An exceptional wrestler is transitioning to MMA
Khadjiev transferred from Chechnya to wrestle for France. | Photo by Said Tsarnaev/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Wrestling for France by way of Chechnya, Khadjiev was a 2016 Olympian and placed third at the 2019 World Championships.
In my post-event breakdown of the 2019 Wrestling World Championships, I noted how common it is to see Russians representing other nations and winning medals for their transfer countries.
“The Russian delegation (staffed largely by Dagestanis and Ossetians) won six out of ten weights, putting seven in the finals. Russian representatives won medals in nine out of ten weight classes. On top of that, Russian transfers, representing other nations such as France, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, won seven medals.
If Russian transfers were their own nation, they would have matched the United States in total medals across all three styles with their performance in men’s freestyle alone. Let that sink in.”
One such competitor was Zelimkhan Khadjiev. Unlike many of these transfer cases, Khadjiev actually moved to France as a child at 10 years old, not as an adult after testing the waters in Russia at the senior level.
At the 2019 Worlds, Khadjiev pinned two of his opponents and shut out a third to reach the semifinals. His first pin came against 2018 World silver medallist Avtandil Kentchadze, a massive upset at the time. Khadjiev dropped his semifinal match 4-1 to two-time World champion Frank Chamizo Marquez, but won his bronze medal match 4-3 to make the podium.
Unfortunately, Khadjiev tested positive for a banned substance just a few short months after competing. He was suspended from competition and his World medal was stripped from the record. Unable to wrestle for a spot in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, it makes sense that Khadjiev would turn to a different competitive outlet.
Une nouvelle signature et pas des moindres❗️
Nous sommes fiers de vous annoncer la signature de Zelimkhan Khadjiev au sein de notre agence de management.
Lutteur olympique, il fait partie de l’élite de ce sport.
Nous l’accompagnerons pour sa transition en … MMA‼️ pic.twitter.com/FQTTB89tmi
— Management Factory (@mgmtfactory) June 10, 2021
“A new signature and not the last! We are proud to announce the signing of Zelimkhan Khadjiev within our management agency. An Olympic wrestler, he is part of the elite of this sport. We will support him for his transition into… MMA!!”
Zelimkhan Khadjiev wrestled most of his career at 74 kg, while also winning the Grand Prix of Spain at 86 kg in 2017. 170 pounds in MMA will be the perfect fit.
Zelimkhan Khadjiev’s Wrestling Career and Style
Khadjiev burst onto the scene as a serious threat in 2014, where he won gold at the Junior World Championships. Just one year later, Khadjiev made it to the medal match of the 2015 World Championships as a senior, losing by fall after amassing a 12-8 lead against Yadav from India. His fifth place finish cemented him as a 2016 Olympian for the Rio Games. Before Rio, Khadjiev was the runner-up to Jordan Burroughs at the prestigious Yasar Dogu tournament. Khadjiev would end up losing 5-4 to World silver medallist Takatani and was eliminated from the Olympic tournament after only one match.
His development continued slowly, there was no one breakout tournament that foreshadowed Khadjiev’s success until 2018 at the European Championship. Khadjiev dominated his way to the finals, where he lost a tight 2-0 match to Olympic bronze medallist Soener Demirtas, who had just defeated Frank Chamizo.
Zelimkhan Khadjiev is an impressive athlete, possessing a combination of controlled speed, strength and coordination often seen from high level Russian wrestlers. When considering his transition to MMA, his style is an excellent fit.
Khadjiev makes great use of level fakes from the outside, he clearly understands his setups in terms of manipulating his opponent’s posture and level, and executes forcefully when he sees his opening. This is one of the easiest styles to make work for MMA. Khadjiev typically shoots low off these level fakes and snaps, but he also has the ability to rise up into underhooks and hit his powerful throw-by into a single leg or straight to the back.
Soon after, Khadjiev followed up this performance with a bronze medal at the World Military Championships, which boasted a solid field featuring World champion Khetik Tsabolov. At the 2019 European Championship, Khadjiev repeated with another silver medal performance, which included a win over returning World silver medalist Avtandil Kentchadze. Khadjiev was shut out by Frank Chamizo in the finals.
With that momentum, Khadjiev entered the 2019 World Championships with confidence. In his rematch with Kentchadze, Khadjiev reattacked off of the Georgian’s shot attempt and ran through his underhook for a massive feet-to-back throw.
It’s not just pure horsepower and timing, notice how Khadjiev pulled the far elbow in as he ran Kentchadze across his base, removing a potential post.
Khadjiev hit another gorgeous throw in the next round against the Moldovan. As his opponent rose up into double underhooks, Khadjiev jacked up his double overhooks, stepped across, lowered his hips and wrenched his lock to the right. Khadjiev himself relies on underhooks heavily, it’s no surprise that he’s acutely aware of the counters to his favorite positions.
In terms of athleticism, pedigree, and style, Zelimkhan Khadjiev should be a perfect fit for MMA. He is only 27 years old, and will be one of the most high profile freestyle wrestling to MMA transfers in quite some time.