Roman Kryklia had all the right tools to become a top-class kickboxer, but he would ever have become a World Champion without the right attitude.
The Ukrainian’s dedication to his sport helped him escape small-town life to travel the world in search of success, and now he has the chance to claim the biggest prize in the game.
This Saturday, 16 November, the 28-year-old can stand above all of his peers when he faces Tarik “The Tank” Khbabez for the inaugural ONE Light Heavyweight World Title in the co-main event of ONE: AGE OF DRAGONS.
Before he steps in the ring in Beijing, China, Kryklia reveals how he took advantage of his physical gifts to reach the cusp of making history in The Home Of Martial Arts.
Kryklia was born in Krasnograd in eastern Ukraine. The 1990s were turbulent times in the country, and there was not much going on in his small town, but he had a happy and carefree childhood.
“People could not afford much, that’s true, but it was like that for most people, not for selected few, so not having much seemed normal,” he says.
“We used to spend most of our free time outside, hanging out with the boys on the streets – that’s was my school of life education.”
One thing that he did have from an early age was martial arts. He started karate at the age of 6 when his father decided that the Burovik martial arts club would be the best place to keep his son’s out of trouble.
“I was a bit of a prankster as a kid,” Kryklia admits.
“I was naughty, so my parents looked at this school as a good place to discipline me. It was a busy club, I made many friends, and I loved the vibe.”
His coach, Valentin Kozhushko, became a mentor, and along with his father helped teach the young Kryklia the values that would be the foundation of his development as an athlete.
“The secret of my success is a combination of discipline and dedication,” he adds.
“My parents gave me good genes – I was tall and strong – but my dad and my coach made sure that I worked hard, and that I respected the gym and the ethos of martial arts.”
The Next Step
In 2008, Kryklia moved northeast to the second-largest city in the country, Kharkiv.
He arrived at Kharkiv National Institute, where he wanted to study physics and astronomy, and also joined a new gym that would take his martial arts skills to the next level.
“It was a good move for my family. To be honest, anyone who had any ambition in life left Krasnograd to pursue their luck elsewhere,” says the Ukrainian.
“I joined Maximus club and started training under Maxim Kiyko and Victor Demchenko, and I got hooked. Maximus was full of world-class talent. After the first year, I added kickboxing and Muay Thai to my repertoire and started thinking of going pro.”
Kryklia became the national youth kickboxing champion in 2008 and picked up a silver medal at the amateur Thai boxing championship in 2010, but his success came at the cost of his studies.
“I tried doing both – boxing and studying – but it did not last long. Soon, I started spending most of my time at the gym and not [in class],” he explains.
“After two years of problems, I transferred to Kharkiv National Automobile and Highway University. There they needed me to deliver good results in sports and in return they helped me pass exams, they were very understanding. The dean realized that first and foremost, I was a sportsman.”
The arrangement worked out for everyone as he earned a diploma as an automotive engineer and helped to keep his school at the top of the university league.
Following his success in the youth and amateur ranks, Kryklia began his professional career in 2011. His coach was impressed with his early progress, and paved the way for him to take the next big step in his life.
“Maxim showed videos of my fights to Andrey Gridin – the most famous coach in our part of the world,” says the 28-year-old.
He is the head of a great school, but he is very selective. I was thrilled when Maxim told me I had to fly to Minsk in Belarus to audition.”
Gridin immediately saw the potential in the young heavyweight and took him under his wing.
In 2013, Kryklia moved to Minsk, Belarus, and officially joined the Chinook martial arts club full-time. There, he went from strength to strength as he developed his signature, technical style.
His coach believes in “intelligent boxing” that prioritizes taking minimum damage while demonstrating impeccable technique and timing. Allied with his height – he stands at 2 meters – Kryklia has built a 44-7 record and has won many honors including the KLF, A1, WAKO Pro, and FEA Grand Prix World Titles.
Krylika’s success has taken him all the way to the world’s largest martial arts organization, and he could not have a bigger opportunity in his debut.
If he can get his hand raised in the Cadillac Arena, he will make history by claiming the inaugural ONE Light Heavyweight Kickboxing World Title.
“In kickboxing, you can win many titles and accolades, but at the moment the ONE Super Series title is the most coveted prize for any kickboxer,” he says.
“If I win on 16 December in Beijing, it will be the pinnacle of my career.
“People watch the ONE online streaming and live broadcast, and they see the high level of athletes in ONE. This fight will mean a lot to me and fans of martial arts in Ukraine and Belarus.”
Beijing | 16 November | AGE OF DRAGONS | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast