Hailing from Orenburg, Russia, Ismagulov is one of several fighters that enjoyed a tremendous amount of success under the M-1 Challenge banner before matriculating to the UFC, logging more than half of his professional appearances with the Russian promotion.

He won the company’s lightweight title and defended it twice before signing with the UFC, pushing his winning streak to 14 in the process, before entering the Octagon and registering a trio of unanimous decision wins over Alex Gorgees, Alvarez, and Moises to arrive at the 22-1 mark and 17-fight winning streak he carries into action against Alves this weekend.

Ismagulov was clearly on the ascent, moving into position to challenge some of the established veteran names in the deep lightweight waters following his victory over Moises, but that momentum was cooled by a series of injuries and obstacles, all of which he has now put behind him.

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“These couple years have been very difficult, not only because of injury, but also because I was kind of left without a team and coaches at that time, and I had some personal issues too,” explained Ismagulov. “Right now, everything is behind me — I’m injury free and ready to compete again; I’m also back with my coaches again.

“It’s not easy at all when you are on crutches for a long period of time; you have all kinds of thoughts going through your head. Now that I can run and train again, I have a different mindset.

“I know it’s going to be hard coming back after such a long layoff, but I’m confident in myself and in my ability to dictate the style of the fight to my opponent like I did before,” he added. “My whole career, I was always focused on improving myself, so hopefully people will see that again in my next outing.”

Ismagulov’s return on Saturday is also Alves’ first foray into the Octagon after the MMA Masters representative had an inauspicious initial attempt to make the walk to the UFC cage.