After falling short in his debut on the global stage, Davit Kiria is eager to gain some redemption in his sophomore appearance. And this time, he plans to do just that in the world’s biggest kickboxing tournament at ONE: FIRST STRIKE.
This Friday, 15 October, the Georgian striker takes on Enriko “The Hurricane” Kehl in the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix quarterfinals.
The Grand Prix Champion will earn the tournament’s prestigious silver belt and a shot at the inaugural ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Champion.
While those prizes fuel Kiria, there is something the 33-year-old wants even more: to be a role model for the youth in his hometown of Zugdidi.
Where ‘Small Dreams’ Were Made
Kiria might’ve left his hometown for better training opportunities, but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his roots.
The kickboxer was born in the eastern European country of Georgia in 1988, right between the rolling waves of the Black Sea and the foothills of the Egrisi Mountain Range in a city called Zugdidi.
In the late 1980s, Zugdidi was a shell of the city it is today – damaged, corrupted, and lacking in every sense of the word.
“The Soviet Union was occupying the area five kilometers from my house,” Kiria says. “It caused a lot of trouble – no electricity, no social life. Even though I had school sometimes, it was a hard society, a very poor society.”
During those times, residents of Zugdidi had limited access to vital amenities like quality food, proper clothing, and sometimes even shelter. Moreover, much of the country was living in poverty, and an economic upturn was unfathomable.
Even his father, who once held a secure position with the state-owned railway company, lost his job and had to work at a local wet market selling fish. His mother, unable to find employment, stayed home and plated whatever food Kiria’s father could afford.
Though he might not have had much growing up, Kiria did have one thing.
“Neighbors,” he says. “We had each other, and we made positive things from nothing, like playing in the street all day.
“The neighborhood was very welcoming, and we were very close to each other. My neighborhood was my life. I didn’t know a lot of other things.”
In that environment, it was hard for the young Kiria to look beyond what he saw each day.
“I dreamed a lot when I was a kid,” he continues. “But when you’re a small kid, and you have no information and no opportunities, then you have small dreams.”
Meeting His Mentor
Kiria tried expressing those minimal aspirations through football, but he soon realized that he wasn’t a fan of team sports. Then one day, he stumbled by a neighbor’s house and saw him teaching karate to a group of children.
“So, I started to train,” he says. “And now, I’ve been in the fight game, in martial arts, to this day.”
In fact, it’s been 24 years since that day. But what’s even more impressive than his time commitment to martial arts is the fact that he’s spent over two decades with the same coach, Bachuki Partsvania.
“I have parents, but I consider him a parent also. He’s the person who guides my life, he has inspired me to do everything that I’ve done up until today. What I do, and why I do it, is because of Bachuki,” Kiria adds.
“He brought me to Holland for the first time in 2007, to Golden Glory gym. And we started my professional kickboxing career there.”
And his coach’s help extended far beyond the mats. During his time in Holland, Kiria met a love interest, a Dutch woman. They started dating, and the Georgian wanted to take the relationship to the next level.
But he was concerned the differences in culture and traditions would cause issues, so he turned to his coach for advice.
“Bachuki told me that I had to follow my soul and my feelings and trust those feelings. And of course, I listened to him, and [now] I’m very happy. We now have two kids,” Kiria says.
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For The Children
It’s his two children who Kiria keeps in the back of his mind as he prepares for the biggest tournament of his kickboxing career.
And while he’d love nothing more than to beat Kehl, advance to the semifinals, and win the Grand Prix along with the silver belt, there is a deeper meaning to why he’s competing.
“It’s not only for myself and getting World Titles. These things come to you, attention comes to you, but this is not the only thing I want,” Kiria says.
“I want to share [my success] with my family and the people around me, and my dream is to be the best in the business, to create something that’ll help the new generation. When I can do that, I’ll be the happiest man in this country, on the planet.”
Or, at the very least, his home city of Zugdidi because that’s where it all started for Kiria. And though he has since moved away from his childhood stomping grounds to Georgia’s capital city of Tbilisi, he recently had the chance to return home.
Giving Back To The City That Made Him
When the COVID-19 pandemic touched down in Georgia, Kiria was forced to temporarily close his gym in Tbilisi and head back to Zugdidi to train at a makeshift home gym. He brought his coach and training partners with him, and they’ve been living in the house together ever since.
However, it’s not solely his coach and training partners who are motivating Kiria. It’s the old feelings of being in Zugdidi that are beginning to resurface.
“It’s very emotional and very nice at this moment to prepare in my hometown because, for the last five, six years, I never got to prepare here,” he says.
“All the attention I used to get before, I missed that. Now, the people in my neighborhood – my friends and local followers – they know I have a fight soon, and when they see me here, they wish me good luck.
“They cheer for me, they call me from their cars. I have a very big responsibility to win this fight because everybody expects that I will win.”
His Future In ONE
This past February, Kiria debuted in ONE against current #1-ranked featherweight kickboxer Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan, who’s facing #2-ranked Superbon in the main event of ONE: FIRST STRIKE for the inaugural ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Title.
Although he took his old foe the distance, the Georgian dropped a decision loss to Petrosyan. Now, in his sophomore appearance, he has a chance to redeem himself by taking out Kehl and advancing to the semifinals.
If he does, he’ll meet the winner of the other quarterfinal match in his bracket – either #4-ranked Sitthichai “Killer Kid” Sitsongpeenong or #5-ranked Tayfun “Turbine” Ozcan. And beyond that, all going well, the finals.
Kiria’s certainly not looking past Kehl, but he is also looking back on the people who have made him. Because, just as they helped him create a better life, the Georgia native wants to improve the lives of the children who now run up and down his old streets.
“My dream has always been to represent something positive. That I represent something for myself is very important to me,” Kiria says.
“I have a lot of responsibility in this life, especially in my country and in my hometown because, for the new generation, I need to be an example.”