MUHAMMAD MOKAEV was willing to risk a life-changing knee injury to have his hand raised at UFC 286.
The flyweight prospect’s undefeated record was seemingly moments away from vanishing into thin air in his prelim clash with Jafel Filho in March.
Concerns for the Russian-born Wigan warrior grew with each passing second as Filho contorted his knee ligaments and inflicted a partial grade two on his MCL tear.
Tapping, however, couldn’t have been any further from the mind of the former refugee, who was willing to pay the ultimate price for victory.
He told SunSport: “It was close to being snapped. But I had in my head, ‘I’ve had more tough situations in my life.’
“Maybe compared to other people, it was not as tough.
“But for me, it was tough moving to the UK as a young kid.
“Going through 52 seconds of the kneebar, it was nothing compared to what I’ve been through.
“I was ready to stay there for two minutes or all the way until the round finished.
“But now, I’m in a better position. Sometimes you have to handle the pain.”
Mokaev believes submitting to Filho would have done immeasurable damage to his mentality inside and outside of the cage.
“If I would’ve tapped, I think in the next position or next situation I would tap again because you get used to it,” he said. “Your mentality becomes weak.
“And I think, ‘Last time I tapped and this time, I’m gonna tap – it’s okay.’ It becomes a habit.
“Not just inside the cage, it becomes a habit and a hobby in your life situation.”
Mokaev left the O2 Arena that night on crutches, sparking fears of a long and arduous road to recovery for one of the UK’s best prospects.
He said: “I did my recovery and rehab with Wigan Athletic. I thank them for helping me during this process.
“It was a very difficult process. I was doing everything to get back on my feet.
“Not just back on my feet, but I’m full-time wrestling now. I’m doing scrambles and striking. I’m fully recovered.”
Wigan jumped at the opportunity to help Mokaev get back on his feet after learning of his latest injury setback.
Mokaev revealed: “They said, ‘Whatever you need, we will help you as a club.’
“And I said, ‘I need recovery for my knee.’ And footballers are good for recovering their knees and shoulders too.
“And I said, ‘My shoulder is good now, but I need the knee.
“I was going there every morning for three hours a day and they put me back on my feet.”
Mokaev’s knee will be put to the test on Saturday afternoon at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi, where he’ll face veteran flyweight Tim Elliot.
‘The Punisher’ is relishing the opportunity to lock horns with the wily veteran, who, unlike his last two opponents, he expects to actually engage him.
Mokaev said: “He’s an awkward fighter, but he’s very suitable for me. He wants to ring the fight inside the cage.