Searching for Future Champions returns with a look at yet another talented fighter from the North Caucasus region, Marif Piraev. Check the story stream on the right side of the page or the links at the bottom of the article for previous installments of the series, where I've laid out in depth the methods and criteria underlying the scouting report.
9) Marif Piaev, Welterweight (8-0)
Camp: Fight Nights Team/Phuket Top Team
Years Pro: 2.25
The Dagestanis arrived in the UFC with a bang (all four finished their first fight), and the steady trickle of prospects shows signs of welling into a full-blown flood of talented youngsters from the North Caucasus with the recent signings of Rashid Magomedov, Zubair Tuhugov, and Bekbulat Magomedov (who's still tied up in China). I've already profiled two more, Ramazan Emeev and Islam Makhachev, but young Marif Piraev could end up becoming the best of the bunch. Alternately known as "Piranha" and "The Lion of Dagestan", Piraev deviates substantially from the wrestling-heavy approach that we've come to associate with fighters from the tiny Russian republic, showcasing quick and powerful hands, a solid kicking game, and enough submission chops to be downright dangerous on the mat. What makes Piraev special compared to his countrymen is his outstanding combination of athleticism and speed: he oozes upside, and with the right training environment he can grow into an absolute monster, though more likely at lightweight than his current weight class.
Striking is the foundation of Piraev's game, and he wields his arsenal with excellent movement, angles, sense of the range, and timing. Unlike many fighters with a base in Sambo, Piraev's punches have the clean, technical aesthetic we tend to associate with top-notch strikers: he throws straight shots from a high, tight guard, keeps his feet under him, and weaves together fluid two-to-four punch combinations. As he's spent more time at Phuket Top Team, his kicks have evolved from a decent supplemental skill to a legitimately dangerous threat at long range. Piraev unleashes a steady stream of hard round kicks to the legs, body, and head, and they're a big part of what's allowed him to compete so successfully against much bigger and longer opponents at welterweight. He has a bit of room for improvement with his kicking game, though: he rarely utilizes them in combination with his hands, and he has a particularly bad habit of not bringing his leg back quickly enough, thereby allowing his opponent to catch the kick and take him down. This is a perfectly fixable technical flaw, though - it's usually the result of trying to pull your leg back in a circular arc rather than a straight line. All told, Piraev is an extremely promising young striker, and will be even more dangerous if he drops down to 155 and no longer has to negotiate an extra two to three inches of range.
That relative lack of size shows up most distinctly in Piraev's wrestling and clinch games. As we've come to expect from the Dagestani Sambo practitioners, he's a capable offensive wrestler, with a deep arsenal of Judo-style throws, foot sweeps, and inside trips to go along with his well-timed blast doubles, but his takedown defense suffers when he's facing older, stronger guys who outweigh him by fifteen or twenty pounds on fight night. This problem is exacerbated by the technical flaw with his kicks that I mentioned above: most of his opponents' takedowns have come off of caught kicks. Piraev rarely gets caught up in the clinch for extended periods of time, but when he does he could stand to improve his striking. The openings are there for more knees and the like, but it's simply not something he seems to do much of right now. There are some promising aspects of Piraev's wrestling and clinch games, and a few flaws, but I tend to think that a little time in the gym and dropping down would largely solve the aforementioned problems.
Even if Piraev's taken down, however, he's a long way from helpless. A great many Sambo-based fighters tend to shell up and hang on for dear life when their opponent's in top position, since under Combat Sambo rules there's a guarantee that the referee will stand you up if you can maintain guard for a set period of time. That's not the case with Piraev. Instead, he actively hunts for submissions from the moment his back hits the mat, keeping his hips active and working for armbars and triangles at a frenetic pace; he also has a number of nice sweeps in his arsenal. Nobody's going to confuse him with Fabricio Werdum, but for a young fighter having a solid guard a definite plus, and it largely mitigates the effects of his mediocre takedown defense. From top position, Piraev shows real pop in his ground and pound and moves nicely to dominant positions, though he could stand to maintain a heavier base. He's also a skillful and opportunistic scrambler, with good instincts and an eye for small openings.
All things considered, Piraev seems to have a bright future ahead of him. He trains at one of the best camps in Russia, Fight Nights Team, alongside such notables as UFC flyweight Ali Bagautinov, recent UFC signee Gasan Umalatov, Bellator champ Vitaly Minakov, and a host of other talented fighters. He's also been taking trips to Thailand to train at Phuket Top Team, and the improvement in his striking has been obvious. It's essential, however, that he make the drop to lightweight. Most of the notable flaws in his game are the direct result of his lack of size relative to his competition, and given his youth it's a safe bet that he'll eventually grow into a good-sized lightweight.
Piraev has beaten decent if not outstanding competition on the regional circuit, most notably recent UFC signee (who was quickly cut due to his neo-Nazi ties) Benjamin Brinsa. He needs a bit more time and experience, perhaps a year or so, to develop his grappling and wrestling, and sharpen his striking. If he cuts down and continues to improve, however, there's every reason to think Piraev can join his countryman Khabib Nurmagomedov in the top 10 or even higher.
25-23: Steve Mocco, Michinori Tanaka, and Nick Newell
22-20: Max Nunes, Gleristone Santos, and Walter Gahadza
19-18: Ramazan Emeev and Rick Glenn
17-16: Georgi Karakhanyan and Jim Alers
15-14: Tyrone Spong and Marlon Moraes
13-12: Mansour Barnaoui and Islam Makhachev