Former ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash is a man on a mission.
Seven months removed from losing his coveted title belt to Myanmar hero Aung La N Sang, the Russian’s competitive fire is burning intensely, and he is more driven than ever to return to glory.
“I will get my belt back,” the 33-year-old states. “My ultimate goal is to become a champion again, so I will go up against whoever it is necessary to get there.”
Bigdash’s road back to the belt brings him up against five-time BJJ world champion Leandro Ataides (10-3), with bout taking place at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE, live from the Jakarta Convention Center on Saturday, 20 January.
Bigdash (9-1) racked up seven consecutive stoppage victories before making his promotional debut at ONE: TIGERS OF ASIA in October 2015.
In his first bout with the organization, the Rostov-on-Don native showed an incredible physique, a versatile skill set, and huge heart when he scored a comeback victory over then-titleholder Igor Svirid to claim the ONE Middleweight World Championship.
Despite being repeatedly knocked down by massive punches in the opening stanza, Bigdash rallied back to knock Svirid out with a massive knee and ground strikes just 36 ticks into the second round.
The two warriors gave the audience at Malaysia’s Stadium Putra an incredible show, which received several “Match of the Year” nominations worldwide.
In January 2017, Bigdash was dominant in his first title defense against late replacement Aung La “Burmese Python” N Sang. The judges gave the unanimous decision nod to the Russian on that night.
However, in late June, the two clashed once more at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in his opponent’s hometown of Yangon, Myanmar. The rematch turned out to be a real thriller, as it featured back-and-forth action throughout all five rounds.
Now, seven months removed, the decision, and only blemish of his career, is still something that does not sit well with Bigdash.
“I respect the judges and ONE Championship, but I am not going to agree with this decision,” he begins. “I think Aung La N Sang did not do enough to get that belt. I felt that he got the win because the bout happened on his home turf.”
Although he is steadfast in his belief that he beat Aung La N Sang that night, he is quick to point out his own mistakes.
“While I disagree with the judges, I have to take responsibility for my own actions,” said Bigdash. “To be honest, I underestimated Aung La N Sang. I competed against him before, I knew his style, and I did not expect any surprises. But my opponent was quick and brave. It did not help when I made a technical mistake.”
That mistake led to Aung La N Sang knocking Bigdash down in the first round with a flurry of punches, which led to the Myanmar hero swarming with ground strikes in an attempt to earn the knockout.
Bigdash hung tough to come back over five rounds, but the near-finish was probably what gave the “Burmese Python” the judges’ decision according to ONE’s scoring system.
However, Bigdash also says he should not have arrived in Myanmar just three days before the bout. That affected him tremendously, and he acknowledges that “it was not enough time for acclimatization.”
For his upcoming bout with Ataides, he has remedied that issue. He left behind his team at Akhmat MMA, a club in the mountainous region of Chechnya, and traveled to Thailand to train with Phuket Top Team two months prior to ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE.
This time, he is giving his body plenty of time to adjust to the Southeast Asian climate, all while benefitting from some world-class training.
“I do not want to repeat my old mistakes with acclimatization,” he explains, before talking about his twice-a-day training program. “I am training all aspects of the game to achieve my goal — to win against Ataides and be one step closer to getting my belt back. I am not treating this match lightly.”
Bigdash knows just how dangerous Ataides can be. The five-time BJJ world champion is a former title challenger who possesses a dynamic striking background, and carries one-punch knockout power to go along with his submission prowess.
This is a dangerous match-up, and knows a loss can derail his championship hopes.
“He is a physically strong guy and an outstanding jiu-jitsu practitioner,” the Russian says of Ataides. “I did not expect ONE to give me an easy opponent.”
Ataides presents a formidable challenge, but if the Russian can defeat him later this month, then it could very well lead to the trilogy match with Aung La N Sang he so desperately longs for.
There is plenty at stake, and Bigdash is doing everything he can to secure the win and return to grace.