Zabit Magomedsharipov is ready for the spotlight

Get to know Zabit (3:01)

UFC featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov shares his journey to the UFC and his teammates discuss why he could be a future champ. (3:01)

It was about three years ago when UFC featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov first started training in New Jersey under striking coach Mark Henry and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Ricardo Almeida.

And within five minutes of Magomedsharipov's arrival, he already had a nickname.

"The first time I come to the gym, coach Ricardo showed me a picture of Abraham Lincoln," Magomedsharipov said through an interpreter. "And he start to call me 'Lincoln.'"

It probably sounds like an odd pairing at first -- a 27-year-old martial artist from Russia, and the 16th president of the United States -- but pull up a photo of each man and it will all make sense. They do look alike. It's the hair/beard combination, plus Magomedsharipov's towering, lean, 6-foot-1 frame in that 145-pound division.

Magomedsharipov laughed when Almeida showed him an image of actor Daniel Day Lewis in the film "Lincoln." The fighter didn't mind the new moniker. He actually goes by many names.

"People in America call me 'Za-beast.' Some people call me Bruce Lee," Magomedsharipov said.

Henry, along with a growing chorus of others, calls him the UFC's future featherweight champ. Magomedsharipov (16-1), who faces Jeremy Stephens (28-15) at UFC 235 on Saturday in Las Vegas on ESPN, has put the featherweight division on notice since he signed with the UFC in 2017.

He is 4-0 in the Octagon and has recorded finishes in three of those four appearances. The one time he didn't finish his opponent -- at UFC 223 against Kyle Bochniak -- he won Fight of the Night.

Magomedsharipov is the definition of a prodigy. He attended a Russian martial arts academy when he was young. He remembers not being allowed to leave the school's premises on his own, and he only saw his parents once a month -- provided he had earned high enough marks in his training to earn it.

That lifelong commitment has placed him ahead of the game in many ways. The minute Magomedsharipov visited New Jersey three years ago, Henry knew he was one of the best-kept secrets in the sport. It has not taken long for that secret to get out.

"I just thought it was the first natural fighter that I've ever seen," Henry said. "You see a natural baseball player and say, 'Wow, that's just such a sweet swing.' Or you'll see a perfect form in a shot in basketball and say, 'Wow, that guy's a natural.'

"Zabit can become a champion. It could be today. You know, if he had a title shot today, it would be today. If it was tomorrow or in three weeks -- whenever he gets the opportunity, he'll win it."

Saturday's fight against Stephens, a 14-year veteran, could have a major impact on Magomedsharipov's featherweight ranking and overall profile. When asked if he agrees with Henry's assessment of being title ready right now, 'Lincoln' said he's only looking at one fight at a time.

"I always agree with my coach, but right now, I'm focused on No. 6 [ranked] Jeremy Stephens," Magomedsharipov said. "After this, I will focus on title."