Though he has made mistakes along the way, Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam is now in the perfect place to lead his family from the front.
The former ONE Welterweight World Champion — who returns to action this Friday against Gadzhimurad Abdulaev at ONE: UNBREAKABLE in Singapore — has shown that anybody can turn their life around if they commit themselves to their passion.
Kadestam’s story – which saw him go from a troubled youth to the pinnacle of mixed martial arts – has no doubt inspired legions of ONE Championship fans around the world. But his impact as a role model for his younger brother and sister means the most to him.
“In the beginning, I was just lost, so I didn’t really have a good connection [with my siblings]. I was locked up for a long time during their childhoods, so I never really got to see them grow up close,” Kadestam says.
“Even though we still had contact, I wasn’t the big brother I should have been. It took me a few years to grow up inside my own head and see that family comes first.
“Later in life, I realized that everything I do, I want to do it for them. I’m always trying to be the best I can be to show them and to help them in any way that I can.”
For Kadestam, an important spectator to this growth has been his younger brother, Olle.
At 19, he is 11 years younger than “The Bandit” and is still finding his own path in life. For now, Kadestam is doing his best to pass on the knowledge he has – especially about martial arts.
“I’ve been trying since he was very young to get him into any kind of martial art, so he has been training for about seven years on and off,” Kadestam says of Olle.
“He is still studying and he’s now in a gymnasium with a boxing direction in the school, but he’s kind of fed up with it. He is going to the gym and lifting weights at the moment, but I’m going to try and get him back on track.
“He’s good at it. He has competed in competitions that have striking with takedowns before. His boxing is good, he wanted to start competing in that, but you know how it is when you’re his age — you want to lift weights and talk to girls.”
Kadestam has seen both sides of the equation. Being young and unruly with nothing to care about led him into bad situations. But when he discovered martial arts, his life changed immeasurably.
The Swede found drive, motivation, and focus where there was none, and he channeled his energy into something positive. Ultimately, that positive energy led him to World Championship gold, which is why he will always be an advocate for martial arts in his brother’s life.
“I went through some tough times, and he has been through some tough times himself. The only way out for me was training,” Kadestam says.
“I don’t have many tools in life except martial arts. He has his own struggles, but this is the only way I know to say, ‘Get off the streets, come and do this to do better in life.’
“I’m sure there are a million other things you could do, but I only know one way. It worked for me. It might not work for everyone, but I can’t teach something I don’t know.
“That’s my way of trying to help him out, showing him the discipline you get through martial arts. Everybody is going to have a tough time now and then, but this is how to get back up and keep going for something better than the street life.”
However, as much as “The Bandit” believes in the power of martial arts for growth, he will support his younger brother in anything he wants to pursue.
His main takeaway to share with Olle — and all of those who look up to him — is that they should follow their passion, whether it comes in the form of combat sports or something else.
“He’s a smart kid and I respect whatever he wants to do. We have a good relationship, so we can train, lift some weights, whatever he wants to do,” Kadestam says.
“Now that I’m a little bit older, I believe that passion is everything you need. If you don’t have passion, you’re just going through the motions with anything you do. You might go through life with no passion and stay out of trouble, but what is that life?
“But when you find your passion and go for it, that is when you really start living life. I would say it’s the most important thing for anybody.”