There may be no bigger ‘what if’ story in recent UFC history than the MMA career of Zabit Magomedsharipov. The Dagestani first made waves on the regional scene, winning a featherweight title with Absolute Championship Berkut, and running up a 12-1 record on his way to a contract with the world’s largest MMA promotion.
Known for his high energy, creative striking style, and scrappy, scrambling wrestling game, Magomedsharipov went 6-0 in a little over two years of fighting inside the Octagon. With a victory over Calvin Kattar in late 2019, he seemed on the cusp of his first UFC title shot. A planned bout with Yair Rodriguez fell by the wayside shortly afterward, however—due to injury and other issues between ‘El Pantera’ and the promotion.
In 2021, reports surfaced that Magomedsharipov was suffering from serious health issues and required surgery for a condition related to his immune system. And while news surfaced last fall that he’d be making his MMA return sometime in the not too distant future, more recent comments from the fighter seem to suggest he’s essentially retired from active competition to pursue a new career in medicine.
In a recent interview on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, onetime Magomedsharipov training partner—and current UFC bantamweight champion—Aljamain Sterling gave fans a reminder of just how good the Russian was inside the cage. Notably, with talk from Sterling that he might soon be headed for the featherweight division, he recounted what it was like for him to train with one of the best 145ers in the world.
“He threw a 360 spinning ninja kick and the leg wrapped around my neck. I closed my eyes. And I’d never seen a ninja jump at me like that in a room ever,” Sterling told Rogan, recounting one of the few times he’s been knocked out in MMA. “Like, I’m not in shape, Ray [Longo] just asked me to jump in there with this guy. I didn’t know who the hell he was, but I felt like I was set up for failure. He throws a 360—he’s doing sidekicks, he’s doing jumping switchkicks. So I’m like ‘Yo, what in the fuck is going on?’
“And he’s a lot bigger than me. I mean, although he’s only 45, but I didn’t realize how big he was till he took his shirt off. And he’s doing these sidekicks from both sides. I’m shooting in, he’s pulling me in and hitting me with these Sambo throws—judo throws—and I’m just getting ragdolled. I’m like, if I wanted to go up to ’45 at that point in my career? I’d be like—bro, that would be a nightmare matchup, ever. Like, me and Zabit just would not go well.”
“He just does this tornado thing,” Sterling added, describing the spin kick he says essentially knocked him out. “I closed my eyes like, ‘Oooah!’ And then it just—WHACK. I opened my eyes and everything was just blurry. It felt like my head was in that big ass bell and they just went DONG. And I just sit back, I hit the cage, and I go, I wave off like, ‘Bro, I’m done, this is over.’ And that one I actually had way worse symptoms for, with that knockout.
“I mean, I wasn’t ‘out’, but I was out. I still saw everything that was happening, but I couldn’t move. My body was like, ‘Not responding, not responding.’ I was like, ‘This is not—’. Can’t have too many of those, you know?”
When asked why Magomedsharipov had left his MMA career behind, Sterling mentioned that he’d heard that “religious reasons” were behind the decision.
At the moment, the ‘Funkmaster’ is still awaiting the next top contender for his UFC title. The longtime Serra-Longo fighter made the first successful defense of his belt back in April, with a split decision over Petr Yan. That bout was a rematch of the highly controversial first fight between the two men, where Sterling won the title via DQ after getting hit by Yan with an illegal knee late in the 4th round. So far former champions Jose Aldo and TJ Dillashaw have been the most likely candidates for Sterling’s next fight, but the champ has claimed he needs to meet with the UFC before a new bout can be booked.