Crowned Sambo World Champion for a fourth time in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2016, one member of the Russian National Sambo team has, nevertheless, seemingly flown under the radar of MMA fans the world over prior to a pro debut in June last year. Despite dominating the opposition and becoming renowned by Sambo insiders for quick, decisive, often violent submission finishes, as well as having family ties to the sport of mixed martial arts, it was only when a 25-second armbar submission in a debut fight on a Fight Nights Global card occurred that heads were turned.
This was, clearly, an elite fighter with a elite-level skillset. Being wed to another Sambo World Champion and a member of the Russian National Sambo team only underlined their legitimacy. Her name? Marina Mokhnatkina.
The wife of Fight Night Global’s Mikhail Mokhnatkin, and mother to their son, one particular anecdote involving Marina sheds light on her true character – having won her fourth and most recent Sambo World title, Mokhnatkina burst into tears; not of joy, but of longing. Missing her son, who she had not seen for three weeks, Marina’s emotional response made her priorities in life clear. Family comes first; her otherworldly talent in the Sambo stakes a distant second.
Yet Marina Mokhnatkina could well find herself one of the most marketable female commodities in the world. In an age where some of the biggest stars in the sport are seemingly-superhuman females drawn largely from the United States, Brazil and Europe, there is an astonishing lack of participation from Russian nationals. Fight Nights Global, and Marina Mokhnatkina in particular, could put an end to that surprising dearth of notable superstars.
Her aforementioned blitz of kickboxer Ekaterina Torbeeva in 25 seconds was as perfect a start to her MMA career as could have been hoped for. Immediately taking the centre of the age, Mokhnatkina closed the distance, took hold of her opponent, and scored a takedown straight into mount. Two punches gave Torbeeva food for thought, as Mokhnatkina calmly manufactured a perfect set up for a devastating armbar submission.
It was as easy as that, and all in a division desperately seeking competition for the undeniable lead-Amazon, Cristiano ‘Cyborg’ Justino. While the 145 lb division may not have a future at present in the UFC, there will be plenty of organisations willing to pair up two world class female fighters at featherweight. This could be big news for anyone willing to offer the right kind of financial incentives to the right people.
Mokhnatkina’s sophomore outing, which took place in October of last year, saw her pitted against Karina Vasilenko. Vasilenko, a Judoka representing the Russian police force, looked to use movement to nullify the obvious threats from her elite Samboka opponent. Avoiding a front kick in the opening seconds, Vasilenko was able to use punches to keep distance, and even succeeded in unbalancing Mokhnatkina at around the 40 second mark. While Marina’s striking defence looked somewhat raw, she succeeded in landing a takedown at the first opportunity, only to find Vasilenko’s guillotine choke attempt a barrier to further success.
Riding out the storm, Mokhnatkina ate a couple of body shots, before a kneebar attempt had her opponent reeling. While Vasilenko was able to defend that particular hold, Mokhnatkina quickly adjusted to a heel hook attempt, and when even that failed, a straight leglock would prove sufficient.
Once on the ground, there was no doubt about Mokhnatkina’s superiority, the fight lasting a total of just 2:51. While Mokhnatkina displayed a couple of holes in her all-round game, this remained an impressive outing in only her second professional MMA bout. With work to do on her striking defence, Marina has some way to go before she can challenge the very best in the world, but with the right kind of guidance from her husband and their fight team at Sambo-Piter from St Petersburg, the world could yet be her oyster.
With grappling skills even elite NCAA Division I wrestlers would be proud of, this is one Russian who could prove an immeasurable trailblazer for Russian females trying to shine in a patriarchal national hierarchy. While WMMA and indeed women’s combat sports don’t yet garner enough recognition in Russia, that tide could yet turn.
The MMA Vanguard encourages fight fans to keep an eye out for this outstanding talent.