Fourth-ranked flyweight contender Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov has stood at the top of the mountain before, and now he believes that he’s ready to challenge for the gold yet again.
The former ONE Flyweight World Champion wants to earn a trilogy bout against the division’s reigning king, Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes, and he could take a huge step toward that goal on Friday, 17 December.
Akhmetov was originally slated to meet the Filipino in the 2019 ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix semifinal round, but an injury forced him to withdraw from the tournament.
The bout was rescheduled multiple times since then, but COVID-19 protocols continued to delay it.
Now, the long-anticipated mixed martial arts contest will finally take place, and “The Kazakh” is prepared to go deep into the trenches to claim victory.
“I’m 100-percent ready with no injuries or anything bothering me. I feel excellent. I’m ready to make a show and perform at my best,” he says.
“The fans should expect a very uncompromising fight. It’s difficult to say [how it will go], but I know I will feel great joy and pride.”
Akhmetov has felt great joy and pride in his ONE career before.
In November 2015, the then-undefeated Kazakhstani grappling sensation beat Moraes in his promotional debut via split decision to win the ONE Flyweight World Title from the Brazilian.
Unfortunately, “The Kazakh” aggravated a longtime back injury during a training camp at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, the following year, which put him on the sidelines for an extended period of time. And in his return in August 2017, he dropped the belt back to Moraes and tasted defeat for the first time in his pro career.
The next several months were difficult for the former titleholder. He experienced some mixed results and suffered a few more injuries. But now, he is healed up and feels like he is an even stronger athlete.
Currently, Akhmetov finds himself on a three-fight winning streak – with victories over notable names like “The Southern Eagle” Ma Hao Bin, Reece “Lightning” McLaren, and “Holy Beast” Dae Hwan Kim – and he believes he has yet to reach the pinnacle of his physical prowess.
“I’m happy. I have three wins in a row, and I am fourth in the rankings. This motivates me to become the champion,” the 34-year-old says.
“At this moment, I’m at the peak of my capabilities. I was immature before my thirties. I started developing late in my life – it’s in my genes. Members of my family develop late. When my peers were strong and able-bodied, I still looked like a boy.
“My father used to tell me, ‘Time will come, and you will get stronger, but it will take some time.’ My physical parameters only started developing after 30. I think I will be at my best in the next two to three years.”
Akhmetov will need to be on form to get past “The King.”
Like “The Kazakh,” the 26-year-old’s only two defeats have come in title bouts – including one to Moraes – and both men are eager to take their place at the top of the division.
Coming from the famous Team Lakay, known for their elite wushu skills, Kingad will certainly bring some high-level striking to the contest. Akhmetov acknowledges his opponent’s skills, but the multi-time Kazakhstani Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion knows what to expect from the Filipino and has the tools to combat it.
“It’s not our first camp, we already prepared to fight with him before. I studied him well, and I think he studied me too,” Akhmetov says.
“Kingad is not one-sided. He can fight standing. He is physically strong, and he knows wrestling well. He is versatile, and I like it. It will make for a competitive bout. But of course, since my wrestling skills are higher than his, I will put him down, for sure.”
That said, the Filipino may also have some insight into his upcoming rival’s skill set.
Kingad trains with former ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, who has quite a history with Akhmetov. The man from Almaty, Kazakhstan originally defeated Eustaquio via split decision in September 2017 but fell to him via unanimous decision in a rematch for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title four months later.
Even though “The King” trains closely with Eustaquio, “The Kazakh” doesn’t seem fazed one bit. After all, he has studied the young Filipino’s tape and isn’t convinced the Team Lakay phenom can handle his slick all-around game.
“[Kingad] had one knockout in the beginning of his career, but all his last fights have been won by decision, split or unanimous. He has never had knockouts, and he wants to knock me out?” Akhmetov adds.
“Yes, he has good stand-up, no questions here, but don’t be surprised if it’s me that knocks him out. I’m not afraid of his stand-up.
“I will do stand-up and grappling. Mixed martial arts is neither kickboxing, wrestling, or any separate sport – it’s mixed martial arts. We’ll show ourselves in all aspects.”
The Arlan Pro Team and Tiger Muay Thai representative feels like he is working toward a crescendo in his athletic career, and a win over Kingad would put him right back into the World Title mix.
His biggest goal is to earn a third fight for the gold, but he also has lofty dreams of bringing a ONE event to his home country and giving his compatriots a chance to see him compete live – and potentially with a legend of the sport in tow.
“After winning this bout, I would like to fight for the title, or with Demetrious Johnson in my homeland, Kazakhstan,” he says.
“We have business to finish with Adriano Moraes. The score is 1-1. I think we ought to make it a trilogy. But I don’t want to make guesses.
“And all of Kazakhstan is waiting for a ONE Championship event here. This is my dream. But this contender fight is my identification card for my future dream.”
Now, it’s down to Akhmetov to make it a reality. He’s not one to make bold predictions, but he has faith that the work he has done will earn him the victory in Singapore.
“I can’t foresee the outcome of the fight, but I am prepared and ready to go all three rounds. If I can win ahead of time, I will do my best to take this chance,” he says.
“I respect Kingad, and I hope he respects me too. Simply put, let’s make a good show and give the audience a great night.”