‘My Risks Paid Off’ – Ilya Freymanov’s Journey From The Mean Streets Of Russia To An MMA World Title Shot
Ilya Freymanov knew from an early age that martial arts would always be a big part of his life.
Like many young boys, the Russian had a lot of energy that he channeled constructively through combat sports, and the years of dedication have now led him to a ONE Interim Featherweight MMA World Title shot at ONE Fight Night 15 on Prime Video.
The road has been full of twists and turns, but the #3-ranked contender can achieve his dream when he faces #1-ranked Thanh Le for the belt in U.S. primetime this Friday, October 6.
Before Freymanov throws down with the former divisional king at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand, learn how his unrelenting determination was forged – and how he made his way to the top.
Inheriting A Strong Work Ethic
Freymanov hails from Krasnodar in Southern Russia. His family relocated there from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the country’s Far East just before he was born.
His parents were both industrious and focused. His mother worked multiple jobs to make ends meet before becoming a supervisor at a local military base responsible for refurbishing combat airplanes, while his father moved up through the ranks in factory work.
The area they lived in wasn’t perfect, but the 27-year-old still looks back fondly on his upbringing:
“I have many memories from my childhood, both good and not-so-good. My family often went fishing together and spent time in nature. Those are good times that I will remember.
“The school and the neighborhood were not considered exemplary or good for various reasons. There were a lot of kids from poor and troubled families, and some were already addicted to drugs from a young age.
“But on the whole, it was normal. I was engaged in sports, choral singing, and theater, and this helped me to see the good [in life] and follow the right path in the future.”
Many difficult experiences shaped the youngster as he grew up, including his parents simultaneously fighting cancer together when he was a teenager.
Sadly, his father lost the battle when Freymanov was in his early teens, but the young man immersed himself in his activities and used his ambition to keep moving forward.
“It so happened that my parents both got cancer, went through chemotherapy together, and were cured, but my father relapsed and died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 53. I was 14 years old.
“In general, I grew up outdoors, looking for adventure. I was an active child who practiced sports and tried many disciplines, including acrobatics, swimming, and then martial arts. I always tested myself and tried to prove something to myself. I was always driven by that desire to be the best.”
Martial Arts And Military School
It would have been easy for Freymanov to fall in with the wrong crowd in his home city, but two things played a major role in that not happening.
Martial arts and military school kept him on the right track. The latter was at the behest of his mother, who could see there were too many risks if he stayed home.
“My mother suggested that I enroll in the cadet corps, and I immediately agreed. At that time, many people said that I was a difficult child, and if I was not enrolled in sports school or cadets, the street would take me and I would be lost, like many young guys of our time.
“I thought that cadetship was my personal choice, but my mom later admitted that she couldn’t cope and it was the only option and the solution to our problems.”
The cadet corps offered Freymanov both discipline and routine, as well as extra chances to try out different combat sports.
He had already trained in the striking art of taekwondo, but he started to enjoy other disciplines when he was introduced to them in his military training.
The coaches Freymanov met along the way also had an enormous impact on him – and that remains true as he chases World Championship gold in ONE Championship:
“I started practicing martial arts at the age of 7. Many thanks to my first coach, Alexander Valerievich. He saw potential in me, and I am grateful to him. He instilled in me a love for the sport, and I couldn’t live without martial arts anymore.
“After entering the Kuban Cossack Cadet Corps of Ataman Babich, I started practicing new disciplines, like wrestling and different striking techniques.
“I began to compete in many combat disciplines – hand-to-hand combat, army combat, universal combat. A year later I met my head coach and friend, Oleg Vladimirovich Perevertunov. We immediately began to compete in Muay Thai, pankration, kickboxing, savate, and MMA.
“He put his soul, his hopes and beliefs into me, poured his sweat and tears [into training me]. Without his support, my path would not have been so eventful and bright, for which I am immeasurably grateful.”
Making A Choice
Freymanov developed a huge love for competition and soon enjoyed massive success.
First, it was regionally, but then internationally, and this prompted him to focus his energy on martial arts when he finished with the cadets.
“After graduation from cadets, I won amateur World Titles in different disciplines. I am the World Champion for the TATNEFT Cup in kickboxing, I have World Titles and prizes in universal fighting, kickboxing, Muay Thai, savate, and the title of the GAMMA Amateur MMA World Champion.
“I got a profession after high school. I’m a software engineer. But I always knew I wanted to pursue sports professionally.
“I had a choice to make, and I do not regret for a second that I chose the path of a professional athlete, which I have been following now for more than 10 years.”
Reaching The Pinnacle Of MMA
Since turning professional to chase his dream of World Championship gold in the paid ranks, Freymanov has continued his meteoric rise.
He blitzed through the opposition on the regional circuit before getting an opportunity to face off against former two-division ONE World Champion Martin Nguyen in his promotional debut in 2022.
This chance only came because the Russian had put all of his eggs in one basket and moved to Thailand to train full-time with his last reserves of money.
Fortunately, it paid off at the right time – and it has changed his life:
“I moved to Thailand to approach and sign with a [major promotion]. I felt that I could achieve that and fate helped me, so it happened. At home, it felt like I was getting stale, so I took everything I had and left to realize myself fully through the sport.
“The hardest part was taking risks, stepping out of my comfort zone, and going after my goals and dreams. I only had enough money for a few months, so I was limited in terms of time.
“And the nice thing is that my risks paid off and the results speak for themselves. I achieved what I wanted and now I am doing professionally what I love.”