After two years away from ONE Championship, Russia’s Rasul Yakhyaev will make his long awaited return to the organization, and the stakes could not be any higher.
On Saturday, 9 December, the Chechen athlete will step into the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, to clash with local hero Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai (8-1, 1 NC) in a three-round lightweight affair at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD.
The bout will serve as the night’s co-main event, and is slated to be a title eliminator in the hunt for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Yakhyaev is well aware of the title implications this match holds, and is excited to be paired up against the Thai martial arts pioneer.
“I have only good feelings,” the 26-year-old begins. “I am very motivated for this match, and I am training hard. This will be an important match, the match of the night, and this boosts my motivation.”
The Russian launched his professional career in February 2010, and took off like a rocket. A natural wrestler with formidable striking and submission skills, Yakhyaev impressively won nine of his first eleven contests, where he finished all but two opponents in the opening frame.
That led him to ONE in December 2015, where he made his promotional debut opposite Lowen Tynanes in the main event of ONE: KINGDOM OF KHMER in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He made a valiant showing, but ultimately lost the bout via rear-naked choke in the third and final round.
Yakhyaev admits there were a few issues leading up to the bout, and expects to correct those mistakes the next time he steps inside the cage in December.
“My motivation for this match is very strong because my latest ONE Championship bout was not as good as I planned,” he explains. “I will try not to repeat my previous mistake in Cambodia, where everything — food, acclimatization — was alien to me. I want my body to adapt well. This is most important for me now, approaching this bout at 100 per cent.”
Yakhyaev will need to game plan properly for Wiratchai, because the Thai has been absolutely devastating ever since making his professional debut in September 2011.
Wiratchai is currently on a six-bout win streak, and six of his eight victories come by way of spectacular finish. That, along with his captivating arena entrances, has helped transform him into one of Thailand’s most dynamic athletes.
All throughout 2017, “OneShin” has demonstrated a well-rounded skill set that has been highlighted by his explosive striking. Most recently, the Bangkok Fight Lab product displayed his very own OneShin Striking System in an August encounter with India’s Rajinder Singh Meena, where he needed just 29 seconds to knockout his rival with a thunderous knee.
Despite his opponent being on a roll, Yakhyaev believes he will be the one to stop Wiratchai’s momentum, and expects to exploit some of the perceived holes in his game.
“I think his weakness is wrestling,” the Russian points out. “If you look deeper, you will find even more weaknesses. He is slow in the match, as I saw, but he strikes well and hard. I think he has weaknesses in wrestling, standing up, and against the cage.”
Those are the areas where Yakhyaev feels he has the advantage, mostly because they play into his martial arts expertise as a BJJ and combat sambo champion, and because he has a slew of quality training partners at his gym, Fight Club Berkut.
“Another reason for my confidence is the fact that I train in my gym with very powerful guys, both standing up and on the ground,” he adds. “Working with them gives me more self-confidence. They are very good guys, not worse than him, and other good athletes.”
Yakhyaev’s confidence has never been higher. He has acknowledged his past mistakes, and has been properly correcting them, as he prepares for what is the biggest opportunity of his career.
The Russian wants to land on solid footing, erase the memory of his unsatisfactory debut performance from two years ago, and put himself right in the running for the lightweight world title. With a rival such as Wiratchai, Yakhyaev has someone who will bring out the best in him.
“We came across each other, and he is a funny guy. There is no aggression, nothing bad in him,” Yakhyaev recalls from their encounter at the event’s press conference this past September. “I have seen only two of his matches. He is a very interesting martial artist. I look forward to competing with him.”