Spartan life preps Ozzy Dugulubgov for MMA Elite - NBC Sports

Spartan life preps Ozzy Dugulubgov for MMA Elite
One of Russia's most promising prospects trains with Team Renzo Gracie
March 19, 2014, 12:30 pm

Brazil and the United States presently produce the world's best mixed martial artists, Azamat “Ozzy” Dugulubgov volunteers. But if we were ranking which nation breeds the mentally toughest fighters, the explosive WSOF lightweight contender points to Russia, specifically the country's most war-torn region, the North Caucases.

Understand the bloody history of the mountainous North Caucases – a predominantly Muslim region with a nearly 200-year history of ferociously fighting the Russians who conquered them, and subjected them to mass ethnic cleansing and bombings and chemical weapons attacks a century ago – and you will better understand the spartan conditions that created Ozzy D into one of MMA's most dynamic and promising Russian imports.

As a young boy in the North Caucases, Ozzy routinely fought with classmates and in the streets. In the U.S., kids fighting is commonly referred to as “bullying”; but in the warrior-revering Russia where Ozzy came of age, fighting was considered “normal.”

During an interview with last year, Ozzy (5-1, 4 finishes) delivered one of MMA's all-time classic quotes while recalling his tough-love childhood: “Our bedtime stories,” he said, “were of warriors.”

Of course the humble 25-year-old, who now lives in New Jersey and regularly makes the half-hour commute to train with Team Renzo Gracie in New York City, is not exaggerating in the slightest. Savvy sports enthusiasts recognize the North Caucuses not just because of news headlines reporting Muslim insurgencies against the Russian government, but as a land that year-after-year and decade-after-decade has churned out Russia's – and the world's – greatest freestyle wrestlers (as well as top MMA prospects and past Combat Sambo World Champions such as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov). So there's a surplus of testosterone flowing in the area's schools and on the streets.

“If you grow up in Russia, almost every day you will have a street fight,” said Ozzy, who faces unbeaten Johnny Nunez (4-0) on March 29 at WSOF 9. “So it's very important to know how to fight and how to defend yourself. I won most of the fights I was in – I had to.”

One episode in particular dramatically and forcefully etched this mindset into him. One day back in high school Ozzy returned home fairly beaten up. A group of teens had attacked. Rather than show concern or sympathy, Ozzy's father (a national champion wrestler) ordered his son out of the house.

“Do whatever you want,” his father declared, “but don't come back until you beat them up worse than they did to you.”

And so 9th-grade Ozzy was tasked with walking the streets in search of the the perpetrators – sometimes not even knowing their identities – hellbent on trying to even the score.

“Believe it or not, I know I was a kid, and my father's attitude may sound very rough and righteous,” Ozzy recalled, “but that is what built in me the strong attitude, 'This is mine, I'm going to take it, and there's no way I'm giving up.'

“I had to win those fights, otherwise I could never come back home. The town where I lived was very small and if you lost the fight then your Dad would definitely know about it. So there's no way I could lose fights.”

As it happens, Ozzy was particularly well-suited to the task of winning fights. Back in 1999 very few people in the United States trained MMA. And in Russia?

“Even in street fights, almost every street fight turned into a wrestling match. Guys were trying to score points on each other in the street,” Ozzy said with a chuckle, leading his interviewer to imagine the incredible wrestling matches that unfolded in those street altercations.

And yet, Ozzy's father (a distinguished wrestler) taught his son takedowns but did not groom his son to be a national or Olympic champion. Instead, Anatoli Dugulubgov also entrenched his son in taekwondo and sambo, an advanced direction that seemed crazy to most Russians at a time when the term “mixed martial arts” was probably being used by a few hundred people on the entire planet – if that.

Watch Ozzy fight and you will see why so many people have high hopes for the former Taekwondo Jr. World Cup gold medalist's pro MMA career. With Ozzy there are no setups – everything he throws has heat and bad intentions written all over it.

A scouting report on Ozzy might read:

1) Throws lots of hard head kicks – the kind of high-velocity kicks that could fracture a forearm when an opponent tries to block them

2) vicious leg kicks

3) Straight left hand is precise and potent

4) Explosive and well-timed double leg takedowns; he will penetrate and tackle you across the cage if necessary. Also hits a nice inside trip for takedowns from the clinch

5) Very calm, almost stoical demeanor; when standing, understands distance well

6) Holds a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu (is a big advocate of training in the gi, in fact) and brings good pressure on top

In short, Ozzy is much more polished and well-rounded pro fighter than his six fights might suggest. He is very aggressive throughout and will hunt for opponents late in the final round even when he's got the fight in the bag, so to speak. And while Ozzy is now garnering attention for his diverse skill set, and envisions himself eventually challenging WSOF lightweight champ Justin Gaethje for the title, he remembers back in Russia how being ahead of the times was not nearly as glamorous as some imagine it to be.

“A lot of my friends competed in wrestling and I was the one who competed in Taekwondo, so I used to get so much pressure from them because mixed martial arts wasn't respected in that area back then,” he said. “At that time – when my Dad was teaching me Taekwondo, wrestling and how to finish a fight either by submission or knockout – people were saying, 'What the hell is this?! What the hell are you doing?!' It was hardest when I was 10 or 12 in school and I still couldn't explain myself. I used to struggle with it a lot. It used to bother me so much.

“My Dad had been a great wrestler but for some reason he wanted to take it to another level. People didn't believe that an art like Taekwondo, which my Dad was teaching me, would be effective. But time proved that he was right.”

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