The memories of Timofey Nastyukhin’s catastrophic injury are still fresh in his mind.
The Russian Top Team product fully expected to defeat his opponent, Japan’s Kotetsu “No Face” Boku, at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in November 2016. But a disastrous low roundhouse kick cost the 28-year-old a broken shin, a loss, and nine months of rehabilitation.
Neither spectators at the Singapore Indoor Stadium nor viewers around the world — not even Timofey himself — really understood what had happened during the second minute of the opening round, when Nastyukhin kicked Boku’s front leg and fell to the floor in pain.
Although he knew he was injured, the Russian showed superhuman determination and grit to finish the round. That was when the doctor deemed him unfit to continue, awarding the TKO win to Boku.
What he did not know was the extent of the injury.
“That fateful night nearly cost me my career,” he recalls. “They carried me out of the building on a stretcher, and brought me to the hospital where I heard the diagnosis — a broken tibia. Many people admired my perseverance in that match, and they cannot believe I finished the round.”
Lying on a hospital bed in a foreign country, all on his own with only an interpreter on the phone to help communicate with doctors, Nastyukhin had to ask himself if he was ready to continue chasing his dream. He was questioning if the devastating injury and the sacrifices he continuously makes to become a world champion was truly worth it.
“The belt has always been my goal. I am not here to just make up numbers on the roster,” he says. “But right after the match, I had all sort of negative thoughts and doubts. The doctors at the Singapore hospital did a fantastic job, and the surgery went well.”
Nastyukhin had a metal plate placed into his leg, and the day after the surgery, the decision was clear: he decided to move up a weight class, and continue his career in pursuit of the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
“I made a plan in my head,” he begins. “And I am still following it. There is no turning back.”
That plan included going back to Russia and visiting a rehabilitation center in Belokurikha, near his home in Novokuznetsk. For the next four months, he underwent physical therapy, endured painful massages, and had to do special exercises with light weights and rubber bands.
“It is an expensive facility, by Russian standards, but the doctors are very knowledgeable and they provide good care, too. ONE Championship took care of my rehabilitation financially, which was a huge relief. It is good to be a part of an organization where you are not left behind in difficult situations,” Nastyukhin says.
“ONE was very supportive of me during this difficult time. I would like to thank Victor Cui, CEO, International of ONE Championship, who took time to personally get in touch and offer his help. Massive thanks to all the officials who came to visit me in the hospital, and the lovely note in Russian that they left me – they probably had to use Google translate.
“I found it very touching. My fans were amazing, sending messages on Instagram and Facebook, too.”
At first, Nastyukhin could only move on crutches. Walking with a cane followed. Soon, the doctors allowed him to use weights for his upper body, and permitted him to swim. Four months later, he was finally able to resume martial arts training, starting slowly with boxing, and then adding kicks.
After nine long months of recovery, Nastyukhin made his triumphant return with the intention of obtaining a world title shot as soon as possible. His perseverance and dedication paid off, as he defeated Ando via unanimous decision.
“I do not need to look for motivation to continue working towards my dreams of winning ONE Championship gold. Martial arts has been my life since I was a kid, now it is also my profession,” he states. “Motivated or not, an accountant or a bus driver goes to work. I am no different.”
Nastyukhin’s next challenge takes place on Friday, 23 February, as he clashes with fellow knockout artist Amir Khan at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD. It is an enticing matchup that pits Khan, the man with the most knockouts in ONE history, versus Nastyukhin, the record holder for fastest knockout in ONE history at just six seconds.
Khan is currently riding a six-bout win streak, and has decimated every single opponent who stood across from him in the ONE cage. But as the Russian continues to demonstrate, he can persevere through any struggle, and nothing will stand in his way of achieving a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship. Not a broken tibia, and certainly not Amir Khan.