Dzhabar “Genghis Khan” Askerov has never had anything easy in life, but his determination to succeed has helped him to overcome hurdles that would have stopped most people in their tracks.
The Russian knockout artist – who will face Samy “AK47” Sana this Friday, 16 August at ONE: DREAMS OF GOLD – never lost sight of his goals despite suffering through poverty and heartbreaking family tragedy.
Through martial arts, he developed a warrior spirit, became a successful athlete, and he is now just one match away from the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix final.
Askerov’s late father knew martial arts was a path to a better life for his son, even though he had no interest in training at first.
His family was poor, but his dad made sure he could send his children to practice. He organized their schedules and made sure they never missed a session after school.
However, this was just another aspect of his youth that helped to mold a strong mentality. Despite his disadvantages, he did not get upset, and dedicated himself to his training.
“I had to wear my elder brother’s judo kimono to wrestling classes, and I never taped my hands with proper boxing wraps – that’s why my knuckles are completely broken now,” he recalls.
“Out of 40 kids at the gym, only 10 had boxing gloves. We could not afford even the cheapest brand, so I used padded winter gloves for boxing sparring.
“When you are a kid, you just accept the circumstances of your life as a given, and you just roll with it.”
Through all his practice, “Genghis Khan” began to show top-class potential, but he had to show even more strength to overcome his father’s death when he was 15.
Though it was an extreme emotional blow, the tragedy actually strengthened the teenage athlete’s resolve to push himself and achieve great success.
“When my dad passed away, I was devastated. Suddenly, there was no one to guide and discipline me. I had to start pushing myself,” he says.
“He had poured so much of his dreams, his heart, and soul into my training that I could not stop after his death.”
Askerov’s desire to become better than the competition gave him the courage to travel to Thailand on a one-way ticket at the age of 19,
He joined a group of four friends who were already living and training there, but “The Land Of Smiles” was not always a happy place for the teenager.
“I hoped to make it big, but at first I often found myself moving from one rental to another, surviving mainly on rice and water – I ate a lot of carbs in a desperate attempt to keep the weight on,” he explains.
It was never in his nature to complain, especially after he saw how fortunate he was compared to some of the locals.
For example, during his first year in Thailand, Askerov had only one pair of running shoes that was gradually falling apart, but when he noticed how his Thai peers carried themselves, he did not worry about that anymore.
“I saw athletes in the developing world living and training in abysmal conditions, but going through life with a smile. I didn’t have it easy, but someone had it a lot worse,” he explains.
“I couldn’t afford to buy a new pair, and that upset me, but soon I noticed local young fighters running 10 kilometers on concrete roads barefoot.
“I realized my situation was not that bad, and it reminded me to be grateful for what I had.”
One of the main reasons the Dagestan native moved to Thailand was to make his name and make some money to send home to his family, but he faced even more troubles when he competed.
Though he only had seven professional bouts on his record when he moved East, Askerov was often matched dangerously unfavorably, but he was desperate to climb the ladder and earn cash, he took every opportunity.
“The pay was low, but I needed the money, and often agreed to fight whoever I was offered,” he says.
“I was often put against very experienced opponents, and while I competed every week, the money situation remained very bad.”
“I was like a lamb thrown to the wolves! I remember fighting five times in three weeks – once with a fever of 39.6 degrees. My face was covered in cold sores, it was insane.”
“Genghis Khan” often emerged from the ring exhausted and injured, but without anyone to guide him, he continued to throw himself into the deep end.
He believes it took him a lot longer to get his career off the ground because of the losses he suffered, but the mindset he had developed for his entire life meant his setbacks never made him want to quit.
Askerov persevered and eventually, he started to build an impressive record – which now stands at 108-35-2 – and became a four-time kickboxing World Champion.
Now, he has no doubt that he can go all the way and win ONE Championship’s US$1 million World Grand Prix.
“It built my character,” he says.
“I became financially independent from my family at 19, and I soon started sending some money back home. Martial arts made me feel responsible for myself and your family. It made me a man.”