Y’s Digital Editor, Alvin Thomas, meets a Macedonian UFC fighter and coach dipping his toes back in the professional ring – only this time he’s donning the Omani flag and with a nationwide fan base to back him up.
The best teachers are those that lead by example.
And when it comes to punching and kicking people in the face – professionally and competitively in a secure metal cage – and then teaching those in the Sultanate the tricks of the trade, no one even comes close to Risto Dimitrov.
A Macedonian UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter of the highest degree and a Mixed-Martial Arts (MMA) coach who helped set up the first UFC Gym in the Sultanate, Risto’s CV is filled with nothing but triumphs – mostly of the moral kind.
From teaching women in the country the art of self-defense, to training youth to compete in professional MMA events, Risto has done it all in an act of passion and respect for the art; watching his students take home all the glory.
Yet, on match day, June 8, 2019, it was his students who tuned in to catch Risto’s headlining ‘Impact Fight Night’ fight live from Croatia – each praying in their own way that their coach who has given his all to his students would emerge the victor.
His obstacles were huge: the first being his ruthless opponent Marco Spiric – a young Serbian boxing champion; while the second being his absence from the arena for two years in pursuit of setting up his career with the UFC in Oman.
But, three minutes and 12 seconds is all it would take a determined Risto to force Marco into submitting to defeat, thereby marking the coach’s first ever thumping victory. A victory that also marks Oman’s first entry into a professional fighting competition in Europe.
It was a tough win but a satisfying one, says the 33-year-old MMA fighter who has now competed in six competitions worldwide.
“It was especially hard on me as I hadn’t fought for two years prior to this. That’s a big pause in the MMA scene – and people are now calling it my comeback match.
“Although, I must say that I received a lot of support from my fans, students, and colleagues in Oman who supported me throughout this phase up to the fight.
“We even had some fans from Croatia who turned up wearing the UFC Gym Oman shirts to up my spirits before the fight,” he says humbly.
Once the game began, Risto was seen pinning his opponent multiple times before forcing him to submit to a sturdy arm-lock.
“Marco is a tough guy, but I noticed during the fight that he wasn’t very good on the ground. So, I made sure to take him down and finish him off with an arm-lock in the very first round.”
As merciless as that sounds, Risto’s career – which began at the age of 14 – spans several victories in fighting arts such as judo, jujitsu, kickboxing, and karate; and his students say that the opponent should’ve expected nothing less.
Risto jumps in to add: “Most kids would watch television at the age of 14, but I was out there training and learning any kind of professional fighting arts. It’s in my blood and I love it. Once that happened, I then began developing my discipline in them.”
His two-decade-long experience in the field is undoubtedly what enabled him to train quickly and lose weight from 72kgs to 66kgs for his fight.
“Most of the training for the fight I conducted in [the] two months prior. I did a lot of late nights alone, but I also had a couple of guys coach me in the gym. It was hard, but I put everything I know into this fight and the build-up to it. I could also use the gym and its state-of-the-art facilities for training.”
Talking about his emotions representing the Sultanate on the centre-stage, Risto says: “I came to Oman in 2017 to set up the gym. My intention was to stay here for two years and then leave once my job had been done.
“But Oman caught my heart very early in my days here – and I simply cannot leave here. It’s such a beautiful and friendly place to live in. I love everything here: the nature, the sea, the people, the food, and anything you can think of.
“Now, I don’t want to go back. I’m going to stay here.
The Oman-based fighter who is being represented for two years by top agency European Top Fight is now training hard for his match this September. He’s due to compete in two fights until the end of this year, while four more are slated for 2020.