This past weekend the UFC touched down in the Czech Republic for UFC Prague, therefore making it the very first time that they’ve done so.
As is the norm for every card outside of the US, the UFC likes to sprinkle some international and hometown flavor onto those cards in their fighters. UFC Prague was no exception.
However, for one fighter, in particular, they were never originally supposed to be competing at this event at all. But as unpredictable as the sport can be inside the cage, it often times is outside of it as well.
At the February 23 event, Brazil’s Michel Prazeres was looking to extend his phenomenal winning streak to nine straight when he took on Ramazan Emeev. Unfortunately for Emeev, he wouldn’t end up making it to fight night as two weeks prior he would suffer an injury that forced him from being able to compete.
Thus presenting the ultimate opportunity for ‘The Austrian Wonderboy’ Ismail Naurdiev.
“Inspiring, surprising, and shocking” are just some of the words used by the Austrian when describing the feedback that he got from people after picking up a win in his UFC debut as the biggest underdog on the whole card and he did so in very dominant fashion.
“Maybe now I get the title shot, maybe it’s possible, no?” Naurdiev said with a laugh when speaking with The Body Lock.
“It’s the biggest win in my whole career, to be honest, and I’m really, really happy about it. I mean, I didn’t expect anything else, you know, I know I will win.
“I was so self-confident, but now it feels much, much better because now it’s true. And I hope they will give me a top 15 guy now as I am sure I’m ready, 100 percent. I took the fight in two weeks’ notice and beat him up with all of the preparations. So I think if I prepare for my fight and we’ll destroy everyone there.”
For a 22-year-old, having your UFC debut at such a young age can be a very big thing that can often time present even the most experienced of fighters with the infamous ‘UFC jitters.’ But now holding a stunning record for his age with 18 wins and only two defeats, if anyone was feeling some pressure for his first Octagon appearance it wasn’t him.
“I was really strong mentally because it was a good chance for me,” Naurdiev explained.
“I had nothing to lose and I knew that. I think Prazeres had more pressure than me. And I think he was surprised because of my takedown defense, I think he didn’t expect that. And maybe he thought he will bring me down really, really easy and then he saw, ‘Okay, man. He defending really good,’ And maybe I broke him mentally, you know? I think so, I don’t know.”
Naurdiev would defeat Prazeres by unanimous decision as all three judges scored every round of the fight in his favor. Two of which awarded him with a 10-8 scorecard in one of the rounds.
Earning the victory in such a clear cut fashion just makes the victory all the more impressive for the young debuting underdog in Naurdiev. He defeated a dominant veteran on short notice with an eight-fight winning streak. Ten years ago fighters were practically guaranteed to get title shots after such streaks.
It was a performance so good that it could have been worth a performance of the night bonus. Hell, Naurdiev believes it should have been too. However, those are usually reserved for finishes only and the plan was indeed to knockout Prazeres but in the end, getting a chance to show the full range of skills that one possesses is never a bad thing. Especially for those who are new and relatively unknown to the promotion’s audience.
Quick wins sometimes provide too many ‘what ifs?’ and ‘lucky win’ comments. But that can’t be said for this one.
“Yeah, to be honest, I was looking for a KO,” Naurdiev shared.
“I thought maybe I will knock him out in the first round and it was what I was looking for, but now I’m happy that there was a decision win because I dominated him in every three rounds in stand-up, in grappling and wrestling, everywhere. And I think it means much, much more than that to get the KO because everyone can get the KO. To dominate all three rounds like this against a fighter like him, it’s not easy. So now I’m really happy about that. Of course, if I had 100 percent preparational training camp, full camp, I will do a much, much better, but still, I’m happy.”
As an Austrian now in the UFC, Naurdiev is one of the few and he will continue to pave the way forward for his country alongside fellow representatives in Aleksandar Rakic and Mairbek Taisumov. And after seeing the progress that those two have made, Naurdiev is confident there’s still plenty more to come from his country.
Now helping lead the way himself, Naurdiev could find himself in a brighter spotlight, especially considering he’s in the UFC now. Regardless, the nerves are easy to control for the 20-fight vet and pressure is something he never allows himself to deal with.
“No, I didn’t feel stress, nothing,” Naurdiev stated.
“Because I love it so much and I just enjoy it. I just enjoy everything. Because I always think… You don’t know how much you can do. Maybe I go tomorrow out and I will die or something, you know, everything can happen. So that’s why I think life is too short to make pressure and to make stress and think all about all this shit. So that’s why you have to be happy every time. Stay positive, be positive every time. And that’s my [mentality]. I always think like this and that helps a lot. So that’s why I can always fight really, really relaxed and easy because I just enjoy it. I know I don’t give a shit about win or lose, I just go and I will show the best of me and that works really good.”
Despite being incredibly active for his youth, Naurdiev actually missed out on the entirety of 2018. Meaning he would have a gap of 14 months between fight going from November 2017 to February 2019. However, that first fight of February this year didn’t come against Prazeres.
Before Naurdiev got the call from the UFC, he took Paulistenio Rocha at XFN 16 where he would score a 36-second first-round knockout. Obviously, not much recovery time was needed from such a short fight which made the timing of everything all work out even better.
Now that he’s back and in the UFC, Austria’s Wonderboy hopes to keep the momentum rolling.
“I’m injured a little bit in my left hand,” Naurdiev said. “I will recover a little bit and then we continue the fighting, training, everything. I want to be back as soon as possible, to be honest, because I don’t know, I’m so motivated now. I’m so much more motivated now. I will look to be back really, really soon.”
No matter who Ismail Naurdiev draws for his next time out, it’s safe to say that he’s one to keep an eye on in the depths of the 170-pound division.
Drake Riggs is an MMA writer who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake also currently writes for BJPenn.com, Fansided MMA, Cageside Press, and is a former contributor to Sherdog and MMA Today. He is also a die-hard fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.