With a split decision loss the sole blemish on his 12-1 professional record Rustam Khabilov, who recently signed with One FC, is one of the most outstanding fighters to have emerged from the Russian scene in recent years.
It is surprising given how successful heavyweights such as Sergei Kharitonov, Vladimir Matyushenko and, of course, Fedor Emelianenko have been that there are not prominent Russian fighters in major MMA organizations.
Bellator recently snapped up another outstanding prospect in Andrey Koreshkov and also have Rasul Mirzaev and
Vyacheslav Vasilevsky on the roster although they have yet to give a debut to any of these fighters. There is a healthy domestic scene in Russia but it is possible UFC matchmakers have concerns about how competitive the standard really is, preferring to focus on tried and tested talent pools in the US and Brazil.
Those questions are closer to being answered with Bellator now boasting a healthy contingent of Russian fighters and Khabilov set to be one of the stars of ONE FC. At present he has probably the best record on the entire roster, one better than Filipino Eduard Folayang whose record currently stands at 11-1.
He is a Combat Sambo World Champion and will be looking for win number 13 at ONE FC 'Battle of Heroes' in Jakarta on Feburary 11th but will not be in for an easy night against BJJ World Champion Rodrigo Ribeiro. The Brazilian is dropping down from middleweight meaning he should have a significant size advantage over Khabilov who is capable of making 155 lbs.
Khabilov is best known for this brutal suplex knockout over Akin Duran in 2009:
M-1 Challenge 2009 - Rustam Khabilov vs. Akin Duran - Brutal suplex knockout (via cpkarhu)
While it is difficult to assess any fighter based on eight seconds of footage this does give a pretty accurate insight into Khabilov's style. He looks much more comfortable on his feet than the average wrestler but seems to only use his striking to set up takedowns.
As you would expect from a Combat Sambo World Champion Khabilov focuses on takedowns and submissions although he likes to soften opponents up with ground and pound. He has been the distance six times which could suggest he has a problem finishing fights although it also means he has plenty of experience and as well as tried and tested cardio.
Khabilov has faced some decent opposition. His sole loss came by way of split decision to Ruslan Khaskhanov who was 8-2 at the time and he also beat a then 6-1 Karen Grigoryan and overcame veteran Vener Galiev whose record was at 12-5 when they fought.
He is listed as being a member of the highly reputable Legion Fight Team who have helped him adapt his Sambo style of fighting into a system which is highly effective in MMA. However he is currently training with Greg Jackson in the US which is an intriguing development.
If there are any limitations to using Combat Sambo as a base for MMA Jackson is likely to identify then and help Khabilov to work on them. It is also difficult to draw parallels between Sambo and other wrestling styles but the Russian's takedowns are only going to improve now that he is training every day with NCAA level wrestlers.
It is a style which could make him particularly effective fighting in Asia where wrestling is nowhere near as predominant a style as it is in the US. At the age of 25 he is only just approaching his peak years and still has a ton of potential which training at Jackson's should help him to realize.
In the past fighters like Emelianenko, Kharitonov and Matyushenko were thrust into the fray quite quickly, fighting for major international events relatively early in their careers. Khabilov could benefit from having taken a more patient route and if he is as good as his record suggests ONE FC is the perfect place for him.
Fans in Asia could learn to love him for his highlight reel slams in the same way they did Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson and fighting for the biggest MMA show in Asia will give him the sort of publicity which competing for M-1 never could.
He will however have to get past Ribeiro, a fighter who could pose some problems for him stylistically. Khabilov's style seems to revolve around putting opponents on their back and the third degree BJJ black belt will not exactly be uncomfortable there.
Although Ribeiro has had mixed results in his MMA career he is extremely experienced and only moved to Evolve MMA relatively recently where he will benefit from working every day with a team of trainers which includes world champions in boxing, Muay Thai and BJJ and is likely to have improved dramatically as a result.
Khabilov is still young enough to bounce back from a loss but a win over such a dangerous opponent on a high profile event would be a fantastic way to announce himself to the world. Fedor may no longer be the dominant force he once was but there is a new generation of Russian fighters emerging and Khabilov will be looking to follow in the 'Last Emperor's' footsteps by making a name for himself in Asia.