Face to face, sweaty young wrestlers with hopes of matching their elders, slug it out in the Dagestan region of Russia, famous for training some of the world’s best athletes in wrestling. The painting of the training center of Kaïakent, one of the centers here, may not be fresh, but just as in the many other centers across Dagestan, the wrestling sport is old and popular.
“Wrestling was handed down to us, from generation to generation, our grandfathers fought, our parents wrestled, we wrestled, and so do our children”- the words of Gaidar Gaidarov, coach of the Free Wrestling selection in Dagestan. Gaidar, in fact says, he can not imagine the republic without wrestling.
With Dagestan becoming a steady supplier of world and Olympic champions, the mountainous region’s training grounds have even started attracting foreign athletes. French national Saifedine Alekma is one. Saifedine is having a month of training here. He considers the place, the best training region in the world. “Whether in MMA [mixed martial arts] or free wrestling, we find the best wrestlers of the world here. Only in this hall where you find me, there may be 20 to 30 world champions, European champions, whether in junior or senior categories” he explains.
In Dagestan, it is usual to see many local children from humble roots train day to day, hoping to one day repeat the triumphs of their older peers who have brought home world championship medals.
Magomed Aranguereiev, coach at the Kaiakent sports center understands this. – “The basis of any sport in Dagestan is wrestling, it’s from there that they go to other sports, it all starts with the fight. I’ve been working for 22 years and the boys always start with the fight, not by football, basketball or karate; you start with wrestling.”
In April, police, through a crowd of 2,000 people had to escort Russian star Khabib Nurmagomedov and his father, on their return to Dagestan. Nurmagomedov had just won the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight title. He has the highest number of consecutive victories in the history of mixed martial arts MMA’s. This Saturday, he makes the first defence of his UFC title against MMA star, Conor McGregor. And surely you’d expect many in Dagestan to be watching.