Some athletes have rued every moment of their forced hiatus in 2020, but Sweden’s Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam believes he’s leveled up because of the break — and he is ready to show it.
The former ONE Welterweight World Champion will return to the Circle at ONE: UNBREAKABLE inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, 22 January, where he will welcome undefeated ONE Warrior Series alum Gadzhimurad Abdulaev to the global stage.
Ahead of his welterweight mixed martial arts clash in “The Lion City,” Kadestam talked about his layoff, the road back to the World Title, and a potential ONE Super Series debut in 2021.
ONE Championship: You’ve been out of action for a while because of the pandemic. How are you feeling ahead of your return?
Zebaztian Kadestam: I’m just really happy to be back. It’s been a weird year for everyone, right? But I am really happy to start off the new year by being back. I feel good, I feel healthy, and I just can’t wait to get back on track.
ONE: Everybody dealt with the pandemic and the lack of competition in different ways. How was it for you?
ZK: It was kind of hard to deal with. I went through a few stages.
First, I just went on eating and taking a rest. Then, I sat down with my coach and he said, ‘I don’t know, maybe they’ll open next month,’ and I just tried to stay ready and improve on everything I could.
Now for the past six months, I’ve just been itching in my whole body because I’ve been ready to go, but a lot of people are going to come out of this stronger.
ONE: What benefits did you get from the time off? Were there any positives?
ZK: The year before, from when I won the World Title until I lost it, I had three title fights in one year. That whole year was just a lot of pressure and a lot of training specifically for things, so actually, I took two months off without a single training session.
In the beginning, I was like, ‘I’m done,’ so I took the two months off. During these two months, I went through ups and downs. Then after a little bit, I started to feel that fire burning inside of me again, so for me, it was actually good. I knew all of the fighters around the world had to stay out of training, and you had to find time to reignite the fire, desire, and motivation.
ONE: Your last bout was the loss to new welterweight king Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov. He’s looked increasingly dominant with every fight. What are your thoughts on that match and about potentially facing him again?
ZK: I can’t wait to get another crack at it, but whoever is first is first, and we’ll see what happens. But yeah, I’ve been looking at him and that fight. I know everything I did wrong and everything I did right. At the end of the day, it was just another day at the office. It wasn’t my best performance, and I know that. I changed up a little bit and tried to get better.
ONE: Now your return is set for 22 January against Gadzhimurad Abdulaev. He is a newcomer to ONE Championship after winning his last bout in ONE Warrior Series. Do you think that will have any impact on this match?
ZK: There are two sides to that, right? He is going to come hungry and he will have an opportunity to take something from me. I don’t really have an opportunity to take something from him, except his ‘0.’ But it’s more than this one fight for me. I am just happy to be back and I am in a really good place right now. I want to get going and have a good year.
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ONE: He is 5-0 and unbeaten. He has less experience than you on paper, but he has been on the competitive circuit in China. How important is this?
ZK: I saw one fight and recognized one of his cornermen, I know that guy. I’ve been through the Chinese scene myself, and I know how it is. There are a lot of fights and competitions, and you fight for a living, not for the record. Like, ‘Okay, next week, we’re going to fight to pay next month’s rent,’ so for sure he has a lot more fights than five. But so do I.
I am not seeing this guy as inexperienced or a beginner. He is good, for sure. He has a lot to win, but I just think there are levels, and I feel really good right now.
ONE: What do you expect from him when the bout starts?
ZK: I think he will be dangerous in the beginning of the fight. I can’t find much on him – I guess I’ll have to see in the fight what he wants to do. I’m going to do my game, and my game is to shut down wrestlers anyway, so if he wants to do that, then I’m ready. If he wants to strike, then I’d be happy to.
ONE: You’re getting the year off to a quick start. What is the plan for 2021, and how often would you like to compete?
ZK: I would like at least three fights, but as many as possible. It all depends. My perfect goal for 2021 would be to get a good performance on the 22nd, then get another fight booked right away in one month or two months, and keep going.
If a title shot comes right away, I am happy to get back my belt. If I have to go through another guy, I will do that. I also think it’s time to go into Muay Thai this year or next year, so I’m going to be looking at that. But most of all, I’m going to be looking to be busy.
ONE: You said you have been working on a lot of things during the break. What would you most like to show in Singapore?
ZK: I think everything has improved, but I think I would like to show my boxing. I have been working on a lot more volume in my striking and not just the one or two shots — putting things together a bit more even though they wrestle with me. I want to get my angles and get my combinations going, so hopefully, I’m going to be able to show off my boxing.
My kicks are always there. We will see. I think I’m better everywhere right now. The fire is back and I am very excited.