Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
On the last day of the last year he became the man who made Azerbaijan famous again. Azerbaijani MMA fighter Tofig Musaev won the Rizin-20 tournament in the Japanese city of Saitama. After knocking out the U.S. athlete Johnny Casey in the semifinals and then defeating Brazilian Patrick 'Pitbull' Freire in the final, Tofig attracted the attention of world promoters. This victory brought the athlete the title of world lightweight champion in the Rizin tournament. For Tofig Musaev, this was the 18th victory and the 14th in his win-win series.
We interviewed Tofig MUSAYEV to ask him answer a few questions related to his future career.
"Despite many years in sports, you became famous only after the last victory. Can you please tell us about yourself?"
"I grew up in the village of Sahil, Garadagh. I am Azerbaijani, but I was born in Georgia. My career in martial arts began with karate when I was 12 years old. Then I did wrestling, boxing, judo, taekwondo. In 2011, I was admitted to the Academy of Physical Culture and Sports. After studying there for four years, I was drafted into the army.
After the military service, I became the champion of Azerbaijan in pankration, the winner of international tournaments, champion of Eurasia, took second place in the World Cup. I am also the world champion in Kung Fu Sanda. Then I become gradually interested in MMA. MMA is a combination of mixed sports. Unfortunately, in Azerbaijan there is no appropriate platform and training program for this sport. For example, MMA originated in the United States. Trainees in the U.S. are engaged in all sorts of sports. One needs to have an understanding of the concepts of kickboxing, boxing, Muay Thai, grappling."
"What is the secret of your 14 victories?"
"First, my 'secret' is Allah and my coach Ruslan Efendiyev. I was able to win 14 times because of the right regimen chosen by my coach and the right training. In the training hall, Ruslan is my coach, but outside he becomes a caring parent. Every day, I mainly communicate only with him. I am proud of him."
"How did you join the Rizin tournament?"
"Before that, I participated in the WFCA (World Fighting Championship Akhmat). I defeated Russian athletes Zurab Betergaraev and Marif Piraev. Upon my request, on May 4, 2018, the Baku Olympic Stadium was chosen as the venue for the fight with Piraev. After that, I had to fight for the belt, but they offered me a fight instead of the injured Imanali Gamzathanov. Then, since my belt fight was postponed, we signed a contract with the Rizin Sports Federation in Japan. On December 31, 2018, I defeated the Japanese Nobumitsu 'Tyson' Osawa. That is where I first met the Japanese audience.
"By the way, the main intrigue of that night was the fight between boxer Floyd Mayweather and kickboxer Tensin Nasukawa. Both were invincible athletes in their sports. However, Mayweather had an easy victory in that battle."
"Which means that Rizin is the strongest MMA tournament in the world..."
"Certainly. The fight between the Russian Bellator winner Fedor Emelianenko and the American Quinton 'Rampays' Jackson also took place two days before my fight.
"According to the 2018 agreement between Bellator and Rizin, Bellator athletes participate in the fights held in Japan. Patrick 'Pitbull' Freire, who was my counterpart, is also from Bellator."
"You became the winner of Rizin in lightweight category. Is it possible to meet the strongest in this category from Bellator?"
"Yes, perhaps. I am already the 13th strongest athlete in the world ranking. Most likely, my next rival will be from the top ten."
"Let's talk about the final meeting. In the first round, you seemed to be testing the ground..."
"Not. In the previous fight with Johnny Case, I broke my right arm, stabbing him in the head. I got an anesthetic injection. I was told that if I quit the fight, Pitbull would take the belt. I replied that I chose dying in the ring instead of dying under the supervision of doctors. In the first round, I felt pain - the injection has not yet fully acted. But when there was complete numbness, in the second round I began to hit my opponent easily."
"What other differences are there between the UFC and Rizin?"
"In the UFC, you have to go to the octagon in combat shoes. You may also fight in leggings. In Rizin, one must be without shoes and only in shorts."
"I know that most readers are concerned about the question: can you become the first Azerbaijani fighter in the UFC?
"Daron Kruikshank, Damien Brown, Johnny Case, whom I won at Rizin, used to play in the UFC. Therefore, the UFC showed interest in me. They contacted us themselves. Preliminary negotiations took place with UFC manager Sean Shelby. However, there are material and moral points. In Japan, I have already formed my own audience.
"Many people think that the UFC is the peak. But I would say that fighters are leading the organization to the first place. If you have an interesting battle style, the whole world will follow you, regardless of which tournament you are fighting in. My desire is to stay in the Rizin and protect the conquered belt."
"Does the factor of Khabib Nurmagomedov affect your lack of interest in the UFC? You fight in the same weight category and in case of consecutive victories in the UFC, sooner or later you will have to meet him..."
"I have great respect for him, at least because he is a Muslim." We do not know each other personally. Naturally, in the event of an agreement with the UFC, he will already turn into a rival for me. In general, I always wanted to meet strong athletes. After all, you learn a certain experience from each fighter."