Dagestan has made a huge impact on the global Mixed Martial Arts scene. It is a blueprint that fighters and coaches in Mongolia are hoping to follow. Coach Zorigt ‘Zorky‘ Ulaankhuu of Zorky MMA is at the forefront of this revolution. He says the local scene started to really take off a decade ago. MMA in Mongolia started around 2010. At that time there were only about four or five guys training, and they were fighting in promotions in Asia.
According to Zorky the inflection point for Mongolian MMA was Jadambaa Narantungalag winning the ONE Championship featherweight belt. He says this opened people’s eyes to what homegrown fighters could achieve on the international stage, “Before that, Mongolians didn’t believe they could win outside of Mongolia, but after Jadambaa won, they began to believe they could win in any organization in the world,” he explained.
For most people Jadambaa is the face of Mongolian MMA. But the 44-year-old was actually living in Japan when he faced Kid Yamamoto on his pro debut in 2004.
The domestic scene in Mongolia would not start to grow until the end of the decade. Dorjderem Munkhbayasgala, a combat sambo world silver medalist, fought for Art of War in 2009 and began coaching in his homeland afterwards.
Among his first batch of students was Khuukhenkhuu Amartuvshin. He is now 35 but began competing in judo and sambo two decades ago. Amartuvshin grew up in the countryside where he started wrestling at a very early age, “Just like every other Mongolian boy.” he said.
Today there are Mongolian fighters competing at the highest level with the world’s biggest promotions. Danaa Batgerel was the first to compete in the octagon and the 31 year old is coming off a win at UFC 248. Zorky feels that Mongolians have some inherent advantages in MMA, “First is the blood of the ancestors, he said presumably in reference to famous Warriors of old like Genghis Khan.
“Second is the way of life. The location, the weather is different from other countries, very extreme. In winter, the temperature plunges to minus 50, while in summer, it can hit 45 degrees.”
He thinks the climate and conditions create fighters who are physically and mentally ready to pass the toughest tests, “The constant changes of the weather make the body stronger. Mongolians can tolerate any pain and can survive in any conditions.”
Finally he says nutrition is another factor,
“The food we eat is completely organic. We eat a lot of meat and milk. The animals are all free-range, eating grass and herbs. That makes the meat more nutritious. In summer, we drink a lot of horse milk.”
He noted that Dagestan has a similar climate and lifestyle. Zorky says you only need to look at what Mongolians have achieved in the sport of sumo to see the impact his country’s fighters could potentially have in MMA.
In the past 20 years, four of the five wrestlers promoted to the top sumo rank of Yokozuna were Mongolians. Zorky thinks this is due to the historical popularity of wrestling in the country, “We have thousands of techniques from our traditional wrestling. We use them to win judo and sumo. And we will do the same in MMA. If the UFC lets us fight, we will pour in and conquer,” he said.
Amartuvshin has fought for Road FC and Bellator. Batgerel is Mongolia’s sole UFC representative but there are several fighters enjoying success with ONE Championship. Featherweight Shinechagtga Zoltsetseg is riding a five fight winning streak having earned a contract after a successful spell with ONE Warrior Series. Lightweight Tsogookhuu Amarsanaa caused Eduard Folayang all sorts of problems, dropping a decision to the former champion.
Meanwhile Nandin-Erdene Munguntsooj is making waves in his adopted hone of Korea. The lanky lightweight is riding a five fight winning streak. Zorky is adamant that Mongolia could enjoy the same sort of international success that Dagestan has. He hopes to see his fighters replicate their compatriot’s achievements on the sumo scene, “It’s up to the UFC. If they let us fight, we will win, just like sumo. Twenty years ago, the Japanese let Mongolians wrestle in sumo and now we have conquered.”