The world of Mixed Martial Arts is one rife with bone-crunching action by the most intimidating and fearsome athletes on the planet.
Among these athletes who swarm the corridors of MMA action in various MMA promotions, few have made their mark as the best of the best.
However, while the best of the best are scattered across multiple nationalities and promotions in MMA, it is not uncommon for certain athletes of certain nationalities to dominate MMA action across all promotions.1
This may allude to the vast embrace of MMA action among such nationalities as opposed to others.
One of such are the Russians in the UFC. Home to some of the most prominent MMA action, Russia boasts of some of the best stars MMA has seen.
In fact, in the world apex MMA promotion, a Russian, Khabib Nurmagomedov, dominated the promotion, remaining unbeaten while holding on to the lightweight championship title for years.
In light of this, we review the best Russian UFC fighters competing in the world’s most challenging and prestigious MMA promotion: the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Best Russian UFC Fighters
7. Dennis Siver
- Height: 5 feet 7 inches
- Division: Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight
As young as age 15, Russian-German UFC fighter, Dennis Siver had already set out on the tedious journey of conquering the world of MMA.
Siver started out by mastering sambo and judo before going on to kickboxing and taekwondo.
By age 17, Dennis Siver was already a fine-grade amateur fighter, which he showed to the works when he emerged as the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) Amateur Kickboxing Champion of Germany.
He soon joined the English MMA promotion, Cage Warriors, where he won 3 out of 4 bouts.
Dennis Siver’s impressive talents soon landed him on the UFC big stage, where he debuted in UFC 70.
Unfortunately for Siver, he failed to make a good impression in his UFC debut as he suffered a first-round knockout 36 minutes into his debut.
Siver soon took a brief period away from the UFC but returned in UFC 93, where his astounding return won him the Knockout of the Night Award.
Upon his return to the UFC, Dennis Siver established himself as a formidable opponent throughout his time in the fighting promotion. He fought in the UFC from 2009 to 2017.
In his last bout in the UFC, Siver faced MMA veteran B. J. Penn in UFC Fight Night 112, about which he won.
After his time in the UFC, he had a brief stint with the Absolute Championship Berkut, which ended as a result of a shoulder injury.
Through the course of his career, Dennis Siver fought in 3 divisions, featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight.
He fought in a total of 35 MMA bouts, winning 23 times and losing 11 times, with one bout ending in a no contest.
6. Andrei Semenov
- Height: 6 feet
- Nickname: White Shark
- Division: Middleweight
Few MMA athletes have mastered the act of infusing sambo into modern mixed martial arts as much as Russian MMA fighter, Andrei Semenov.
An MMA veteran, Andrei Semenov dominated the UFC as much as he did other pros he fought in, such as the St. Petersburg-based MMA promotion, M-1 Global.
Semenov made his debut in the MMA in January 2002, defeating Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Ricardo Almeida.
Four months after his debut, Semenov lost in UFC 37, which spurred his decision to return to the M1-Global.
Though his stint in the UFC was short, his impressive fighting style, which includes submission, defense, resilience, impressive throws, and stamina, established him as one of the most formidable Russian fighters not only in the UFC but also in the MMA.
Following his MMA career, Andrei Semenov dabbled into acting, though he has not acted as consistently as he was in MMA.
Of the 45 bouts he fought in, in his career, Semenov won 34, losing 9, with 2 ending in a draw.
5. Vladimir Matyushenko
- Height: 6 feet 1 inch
- Nickname The Janitor
- Division: Heavyweight, Light heavyweight
For almost two decades, Vladimir Matyushenko dominated the MMA sphere.
He expanded his influence across various MMA promotions and made his mark as one of the most fierce and intimidating tithe voters tenders in all promotions privileged to have the talented fighter on their roster.
Vladimir Matyushenko started as a wrestler who competed for the Soviet Union and Belarus.
Vladimir Matyushenko was so adept in wrestling that the late American World Wrestling Champion Dave Schultz nicknamed him The Janitor as he defeated top-rated members of the US wrestling team, such as Kevin Jackson, at a meet in Siberia.
After graduating from the University of Nevada in 1999, he began professionally competing in MMA.
He first started in the Invicta Fighting Championship before going on to make his UFC debut in UFC 32 in June 2001.
His debut in the UFC was so impressive that he was given a chance to face then UFC Light heavyweight Champion, Tito Ortiz, for the Light heavyweight Championship.
He, however, lost the bout via unanimous decision.
Following his failed title bout, Matyushenko went on to the UFC Heavyweight division before leaving the UFC for the International Fight League (IFL).
In the IFL, he made his mark as the promotion’s first-ever light heavyweight champion.
He returned to the UFC in September 2009 after the collapse of the IFL.
Though he never emerged as UFC champion in any decision, he was a force to reckon with until he left the promotion in January 2013.
Matyushenko had a brief stint in the Bellator MMA until he finally retired from MMA in 2014.
Matyushenko fought in a total of 35 bouts, emerging victorious 27 times and losing on eight occasions.
4. Andrei Arlovski
- Height: 6 feet 4 inches
- Nickname: The Pitbull
- Division: Heavyweight
Since 1999, Andrei Arlovski has been holding down his fort in MMA as one of the most ferocious and intimidating fighters in the industry.
His foray into MMA began when he was 16 years old, as he embraced kickboxing, Sambo, and Judo.
He went on to win the European Youth Sambo Championship as well as the World Youth Championship.
His top-rated Sambo prowess saw him claim silver in the Sambo World Cup as well as the World Sambo Championship.
After studying kickboxing, Andrei Arlovski debuted on the MMA scene in the M1-Global promotion at the age of 20.
Though he lost in his debut bout, he made a fine comeback in 2000 when he won the M1-Global heavyweight title.
His impressive skill saw him get invited into the UFC, with Andrei Arlovski making his debut in UFC 28 in November 2000.
Early in his career in the UFC, he suffered multiple losses.
Still, with astounding victories against top-rated stats such as future IFL Light Heavyweight Champion, Vladimir Matyushenko, he soon re-established himself as a top contender in the UFC.
In 2004, following an injury that left then UFC Heavyweight Champion, Frank Amir unable to defend his tiptoe, the UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion was created, with Andrei Arlovski emerging as the winner.
In August 2005, Arlovski was announced as the undisputed Heavyweight Champion in the UFC following Frank Amir’s prolonged rehabilitation.
In April 2006, at UFC 59, he lost his title to Tim Sylvia.
After losing his title, Arlovski continued to remain a dominant force in the UFC, though he never reclaimed his title.
After UFC 82, Arlovski left the UFC and went on to fight for other promotions such as ONE Fighting Championship, ProElite, and World Series of Fighting.
In June 2014, after months of rumors surrounding his return to the UFC, he fought in his first match since his return to the promotion.
Andrei Arlovski has remained in the promotion since then.
3. Alexey Oleynik
- Height: 6 feet 2 inches
- Nickname: The Boa Constrictor
- Division: Heavyweight, Light heavyweight, Middleweight
The name Alexey Oleynik is widely recognized in MMA circles, as it is synonymous with the Ezekiel choke, a technique in MMA no one has mastered as much as Alexey Oleynik.
In fact, in the whole of MMA promotions, Alexey Oleynik holds the record for most wins with the Ezekiel choke technique, having won fights with the method a historical 14 times.
The MMA star first ventured into the MMA because he wanted to prove himself strong, and after over 70 bouts in MMA history, he has established and reinforced his strength.
Alexey Oleynik started out in the M1-Global, before working his way to the Bellator MMA, where he fought in the first-ever Bellator Fighting Championship for the Heavyweight title, losing out in the semifinals.
In 2013, he signed a contract to join the UFC, where he has been ever since.
Since arriving in the UFC, he has made a name for himself due to his deadly use of the Ezekiel choke and his top-rated grappling sling, with which he used to force opponents into submission.
Alexey Oleynik, who is the first MMA fighter to compete and win in an MMA fight in four different decades, has won multiple Performances of the Night awards and has competed in close to 80 UFC bouts so far in his career.
2. Oleg Taktarov
- Height: 6 feet
- Nickname: The Russian Bear
- Division: Heavyweight
Long since he left the MMA, perhaps The Russian Bear would be best recognized for his exceptional fighting skills in the various movies he has starred in in the American and Russian movie industry.
Oleg Taktarov’s journey in MMA began at the age of 12 when he started learning Judo and Sambo.
Practicing the combat disciplines continued through his time in the obligatory period of military service.
He soon began dabbling into MMA, such as the White Dragon MMA tournament in Latvia.
However, Oleg Taktarov had to leave Russia due to the mounting political situation and went to North America with the dream of becoming an actor.
However, he even tried into the MMA in North America to extend his visa, and the rest, they say, is history.
After a couple of setbacks, including pressure from the prominent Brazilian mixed martial arts family, the Gracie family, not to accept, he debuted in the UFC 5 with a dislocated knee, which he lost.
He soon, however, returned in UFC 6, where he revealed his talents while defeating his opponent.
His performance in UFC 6 set him up to fight his friend and the then reigning UFC Champion, Ken Shamrock, in a bout that ended in a draw.
He continued fighting in the UFC, winning the hearts of UFC fans who voted him among the top 10 most popular fighters in the promotion at UFC 45 in November 2003.
Following his exit from the UFC, he fought in Pancrase, the Japanese MMA promotion, and a handful of top-rated Brazilian MMA stars such as Renzo Gracie.
He then took a long break from MMA in 2001 before returning to action in 2007.
After a brief stint in the MMA in 2007, Oleg Taktarov retired from MMA with 17 wins, 5 losses, and 2 draws.
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov
- Height: 5 feet 10 inches
- Nickname: The Eagle
- Division: Lightweight, Welterweight
The name Khabib Nurmagomedov is regarded as royalty in MMA circles thanks to the impression of the Russian MMA star.
Having dominated the apex MMA promotion in the world, Khabib Nurmagomedov is seen as a worthy contender for the title of the Greatest MMA fighter of all time.
At the age of 12, Nurmagomedov had already begun training in wrestling.
At 15, he began training in judo and started receiving sambo training at the age of 17.
In September 2008, a 20 years old Nurmagomedov made his MMA debut and became the first-ever Atrium Cup tournament champion the following month.
He fought in 16 MMA fights in Russia and Ukraine without losing to any opponent, which made the UFC interested in him.
In 2011, Khabib Nurmagomedov signed a six-fight deal with the UFC to compete in the lightweight division, and in January 2012, he debuted at UFC on FX 1.
Right from his debut fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov has been in incredible form, defeating every opponent brave enough to face him in the octagon.
Between 2012 to 2017, Khabib Nurmagomedov remained undefeated in all his bouts as he chased the UFC Lightweight Championship.
In April 2018, Khabib Nurmagomedov faced Al LaQuinta to claim the UFC Lightweight Championship.
He followed his UFC Lightweight Championship win with a much-publicized bout against Conor McGregor, which attracted 2.4 million pay-per-view buys, the highest recorded in MMA history.2
In March 2021, Nurmagomedov retired from the UFC, vacating the UFC Lightweight title, and was also inducted into the 2022 UFC Hall of Fame in March 2022.
Nurmagomedov who ranks as the foremost Russian MMA fighter in the world, now is an MMA promoter as he owns Eagle Fighting Championship (EFC) and doubles as an MMA coach.
Being the best in the sport, and also established is status as one of the richest UFC stars in the world
Over the years, the Russians in the MMA have proven to be a formidable force to reckon with, thanks to the immense popularity of MMA in the country as opposed to other European countries.
The fighters who have made our list of the best Russian UFC fighters in MMA history are among the very best in not only the UFC but MMA, having conquered virtually all promotions that have featured them in their roster.
References & Notes
- International MMA: Top 10 Countries With Fighting Talent. Bleacher Report
- Pay Per View Buys. Tapology