Bulgarian mixed martial artist and reality television star Georgi “Stanchev” Stoyanov will make his ONE Championship debut on Saturday Night, 14 January, when he battles undefeated Turkish prospect Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev.
The lightweight showdown takes place at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER, live from the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
Stoyanov is filling in for Rasul Yakhyaev, who was forced out of the bout due to injury, on ten days notice. Although the circumstances may not be ideal, he plans to make the most of this opportunity.
“Of course there is a lot of pressure on me. I will be fighting against a really strong fighter. I have to respect that,” the 36-year-old says. “I will respect that and I will show the best of me for this fight.”
The Bulgarian will have his work cut out for him. Arslanaliev, who trains out of the Istanbul, Turkey-based Corvos MMA, holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is a Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijan champion in wushu-sanda. Sporting a perfect 4-0 record, the relentless lightweight has finished all of his opponents in less than two minutes.
Because of the lack of footage of “Dagi”, it has been difficult for Stoyanov to discover any holes in his game. Still, the Bulgarian remains determined.
“It is very hard for me to find any weakness,” he admits. “I just know that everybody makes mistakes.”
Also, he knows combat sports is in his blood. Raised in Burgas, a warm southeastern city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, Stoyanov is the grandson of Nikola Stanchev, the first Bulgarian to ever win an Olympic gold medal. He won the medal at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games in freestyle wrestling.
Despite having been the best in the world, he never taught his grandson how to do a takedown or any other type of wrestling move.
“My grandfather did not let me to train professional in any kind of sport,” Stoyanov reveals. “He was a really good person, and probably he would not allow me to train MMA.”
He followed in his grandpa’s footsteps, anyway. Stoyanov had his first wrestling experience when he was 16, and he fell in love with the grappling discipline immediately. He was not able to go far in the sport, however, choosing to go to college instead.
“Stanchev” studied finance, banking, and bookkeeping in Burgas Free University, and then went into the army. He was still able to practice and refine his wrestling over the years. But when he was 29, he began training more seriously.
That turned into an impressive career start, as the bruiser became the Bulgarian amateur champion, a BJJ blue belt, and won his first 11 professional fights en route to capturing the Max Fight Featherweight Championship in 2012.
The Bulgarian’s popularity hit an all-time high in 2014. Aside from being an MMA champion, he became a reality television star and won the second season of his country’s version of The Mole. At one point, he even appeared in the tabloids.
However, as a side effect, his fire in the sport was slowly becoming extinguished. Stoyanov ran into a rough patch, bringing his cumulative record to 19-11.
“All of my loses are against very tough opponents. I will not make any excuses for them,” he says. “I just try to focus on the positives for my experience as an MMA fighter and person in life.”
Perhaps a change in scenery was needed. In 2015, he relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to be an Assistant MMA Coach at the state-of-the-art Saigon Sports Club, where he trains alongside fellow Bulgarian ONE athlete Sotir Kichukov.
Also, at the end of the year, he took a hiatus from competing so he could re-charge his batteries and enjoy life.
“Sometimes,” he begins, “you just have to take a break and stop living like a sportsman, just to give another part of you to your family and friends.”
Feeling refreshed, Stoyanov ends his hiatus on Saturday Night, 14 January, and his quest to reignite his career begins with Arslanaliev. Though the Turkish transplant seems to be on a hot streak, “Stanchev” brings his veteran experience, and a new kind of fire, into this contest.
“I think everyone has his own strengths, and it is very important how we use them during the fight,” the Bulgarian says. “Losing motivation for me is the biggest obstacle. Sometimes, you just have to find this ‘spark’ again.”
It would seem the spark has been relit in the Stoyanov’s eyes, and the world will see the results come fight night.