Since the start of 2018, Hickman has cornered a slew of top martial artists in ONE Championship, including Tiffany “No Chill” Teo, Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov, Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia, and Timofey Nastyukhin.
This coming Saturday, 24 March, he will be in Bangkok, Thailand to see three more of his trainees compete at ONE: IRON WILL. He has been preparing Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai, Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige, and Tetsuya Yamada for their respective battles at the blockbuster show.
As Hickman readies the trio for the epic showdown, the Phuket, Thailand-based head coach talks about their training, and much more, in this exclusive interview.
ONE Championship: Why do you feel athletes want to train in Thailand, specifically Tiger Muay Thai & MMA?
George Hickman: Thailand is a hotbed for training, and for athletes like Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin, it gives them time to come here, train, and get acclimated to the time difference and weather. But I think athletes like to come to Thailand because you have a lot of training options, and is very cost-effective.
If you were in the [United] States for your training camp, depending if you have another job or if you compete full-time, it can be very stressful, and expensive. You can fly to Thailand, and do a training camp a lot cheaper than elsewhere.
Food is cheap, accommodation is cheap, and just the fact that, when you come here to Tiger Muay Thai, you have training partners from all over the world that you can get a different look from on a daily basis. You have different coaches, and it can be very beneficial.
ONE: At ONE: IRON WILL, Shannon Wiratchai makes his return after a tough loss in December. How do you think he will do?
GH: Yes, Shannon had a minor setback after his last match. However, I think he learned more after that loss than any of his wins.
He will be motivated to get back to his ways, and unleash his exciting striking. I think he needs to believe in himself, and not hold back. When he competes smart, but not hold back and lets his skills take over, he is very dangerous.
ONE: Someone you have worked with a lot over the past year is Rika Ishige. Tell us about her startling improvement.
GH: Rika has made a lot of improvements over the last year. I think she has gotten stronger, and continues to improve. She also continues to improve on her striking, and grappling. Also, she has more confidence, as she is not just a beginner any longer.
ONE: Also, Tetsuya Yamada returns, and he is still quite new to the ONE audience. What should people should know him?
GH: Tetsuya is not as well known here as obviously Shannon or Rika, however, he should be. He is a tough guy. Last year, he competed seven or eight times. Tetsuya is well-rounded and has a really great ground game. He has a tough style, and finishes matches fast.
I think he is a good athlete. Tetsuya will have to be ready from the start [against Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev], but I think he is very experienced, and has seen this type of opponent before. Look for him to get the win.
ONE: What did you think about Tiffany Teo, who fell short in her quest for the ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title?
GH: It was the first time she came to Tiger Muay Thai to train, so it was my first time cornering her, and my first time working with her.
She has only been doing this for a couple of years. That is not a long time. She had two or three matches outside of ONE, and then most of her matches in ONE, she tore through the competition. In that short amount of time, to compete for the world title against a tough opponent like she did is a testament to how good she is, and how fast she improves.
I told her after the match: ‘This is your first loss, you are going to learn more from this than any of the seven wins that you have.’ Obviously, she is a tough girl. But I think she is very open to learning, and I think she will continue to get better.
ONE: Kairat Akhmetov also recently competed for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship. What are your thoughts on Kairat’s talent and ability?
GH: He is a very talented and skilled guy. He has good striking, and he is a very good wrestler and a very good grappler. I think Kairat just needs to believe in himself more. If he believes in himself, he can beat anybody in the world. I believe that.
I think he will be fine. Now, he is taking some time [for himself]. He is with his family. When he comes back, he will be rejuvenated, and we will see an improved, ready-to-go Kairat.
ONE: Also, Emilio Urrutia had an incredible knockout victory over Bruno Pucci. Do you think Emilio can shake up the featherweight division?
GH: I think he has already shaken up the division. In his match against Bruno, his striking was on point, and he was patient. Even when he had him hurt, he was still patient and calculated, and I think that is a testament to how hard Emilio works.
I have known him now for four years, since I have been in Thailand. We have trained together. I have traveled the world with the guy, and I think that [win] is just a testament to how far he has come in four years. I think this year is going to be a big year for him.
ONE: Timofey moved up the lightweight ranks when he defeated Amir Khan via unanimous decision in February. How did you feel about his performance?
GH: I think Timofey did a good job. He competes as he always does, which is hard, and exciting. It is no secret what he comes to do when he competes, and he did that, but did it better. He looked good, and I see him challenging for the world title soon.
Timofey is a tough guy. He is quiet, and he does not talk a lot. He is a hard worker. He just comes in, and does his thing. He listens whenever we tell him something. He is a nice guy, a very likable guy, but man, he is a tough guy. At any moment, he is so explosive, and at any moment, he can put you to sleep. He has shown that time and time again when he competes.