Conquering Continents: Ukrainian Fight Club Enters the American Professional Market

Lavr Team club

Ukrainian mixed martial arts club Lavr Team has a 14-year history. Athletes representing the country on the European and world arenas are trained here under the guidance of a coach who helped Khabib Numargamedov to reach sports heights.

The focus here is on the physical and mental development of young people and hone the skills of fighters against crime. Today Lavr Team opens a new page in its history: for the first time, fighters from Ukraine are ready to enter the UFC level.

Founded in 2007 in Ukraine, the Lavr Team club is a unique organization that unites high-performance sports, martial arts, patriotic education of youth,  and the special philosophy of MMA. Today the club is a part of the National Federation of Mixed Martial Arts of Ukraine, and the students and masters represent the country at the international level.

Martial arts are the passion of my life. This is not a fight without rules, as some people mistakenly believe. These are well-known disciplines – judo, Muay Thai, Greco-Roman wrestling, and many others. They are useful not only for physical development. In a sense, this is also a patriotic upbringing, because everyone has a chance to become a professional and represent their state in the world.

The notions of self-discipline, physical and spiritual development, patriotism are known to Mr. Yuri firsthand: in parallel with the career of a law enforcement officer, an official, anti-corruption and scientific activities, he took part in sports from a young age, was the champion of Western Ukraine in hand-to-hand combat among law enforcement officers, and 14 years ago co-founded the Lavr Team mixed martial arts club. 

His first spark of interest revolving around this topic appeared during his work in the Collegium for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime; a public association that helped law enforcement agencies in solving crimes related to corruption and organized crime.

At that time, Yurii Lavreniyuk and his associates saw their mission as ensuring the right of citizens to protection and self-defense, as well as the availability of relevant knowledge and skills for all Ukrainians. This idea gave rise to the appearance of the Lavr Team.

Today, the Fighting association “Lavr Team” is a non-profit public organization that contributes to an increase in the level and mass character of combat sports in Ukraine, the revival of national sports traditions, the attraction of Ukrainian youth to a healthy lifestyle and sports, as well as the development of appropriate infrastructure.

 “The first step towards a healthy nation is to get young people interested in sports and make it accessible to everyone,” are convinced in Lavr Team.

Today Lavr Team is one of the top MMA clubs in the country. The team unites sports clubs in different cities of the country, and among the pupils of the club are both amateurs, children, youth, martial arts fans, and professional athletes, law enforcement officers, and veterans, special forces.

Around 150 athletes aged 10 and older are engaged in the club in Kyiv alone. The Lavr Team also has its own “celebrities”: the finalists of the popular talent shows «The Voice» and «The X Factor» train here.

Over the years of the Lavr Team’s existence, team members have repeatedly received significant victories in the Ukrainian and world arenas.

 “I’m afraid to forget someone`s names, so I’ll say simply: among our guys, there are the world, European and Ukrainian champions, there are prize-winners of these championships, international masters of sports, winners of the Ukrainian Cup in MMA and Sambo,” says the president of the club Yurii Lavreniuk with pride …

At the Ukrainian Championship in mixed martial arts MMA, which took place on April 23-24, the fighters of the Lavr Team of the Kyiv Self-Defense Center climbed the podium three times, winning two gold and one bronze. In total, 9 athletes represented the Lavr club at the competitions.

On March 13, at the Lavr Team KCC site in the capital of Ukraine, the national championship in mixed martial arts among adults was held. The team has won two gold medals in different weight categories.

On the same day, the Lavr Team took part for the first time in the Ukrainian Championship in Combat Ju-jutsu (combat ju-jitsu, which is used by special forces and the police of the leading countries of the world), where the team’s pupil became the silver medalist.

A little earlier, in February, representatives of the fight club celebrated victories at the open championship of Kyiv WCFF (Cossack duel is a traditional Ukrainian kind of martial arts) and at regional pankration competitions. Last year, as part of the national team of the capital, representatives of the Lavr Team won bronze at the annual Cup of Ukraine. Also in the treasury of the club’s recent victories are gold medals at national MMA and combat sambo tournaments.

All these achievements were made possible thanks to the team’s unique coaching staff. The head coach of the Lavr Team and the Ukrainian national team is the first vice-president of the MMA Federation of Ukraine Vakhabzhan Muratov. The legendary coach not only was himself a world champion in combat sambo at one time but also raised several generations of titled athletes.

Suffice it to say that this man leads the current leader of the world ranking of P4R fighters – Khabib Nurmagomedov the first successes. We want to remind that young Khabib began training in Dagestan under the guidance of his father Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. However, for the main training process, an experienced mentor sent his son to Poltava (Ukraine), where he took a boxing course.

Khabib Nurmagomedov began his professional career in 2008, and he spent his first won fight in Poltava, where the Combat Sambo Federation of Ukraine held the MMA Champions League tournament. Two years later, in Kyiv, Khabib already became the world champion in combat sambo. He spent 9 fights For the Ukrainian club “Combat-DOBRO”, and in 2012 he signed his first contract with the UFC. 

One of the coaches who helped Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov to train Khabib in Ukraine was Mr. Vakhabzhan – the head coach of the Ukrainian national mixed martial arts team, an honorary master of sports in combat sambo, the best trainer of the Combat Sambo Federation of 2008, a judge of the international category.

Mr. Muratov sees future world-class champions in the new generation of Lavr Team students.

“Our guys have always had great potential. Alas, we cannot always reveal it, because such opportunities are not provided. We can say that we reveal it not with some help, but despite all the difficulties. Although in recent years the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine has been helping us. The situation with Ukrainian MMA differs from other countries where there is centralized state support, there is the help of sponsors – each athlete may have several of them,” the coach comments.

According to Mr. Muratov, the main advantage of Ukrainian fighters is incredibly hard work: most of them study, work, and at the same time find time and energy for training. Some of them train twice a day – before and after work.

 Sport improves physical qualities and tests morale. An athlete can achieve high results without natural talent, but never without hard work and perseverance! We work and train constantly”, – explains the secret of Lavr Team’s sporting successes, the founder of the team Yurii Lavreniuk.

Although the young Ukrainian state does not pay sufficient attention to financing professional sports, and the development of the Lavr Team owes much to the enthusiasm of sponsors and founders, the club’s successes prove that the country needs such a sport. The fighting association is personally supported by the Minister of Sports of Ukraine Vadim Gutsait, as well as the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Police since the current law enforcement officers hone their skills in the club.

A big step forward in this direction was the signing on March 30, 2021, the Memorandum of Cooperation between the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and the public organization “Federation of Mixed Martial Arts MMA in Ukraine” in the popularization of mixed martial arts as a sport at the modern world level. One of the moderators of this process was the Fighting association “Lavr Team” represented by its president Yurii Lavreniuk.

The next step is the entry of Ukrainian fighters into the professional American market (New York, Miami) at the UFC level. Ambitious? Yes, especially in the context of the pandemic and the global limitation of the mobility of athletes. But the Lavr Team is not used to giving in to difficulties. Currently, the team is at the final stage of negotiations with American partners in Los Angeles and Miami on holding friendly competitions between athletes from Ukraine and the United States.

Taking into consideration the fighting qualities of the athletes and the organizational talent of the ideological founder and president of the team, Mr. Lavreniuk, one can be sure that this height will also be conquered.

After all, “any success is not final, failures are not fatal, the only thing that matters is the courage to continue to work on yourself constantly” – this is the motto that defines the trajectory of the Lavr Team’s development. A club that will soon be talked about not only in Ukraine and Europe but also on the American continent.

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