his impressive skill set and aggressive fighting style, Rakhmonov is definitely a fighter to watch out for in the future.

Oleg Taktarov

Oleg Taktarov is a legendary figure in combat sports, particularly in the discipline of Sambo. He holds an impressive record of accomplishments in Sambo, including winning the Russian national championships multiple times and becoming a world champion. Taktarov holds a Master Of Sport in Sambo.

Taktarov’s success in Sambo translated well into MMA, where he made a name for himself as a skilled fighter with diverse skills. Taktarov’s use of Sambo in MMA was notable for its effectiveness. Taktarov often relied on his grappling skills to take down opponents and control them on the ground, with his record standing at 17 wins, 5 losses, and 2 draws.

One of Taktarov’s most notable accomplishments in MMA was winning the UFC 6 tournament in 1995. He defeated three opponents in one night to claim the championship title. He faced and defeated Tank Abbott, Anthony Macias, and Dave Beneteau in one night. Taktarov’s sambo skills were on full display during the tournament. His grappling ability allowed him to submit two of his opponents and control the third to win by decision.

In addition to his success in MMA, Taktarov has also had a successful acting career, appearing in several movies and TV shows. Despite his success outside the ring, Taktarov remains respected in combat sports. His legacy as a sambo practitioner and MMA fighter is cemented in history.

Andrei Arlovski

Andrei Arlovski is a Belarusian-American mixed martial artist who has made a name in combat sports. He is known for his impressive list of records, accomplishments in the sport of Sambo, and use of Sambo techniques in MMA. Amassing a record of 34 wins with 21 losses and 2 draws.

Arlovski began training in Sambo at a young age and has achieved great success, including being the European Youth Sambo champion, earning a second-place finish at the World Cup, and placing second at the World Sambo Championship. They are a top competitor in the sport, demonstrating their skill and dedication through their impressive accomplishments.

In addition to his success in Sambo, Arlovski has also had a successful career in MMA. He is a former UFC heavyweight champion and has competed in other notable organizations such as Strikeforce, Affliction, and ONE Championship. Throughout his career, Arlovski has used his sambo skills effectively, incorporating throws, trips, and submission techniques into his fights.

Arlovski’s use of Sambo in MMA has helped popularize the sport and showcase its effectiveness in combat sports. His success in Sambo and MMA has cemented his status as one of the greatest combat sports athletes ever.

Aleksei Oleinik

Aleksei Oleinik is a Russian mixed martial artist widely regarded as one of MMA’s most accomplished Sambo practitioners. Born in Ukraine, Oleinik started practicing Sambo when he was young. Over the years, he has won numerous medals and accolades in Sambo.

He won the World Combat Sambo Championship in 2005 and the Eurasian Combat Sambo Championship in 2001. Additionally, he was a five-time Moscow Combat Sambo Champion and the Russian Combat Sambo Championship in 2003 and 2004.

In addition to his success in Sambo, Oleinik has also made a name for himself in MMA. He has competed in various promotions, including UFC, M-1 Global, and Pride Fighting Championships. He has amassed an impressive record of 60 wins,17 losses, and 1 draw. Out of his 60 wins, an impressive 47 came by submission.

Oleinik’s list of accomplishments in the sport of Sambo and his use of Sambo techniques in MMA has made him a respected and feared competitor. He has proven that Sambo, with its emphasis on grappling and submission holds, can be an effective martial art in the world of MMA.


Sambo has played a significant role in the success of many MMA fighters, providing them with a diverse set of techniques and strategies that they can use in the cage. These fighters have all trained in Sambo before their MMA careers and have achieved great success in the sport. From Khabib Nurmagomedov to Fedor Emelianenko, these fighters have demonstrated the effectiveness of Sambo in MMA and have inspired a new generation of martial artists to take up this dynamic and challenging combat sport.

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Gregori Povolotski

I have been practicing martial arts since 2007. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a huge passion for combat sports, especially Muay Thai and boxing. Helping people on their martial arts journey is what drives me to keep training and learn new things. Read More About Me

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