Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam has always been game for action.
Growing up in Uppsala, Sweden, where “it was cold 90 percent of the time,” the welterweight stumbled onto martial arts at the age of eight courtesy of judo. He does not necessarily remember what led him to grab a gi and hit the mat, but what he knows exactly why it stopped.
“It was too playful,” the 26-year-old says, bluntly.
Kadestam was enamored with the older judokas in his presence. He wanted to throw his peers around on the mat. But when the judo action he desired did not come fast enough, the lack of patience got the better of the young man, and he quit.
In its place, the Swede discovered Muay Thai, and picked up training before hitting his teen years. The sport, known for its devastating kicks, fists, elbows and knees, initially concerned Kadestam’s parents.
“They did not want me to do it at first, but I did anyway,” he recalls. Soon enough, however, they relented and encouraged their son in his new pursuit. “I could not have gotten better support.”
Unlike judo, Muay Thai held Kadestam’s attention. It would also prove to be the gateway to his future profession as mixed martial artist. Kadestam’s introduction to mixed martial arts came courtesy of a local boxer, who also happened to be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner at a Swedish youth program.
He fell in love with the spot immediately, and moved his training to the Pancrase Gym in Stockholm, just a stones throw to the east. At the urging of his trainer, he left for stint in Thailand to hone his skills in 2010.
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Eventually, “The Bandit” landed at Legacy Gym Boracay in his now-adopted country of the Philippines. His skills were sharpened so much under famed kickboxer and ONE Championship veteran Ole Laursen, he made his professional mixed martial arts debut in 2011, where he annihilated his opponent Seok Mo Kim.
“It was crazy,” Kadestam begins. “Kim, he talked a lot about me before the fight. I guess he had more experience than me, but it fuelled my fire. I knocked him out with the first punch after a couple of seconds.”
Fourteen seconds to be exact. “It felt like a dream,” he says of getting his hand raised for the first time.
Kadestam became very familiar with getting his hand raised as his career progressed. The judges were not necessary in his first four contests, with each victory coming by way of stoppage. “The Bandit” hit a wall in bout number five, however, as he suffered a decision loss in July 2013.
The setback proved to be a motivating force.
“I learned to never underestimate anyone, and always push your body and mind close to the breaking point.”
Later that September, he was back to his winning ways. He rebounded with an opening-round, highlight-reel TKO win by way of head kick before snagging the Pacific Xtreme Combat Welterweight Championship in June 2014. He even captured a WBC Muay Thai title during his time as champion.
After a series of successful title defenses, Kadestam unfortunately suffered an injury, which left him on the sidelines for most of 2016. Now, he prepares for his biggest contest to date. He will make his promotional debut at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES on Friday, 26 May at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Despite the time off and a loss in his last professional outing, the Swede is relying on his days as a titleholder to push him to victory.
“I killed myself everyday in training to get there and it paid off,” he states. “Now I am hunting a new belt, and my motivation has never been greater.”