Tomorrow in Abu Dhabi the strongest athletes in two disciplines that have always rivaled in the history of MMA will compete for the lightweight belt: history and anecdotes of a battle that has continued for decades

    One of the many reasons of interest towards the challenge for the title of the Ufc Lightweight of tomorrow in Abu Dhabi between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev is that it will be a new chapter in the sporting feud between two disciplines that have contributed so much to the history and present of MMA. It will in fact be a match between a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion (Oliveira) and a Sambo world champion (Makhachev).

    The first is the combat sport born in Brazil in the 30s by the Gracie family and for a long time now very widespread all over the world thanks to the countless successes in MMA of many of its practitioners, from the pioneers Rickson and Royce Gracie in the 90s. for Antonio Nogueira, Frank Mir, George Saint Pierre and BJ Penn and up to Demian Maia, Tony Ferguson, the Diaz brothers, Ronaldo “Jacarè” Souza, Fabricio Werdum and Mackenzie Dern. Less famous is the sambo, a term which is actually the abbreviation of the Russian words “samozashchita bez oruzhiya” or “self-defense without weapons”. The discipline was in fact born a century ago in the Soviet Union as a method of personal defense for the Red Army. It was created based on the study of judo and boxing but also and above all of the many traditional forms of combat scattered throughout the immense territory of the USSR. It includes 2 competition specialties: sambo fight and sambo combat. The first, similar to the original judo, allows throws and joint levers, giving a lot of space to those in the legs (prohibited in judo) but does not allow strangulations. Combat, on the other hand, is really very similar to MMAs since it also allows hits, including knees, elbows and even heads even if a helmet is used. The uniform, for everyone, is the kurtka, a sort of kimono with belt loops on the jacket and tight shorts rather than long as in judo. The similarities between Mma and Combat sambo explain the success of practitioners of this sport in Mixed Martial Arts. In particular, those who for many were the two greatest MMA fighters in history were sambo champions: Khabib Nurmagomedov (2-time World Champion, now he is Makhachev’s coach) and Fedor Emelianenko (4 world titles).

    Sambo is still practiced today in only a hundred countries out of about 200 in the world and most of it is concentrated in the nations of the former Soviet bloc, and many MMA fans heard about it for the first time when Khabib introduced himself. to the weight of his match against Thiago Tavares in January 2013 wearing a provocative T-shirt with the inscription: “If sambo was easy, it’d be called jiu-jitsu”, “if sambo had been easy they would have called it jiu jitsu”. Tavares was a third degree black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and he lost that match in the first round even though he also tested positive for anti-doping. According to some team mates, Khabib wanted to emphasize that Brazilian art, although excellent on the ground, had deficiencies in throwing techniques, which is paradoxical because they are indispensable in order to be able to finalize on the ground. The future undefeated Ufc champion, on the other hand, wanted to remember how his sambo was much more complete from this point of view and therefore more suitable for preparing for MMA. After all, “the Eagle” is also the holder of the record for projections in a Ufc match: on May 25, 2013 (four months after that controversial weight in) he made 21 out of 28 attempts in 15 minutes against Abel Trujillo, at the amazing average of a every 42 seconds and this against a former wrestler nationwide in US colleges. In his career Khabib has defeated several other BJJ specialists in addition to Tavares: the 2003 world champion and fourth grade black belt Rafael Dos Anjos but also Gleison Tibau and Kamal Shalorus, a pupil of the ninth grade red belt Relson Gracie and the 5-time World Champion Daniel Moraes.

    A sort of revenge for what remains not only the greatest victory of a jiujitero against a sambista but also the most sensational defeat in the history of MMA, the one suffered by Fedor Emelianenko after 10 years of undisputed domination by Fabricio Werdum on June 26 of 2010 in Strikeforce: the Brazilian subdued the Russian favorite after just over 1 minute with a triangle of legs, an iconic technique of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. For the experts it remains to date the third best submission and the fourth largest upset in the history of MMA as Fedor had previously defeated specialists in Jiu Jitsu such as the 2-time World Champion Ricardo Arona, the fifth degree black belt Minotaur Nogueira and the black fourth degree Babalu Sobral. At the time, Jiu Jitsu practitioners said that with Werdum’s success the question of what was the best basic discipline for MMA was put to an end. But then Khabib arrived and the discussion resumed stronger than ever also because, as we have seen, the top fighters arriving from sambo are constantly increasing and this despite a much smaller base of practitioners than Brazilian jiu Jitsu.

    The rivalry, on the other hand, had begun even before the birth of the MMAs. Already in the 80s some members of the Gracie and Machado families had participated in sambo tournaments with varying successes. For example, in 1991 in Chula Vista in California, the USA sambo champion Nick Baturin had defeated Jean-Jacques, Rigan and Jhon Machado (well-known champions and masters) in a single day, then losing to Rickson Gracie. To rekindle the sambo-BJJ rivalry, we are now thinking of ONE Championship, the Asian promotion that also offers other combat sports in addition to MMA (also has our Giorgio Petrosyan in Kickboxing). In fact, he has recently announced that he wants to organize a series of matches between champions of the two disciplines in grappling, a form of interstile wrestling. Oliveira-Makhachev will be another milestone of the challenge between these two styles, we will see how it continues in One.