However, after a fantastic performance in the opening round of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix, the 31-year-old is fired up to chase success at the highest level of mixed martial arts again.
Kairat "The Kazakh" Akhmetov kicks off the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix by defeating Reece McLaren via unanimous decision in a spirited stand-up battle!Watch the full event on the ONE Super App http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast
Posted by ONE Championship on Sunday, 31 March 2019
The former ONE Flyweight World Champion put on a fantastic performance to defeat his Australian rival via unanimous decision after three rounds of battle.
McLaren was considered to be one of the top contenders in the weight class, but “The Kazakh” was dominant throughout the match. He believes he got the win because he wanted and needed it more than McLaren after feeling the pressure in the past year.
“In Kazakhstan, there is a strange mentality – people can quickly abandon you if you make a mistake as a fighter,” he explains.
“Today you are a winner, and they love you, and the next day, if you lose, they can trash your name. People get into very emotional and into heated debates about fights where I am from.”
“I was prepared to quit my career if I lost to Reece. I’ve been through so much – a defeat, my kid’s health problems, my own health, visa issues, pressure from fans. I was getting close to throwing in the towel.
“But deep down, I didn’t want to quit, so I went into this fight like I would go to war, all-in. I was fighting not just for my future in sports, I was fighting for my future in life.”
Despite the weight on his shoulders, Akhmetov was excited to get a slot on ONE’s inaugural event in Japan.
When he arrived in Tokyo, he walked the streets to calm his nerves before the fight and get his mind prepared for competition.
“I spent a lot of time walking around this beautiful city, taking it all in and enjoying its smells and its vibrant culture,” he says.
“It put me in a good mood and on the fight day I was not nervous.”
Calmed by his pre-match ritual, Akhmetov went on to put on one of the best and most surprising performances of his career on the global stage for martial arts.
As an elite Greco-Roman wrestler, the Almaty native was expected to have a grappling battle with his opponent, who is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
Instead, he focused almost exclusively on his striking and punched his ticket to the tournament semi-finals with aggressive attacks – most notably with his heavy left hand that put McLaren on the canvas.
“I was going to avoid wrestling – the plan was to fight in the stand-up,” he says.
“In my previous fights, I didn’t have a chance to showcase my hands. I’m glad I managed to surprise my fans, but to be honest, I actually have quite a range of skills.
“I am a prizefighter, but I am not a show-fighter – I do what’s necessary to win, that’s it. Wrestling was enough until now.”
Unfortunately, his approach let to a potentially critical injury.
Few spectators seemed to suspect Akmetov’s main weapon was compromised because he pressed forward with a combination of heart and skill. In fact, he arguably looked better as the contest progressed.
“I started putting pressure on him from the start, and sent him to the canvas with a big left hand. That’s when I probably broke my hand,” he reveals.
“I had to make changes because my left hand was getting weaker and weaker, so I would give him my leg, he would kick me, and I could work the right a bit more.
“I started feeling the injury in the second round. The pain was getting stronger and stronger, but I was ready to fight to the end even if I had to lose my hand.”
Now with a victory against an opponent he has a lot of respect for, Akhmetov is excited to see what the rest of the World Grand Prix brings.
His next task will be to overcome the challenge of Team Lakay’s Danny “The King” Kingad in the next round. A win would mean a spot in the final, where “The Kazakh” may get the chance to realize a dream.
He would love to share the cage with the mixed martial arts legend Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, who defeated Yuya “Little Piranha” Wakamatsu via submission to advance to a semi-final match with Tatsumitsu “The Sweeper” Wada.
The American is one of the most skilled competitors in the history of the sport, but Akhmetov believes he is hitting his peak as an athlete, and he has no fear of facing that challenge.
“I am still developing as a fighter, and I finally feel my style is getting more and more fluid. What you’ve seen so far is only 50 percent of Kairat Akhmetov. I can’t wait to get my hand fixed and get back into the cage,” he adds.
“It would be my dream come true to fight ‘Mighty Mouse.’ I am a big fan. For me, he is one of the greatest fighters of all time. We shook hands and wished each other luck in the future.
“I was impressed by Wakamatsu who managed to last one and a half rounds and even deliver a couple of nasty shots in round one. I don’t know how long I could last against Demetrious, but maybe we [will] find out in the future.”
First, however, the representative of Alash Pride and Tiger Muay Thai must get past Kingad, and he is not looking past that challenge.
For now, he is back in Kazakhstan where he is focused on recovering from his injury to prepare for his next, critical test.
“I am still in the game, I am still chasing my dream to win the World Grand Prix. Now I feel I should do my best to advance as far as possible,” he says.
“I hope to find a good doctor who can fix me quickly. I must be ready for the next round. It’s my time!”