LFA champion and Olympic medalist Natasha Kuziutina is proud to showcase Judo at LFA 185



The late, great Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov was a Russian judoka, military veteran, and combat sports coach. Five years ago, he was named by the Russian Book of Records as the most successful Combat Sambo coach in the country. He was the head coach of Eagles MMA and coached two of the most dominant champions in UFC history, his son Khabib as well as current UFC lightweight champion and UFC pound-for-pound king Islam Makhachev. However, when it came to the prestige and purity of Judo, he was very clear.

“Khabib had a choice, Judo or MMA. I wanted him to do Judo. I’m a former Judoka myself. I was in the national team,” Nurmagomedov told a Russian news outlet. “It was more clear to me what exactly Judo was for. I think at that moment, Khabib didn’t quite understand the difference between Judo and MMA. Judo is an Olympic sport. It is the most prestigious sport in the world, Judo. The largest number of countries, the most competitive sport. To which Khabib answered, ‘When I drop my opponent… the whole arena explodes with applause.’ I thought it was ridiculous, but I gave him permission.”

Abdulmanap is one of the greatest MMA coaches of all-time and his star pupils Khabib and Islam are two of the greatest fighters of all-time, but the three men also possess Judo black belts and a core belief and respect for Judo. One only needs to look at the success of these men to realize that the effectiveness of the martial art is undeniable in MMA, but it’s efficacy is also visible at the top of the women’s sport. Ronda Rousey is an Olympic bronze medalist in Judo and is responsible for convincing UFC President Dana White to add women’s divisions. Her teammate on the U.S. National Team, Kayla Harrison, would later become the greatest American Judoka after winning two Olympic gold medals. This made her the first American to win an Olympic gold in Judo and the only American to have won multiple golds in the sport. Harrison is currently one of the most dominant women on the UFC roster.


Kayla Harrison has helped fellow Olympic Judo medalist Natasha Kuziutina transition to MMA.


Now as the world is just weeks away from the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, fans get to witness Judo’s latest contribution to MMA. That would be Harrison’s teammate at American Top Team (ATT) and Nurmagomedov and Makhachev’s fellow countrywoman Natasha “Kuzya” Kuziutina. The Russian strawweight is a three-time Olympian in Judo with a lengthy résumé in the sport that includes three World medals (one silver and two bronze), five European gold medals (four individual and one team), two IJF Grand Slam gold medals, and like Rousey, an Olympic bronze medal.

After competing in her third and final Olympic games in 2021 (moved back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Kuziutina moved to Florida to prepare for her professional MMA debut alongside Harrison at ATT. She won her MMA debut at the end of 2022 and by the end of 2023, she had already compiled five wins, including the LFA interim women’s strawweight title. That win came over the previously undefeated Giovanna Canuto, who is a five-time IBJJF world champion and black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The title fight took place at LFA 173 in Las Vegas, Nevada on the eve of the final UFC event of 2023 and immediately put Kuziutina on the map as a can’t miss prospect at 115-pounds.

Now as she prepares to defend that title at LFA 185, the proud Russian champion and world-class Judoka sat down with LFA.com to discuss this bout as well as a variety of topics ranging from her extensive background in Judo to how Harrison has helped her transition to MMA.


Get your tickets for LFA 185: Gennrich vs. Lewis



Natasha Kuziutina is one of the most decorated Judoka to ever compete in MMA.


Kuziutina has been training and competing in the sport of Judo for most of her life, but she reached the pinnacle of the sport 12 years ago when she competed in her first Summer Olympics in 2012. She would represent Russia in the -52 kg women’s division a total of three-times starting in 2012 in London, England, United Kingdom, then in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and finally in 2021 (it was moved back a year from 2020) in Tokyo, Japan. Kuziutina has met and competed against the best Judoka in the world for a dozen years and would take home the bronze medal in 2016. Now on the cusp of the Olympic Judo competition beginning next month, Kuziutina’s name will not appear on the Olympic ledger for the first time in 16 years. Kuziutina is aware of this and fondly reflects on her Olympic career, her transition to MMA, and her excitement to watch the Olympic Judo competition this summer.


Kuziutina on Olympic Judo: “I have been to three Olympic Games: 2012, 2016, and 2020. My last Olympics was in Tokyo in 2021, after which I decided to look in a different direction. I know all of the listed athletes personally (competing this summer), as I have met them several times at training camps and competitions. Of course, all of them are worthy representatives of Judo. I will be happy to watch the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, but as a spectator. I love Judo, I have given my whole life to this sport, and now my main goal is to show how Judo can be effective in Mixed Martial Arts.”


Kayla Harrison and Natasha Kuziutina: Olympic Judo medalists turned MMA belt collectors.


It was twelve years ago, this summer, that Kuziutina and Harrison both made their Olympic Judo debuts. The 2012 Summer Olympics took place in London with both women traveling in from opposite sides of the globe. Kuziutina hails from Bryansk, Bryansk Oblast in Russia, while Harrison is from Middletown, Ohio in the United States. They met competing on the International Judo Federation (IJF) circuit and would return to the Olympics again four years later at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Harrison won the gold medal at -78 kg at both Olympic Games, while Kuziutina took home the bronze medal at -52 kg in 2016. Harrison would make her professional MMA debut two years later, while Kuziutina prepared for a third and final Olympics, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That competition got pushed back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Kuziutina decided to join Harrison in the world of professional MMA at the conclusion of her Judo career.


Kuziutina on her friendship with Kayla Harrison: “I’m super excited to be adding to the Judo family in MMA! It is thanks to Kayla Harrison that I train at ATT. She did a lot for me two years ago, when I just arrived in the USA and didn’t know anyone here. I really wish her to win the UFC belt more than once. She deserves it. She is a very selfless and worthy athlete and just a good person!”


Natasha Kuziutina with her ATT teammates Michelle Montague, Kayla Hracho, Aysia Cortez, Yana Santos, Bia Mesquita, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.


Once the transition from Judo to MMA was decided, Kuziutina’s longtime Judo friend Harrison brought her down to south Florida to train at ATT, which is one of the most successful and legendary teams in MMA. This is a gym filled with MMA champions, Olympians, and specialists from every discipline in MMA. This has helped Kuziutina expedite the process of acclimating herself to MMA and the results have been impressive.


Kuziutina on training at ATT: “My head coach at ATT is Russian fighter Artem Levin with whom it was very easy for me to find a common language in terms of mentality and understanding of each other. However, my preparation is the comprehensive work of all the coaches of our large team: King Mo, Gabriel Oliveira, Mike Brown, Steve Mocco, and Steve Bruno. We are one big family and the success of one athlete is the merit of each coach and sparring partner. In preparation for this fight, I did not have one specific or two sparring partners, as I tried to work in different techniques, but I would like to mention Kayla Hracho, Danielle Cohen, and Bruno Silva. They never refused and always helped me. Although I know that I am a difficult partner.”


Azamat Bekoev and Natasha Kuziutina are the first Russian male and female athletes to win LFA titles. 


One of the many talented teammates that Kuziutina now trains with at ATT is her fellow Russian countryman Azamat Bekoev. Last summer, he became the LFA interim middleweight champion when he defeated Dylan Budka at LFA 160 in Owensboro, Kentucky. It was his second win in the LFA in 2023 and set up a title unification bout with the champion Lucas Fernando, who was unable to defend his LFA title last summer due to an invitation to compete on Dana White’s Contender Series. Bekoev woould eventually win the LFA middleweight title unification bout, which took place in the main event of LFA 173. This was the LFA’s year-end event in Las Vegas and Kuziutina won the LFA interim women’s strawweight title in the co-main event of that card. This gave the Russian duo a pair of LFA title fight victories to close out the year. Now they are back to defend their titles this month at LFA 185 (Kuziutina) and LFA 186 (Bekoev) and Kuziutina is excited for what the future has in store for her friend, teammate, and countryman.


Kuziutina on her teammate Azamat Bekoev: “Of course, I am very proud that Azamat is defending the LFA title for the second time. I hope he succeeds! I will root for him and believe in his victory. It would be very cool if he were invited to the UFC. It would give a new round of development to his career.”


Natasha Kuziutina won the LFA Interim Women’s Strawweight Title at LFA 173.


Earlier this year, when undefeated Russian prospect Victoria Dudakova moved up to the women’s flyweight division (125-pounds), it resulted in the women’s strawweight division (115-pounds) becoming the only division in the UFC that does not currently have a Russian fighter. Russia is a super power in MMA and Kuziutina would love to give her country a representative in the UFC’s lightest weight class, but she is also taking her development as an MMA fighter one fight at a time.


Kuziutina on giving Russia a fighter in every UFC division: “I believe that the Russian school of fighting is one of the strongest schools in the world. In Russia, sport is available to everyone, regardless of income. Combat Sports sections are free for school-age children, so competition is very high. Subsequently, if an athlete reaches the world level, the state supports them and allows them to develop their sporting capabilities to the maximum level. I am very grateful to my country for making me who I am. Every fight is a challenge for me. I will try to do everything possible to defend my belt and it would be nice to try myself in the UFC, but let’s not think about the future, step by step – just forward.”


Watch LFA 185: Gennrich vs. Lewis


Natasha “Kuzya” Kuziutina defends her LFA interim women’s strawweight title against Bruna Ellen in the Co-Main Event of LFA 185.


Kuziutina is a world-class competitor to the core. After capturing the LFA interim women’s strawweight title in December, she was eager to unify the title much like her teammate Bekoev had done with his middleweight title the same night she won her interim title. Once the LFA women’s strawweight champion Rose Conceição was fully healthy, they were both willing to make the title unification fight happen in the United States or abroad. However, UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard had other plans as Conceição as she was recently signed to compete this summer on Dana White’s Contender Series.

Kuziutina saw the situation as a chance to pay it forward. When Conceição was injured and forced to withdraw from her title defense against Canuto in December, Canuto accepted the interim title fight with Kuziutina. Now the Russian is doing the same for Bruna Ellen, who will be challenging Kuziutina for her interim title, while Conceição gets ready to compete in front of Dana White.

Ellen is a Brazilian standout that competed nine-times for Bellator at flyweight. During her 8-year tenure in Bellator, she went the distance with two former Bellator flyweight world champions (Juliana Velasquez and Ilima-Lei Macfarlane) and won more than half of her fights in the heavier weight class for the promotion. Ellen is known for her aggressive striking style as she is a black belt in Sanda (formerly known as Sanshou), which is a Chinese martial art that combines Kickboxing with throws and takedowns. Some consider it a mix between Kickboxing and Judo. This clash of styles has fight fans clamoring. Olympic Judo throws pitted against world-level Sanda throws has never occured in MMA and it is happening with LFA gold on the line.


Kuziutina on fighting Bruna Ellen: “Bruna Ellen is a good aggressive fighter. It will be an interesting fight, two completely different directions. I think we will put on a beautiful show on June 7. My great sports background has given me such experience that one should not underestimate the enemy. No one goes out to lose, everyone wants to win, and will do their best to win. Therefore, I am ready for throws and for fighting. This is a fight and no one knows how it will go! This will be an interesting fight. Join us!”



You can watch Natasha “Kuzya” Kuziutina defend her LFA interim women’s strawweight title against Bruna Ellen in the Co-Main Event of LFA 185. The event takes place this Friday, June 7th and it will be available worldwide on UFC Fight Pass at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT. The Preliminary Card will be available on YouTube and the LFA Fight Network and starts around 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.






About LFA:
LFA is a professional Mixed Martial Arts promotion that was formed by the powerhouse merger between RFA and Legacy FC in 2017. It has launched the careers of over 300 athletes that have reached the pinnacle of MMA by competing in the UFC. LFA presents live Mixed Martial Arts events on a monthly basis around the world including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. Based in Las Vegas, NV, LFA is one of the most active and respected MMA organizations in the fastest growing sport in the world. The promotion owns and operates LFA FIGHT NETWORK™, a premium YouTube channel that features live combat sports events alongside live LFA Prelims and historical fights.

Please visit LFA.com for updates and information. Visit the official LFA YouTube channel (LFA FIGHT NETWORK™) at @LFAfights. LFA is on Facebook at Facebook.com/LFAfighting. LFA is also on Instagram at @LFAfighting and X (formerly Twitter) at @LFAfighting.


UFC FIGHT PASS® is the world’s leading digital subscription service for combat sports. Since launching in 2013, UFC FIGHT PASS is now available in more than 200 countries and territories. FIGHT PASS provides its members with unlimited access to live UFC FIGHT PASS Prelims; live mixed martial arts and combat sports from around the world; original series and historical programming; special features; behind-the-scenes content; in-depth interviews; and up-to-the minute reports on the world of combat sports. UFC FIGHT PASS subscribers also have 24/7 access to the world’s largest fight library, featuring more than 20,000 bouts from dozens of combats sports organizations, as well as every fight in UFC history. Fight fans can access UFC FIGHT PASS on personal computers, iOS and Android mobile devices, Apple TV, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, LG Smart TVs, and Sony TVs with Android TV. For more information, please visit UFCFightPass.com.


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