“I’ve got guys on the card like Bekhzod Usmonov… who are just one or two fights away from being on the UFC” – Jorge Masvidal, speaking with Mirror Fighting, December 1st 2022.
Excitement surrounds the remarkable Bekhzod Usmonov, with reason.
Inside just 50 days, Usmonov produced back-to-back victories in consecutive Jorge Masvidal’s iKON Fighting Championship events across the Southeastern United States.
With a promotional debut victory over Sal Guerriero at iKON FC 5 in Savannah, Georgia, preceding a dominant performance over Shojin Miki at iKON FC 6 in Orlando, Florida, Usmonov affirmed his undoubted potential.
Now, the Tajik Bantamweight is on the cusp of becoming the Floridian promotion’s first ever Championship holder, with Jorge Masvidal announcing iKON FC’s first Championship matchup in 2023; Bekhzod Usmonov versus Joe Penafiel.
Of course, the Bantamweight Championship bout is nothing short of what Usmonov deserves.
However, it is the words of Usmonov’s manager – Jeffrey Chavez – that truly capture the significance of Usmonov’s iKON FC achievements.
“Jorge [Masvidal]… he had us pitted to go against Guerriero; he had us pitted against the guy they thought was going to be their next shining star, and we beat him” Chavez explains.
“Then his last fight they pitted us against a guy that just came from the Contender Series, then he pulled out” Chavez continues, referring to Usmonov’s original iKON FC 6 opponent Anvar Boynazarov.
“We felt like [Boynazarov] was the easier of the two fights” Chavez admits. “So when he pulled out, they gave us Miki, and we believe he was a great opponent, because he had 19 pro fights already, and we knew we were gonna beat him. We knew what we had to do. Great that [Miki] took a short notice fight, but anybody who takes a short notice fight against [Usmonov] – it’s not a good idea, because [Usmonov’s] well-rounded”.
Well-rounded indeed – Usmonov certainly showed tremendous versatility in his two iKON FC performances.
Of course, there is a reason Usmonov has such a diverse repertoire in his arsenal; Usmonov forged his craft through global venture.
“I will start from the place I was born; it’s called Tajikistan” Usmonov explains. “I was born in [a] small town, and I grew up there until 10. Then, when I turned 10, we moved with my family to Russia”.
Building substantial experience in wrestling and sambo whilst living in Russia, Usmonov participated in multiple competitions; in 2016, he would become a National Russian Combat Sambo Champion.
“When I turned 20, I just understand I want to be [a] fighter, and I just go to Thailand, improve my Muay Thai style” Usmonov says. Whilst living in Thailand, he would become a three-time Muay Thai Champion at Bangla Boxing Stadium in Phuket, Thailand.
“Then I understand after two years I have to do something with my sport career, so I said ‘Okay, I have to go somewhere’, and I just choose Australia, because my friend was there” Usmonov explains. “I go to Australia, I had good MMA fights, Muay Thai fights, I did alot of running stuff, and I just stayed busy – how my manager is telling to me always”.
“After two years being in Australia, I come back to Russia, I had really good three fights there, and then after that I understand I have to go somewhere else where I can be the best” Usmonov continues. “So, I choose the US, and then I’m here at Jackson Wink [MMA] Academy, with my good team, and we are now looking forward to be in the number one organisation in the world; the UFC. So we will do now everything to be there in the next year”.
Throughout a journey of combat competition in Russia, Thailand, China, Australia, and the United States, Usmonov built a professional MMA record of 11-4, and a professional Muay Thai record of 37-5-1.
Now, Usmonov is absolute in the plan for what follows the next bout.
Next, is the UFC.
“I think we’ll straight go to the UFC because we already have everything to send to UFC” Usmonov says. “We have good fights, I have a lot of experience, and also I’m going from that gym [Jackson Wink MMA Academy] who – that gym have a name you know. Here, my coach like Greg [Jackson] and coach [Mike] Winkeljohn… everyone know’s that coach and I think we have everything to do to be there”.
Usmonov’s manager Chavez elaborates further.
“We believe that what he’s done in the past with 40+ Muay Thai fights, with a good record, we feel like he’s done everything” Chavez explains. “So one more fight – and we’re not really sure we’re gonna wait for the iKON fight; we’re not gonna just sit back and wait for a fight. We have other promotions contacting us, wanting him. We’ve got Peak FC – they’re here today; they came here today to talk to us. They flew here, to talk to him, to say ‘Hey, we want you to fight for our title against [Ryan] Benoit, which is a UFC veteran”.
“Joe Penafiel… he’s a great fighter” Chavez continues. “He’s fought one of our guys here at Jackson Wink already in the past and he lost, to Da’mon Blackshear, who’s now in the UFC. We feel like he would be a great opponent, but we can’t wait for him. We just can’t wait. He doesn’t want to wait either, but you know, that’s the way the ball bounces”.
Make no mistake, there is justification behind the desire to keep up momentum; the UFC have eyes watching Usmonov.
“Yeah, it was funny you know” Usmonov says, discussing the events after his iKON FC 6 bout against Miki. “After my fight, I just change my clothes, and we [were] just thinking we would go home”.
That’s when Usmonov was introduced to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby.
“Sean said to us he wants to make [a] title fight between me and [Joe Penafiel] because [the] day before we was fighting outside the cage!” Usmonov chuckles, referring to the scuffle that occurred at weigh-ins the day prior to iKON FC 6.
“I think we will show a good fight, take that title, and then turn to UFC” Usmonov affirms.
The final third of 2022 has been a defining period for Tajik MMA. Alongside Usmonov’s iKON FC successes, Nurullo Aliev became the first Tajik to earn a UFC contract on Contender Series, Muin Gafurov became LFA Bantamweight Champion, and Samandar Murodov earned a big win at Road to UFC 6.
All signs indicate that for Tajikistan’s many talented athletes, this is just the beginning.
“Yeah your right, I think that’s a really good result for fighters from Tajikistan” Usmonov says. “You said correct that Muin, another, Nurullo, they now very famous there, and me too looking forward to be in UFC next year and represent that place where I was born”.
“We have a lot of fighters from Tajikistan in our gym, in Jackson Wink” Usmonov continues. “We have a couple fighters that already fight in India and won it you know, and soon I think we’ll bring fighters from Tajikistan to America, and then just help for them to take big, big fights”.
Without question, Usmonov is a gifted individual driven by ambition. With talent that extends outside of combat sport – an expansive education in Law, and Sports Management, alongside numerous coaching qualifications – Usmonov has an innate ability to achieve all that he strives for.
The future is certainly bright for Usmonov, and 2023 is set to be his defining year.
The author would like to extend his utmost gratitude to both Bekhzod Usmonov and Jeffrey Chavez for making this article possible.
Image courtesy of Bekhzod Usmonov’s Twitter profile – @BekhzodUsmonov