Timofey Nastyukhin has long been one of the lightweight division’s most dangerous contenders, and next Wednesday, 14 April, he will finally get his chance to claim the gold.
That evening, the Russian star will challenge the division’s reigning king, Christian “The Warrior” Lee, for the ONE Lightweight World Title at “ONE on TNT II,” which airs on prime-time television in North America.
While the 31-year-old Nastyukhin has defeated many top names in the past, a World Championship opportunity has evaded him for various reasons.
With that in mind, he’s determined to make this chance count against the 22-year-old superstar.
“There have been many ups and downs, many surgeries, big fights, and big victories, and now I’m more worthy than anybody else to fight for this belt,” the Russian says.
“My time has come to fight for the belt and it gives me even more motivation and confidence. With God’s will, I’ll be able to win it.
“Christian Lee is still very young. His time will come in the future. For now, he should give way to me.”
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Nastyukhin famously shocked the world when he blasted through Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix quarterfinals, but an injury forced him to withdraw from the rest of the tournament.
It was a tough turn of events, but the Novokuznetsk resident picked up where he’d left off at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX II this past November, where he defeated the surging Pieter “The Archangel” Buist to book his shot at Lee.
Since that victory, he’s been solely focused on “The Warrior.” And though Lee will enter their main event showdown as the favorite, the challenger has plenty of experience in his upcoming role.
“I was full of emotions after [the Buist] fight. I was mentally prepared for the World Title fight and lived with it in my head,” Nastyukhin says.
“I’m used to fighting as an underdog, my whole career is built on this. When there’s a big challenge in front of me — when there’s a champion in front of me or someone with better ratings — it actually motivates me more and lights a fire under me.”
The Russian has great respect for Lee’s well-rounded game and knows he must be ready for anything in the Circle.
With that in mind, he’s adapted his training camp in hopes of making life difficult for the Hawaii resident no matter where the fight ends up.
“He’s a very young and explosive opponent. He’s very ambitious. I have a lot of respect for him,” Nastyukhin says of Lee.
“He’s a universal athlete. His unpredictability and speed in striking can be dangerous. He can be dangerous in wrestling and he has good control [on the ground], so he can be dangerous in all aspects, basically. The same as me.
“That’s why we specifically train to face him. We have studied him. We’re going through his work and doing everything to minimize this risk.”
Of course, when two proven finishers collide, there’s no way to totally nullify risk, and that’s what makes this bout a thrilling prospect for fans. With 24 stoppages among their 28 combined victories, both Nastyukhin and Lee are known for getting things done inside the distance.
The Russian athlete expects nothing different when they meet for the World Title.
In fact, all 11 of his career finishes have come in the opening stanza, and if he has it his way, that’s exactly how he’ll claim the belt in this main event.
“I’ll be preparing for all five rounds, but based on our fights, we are both pretty strong punchers, so this fight might end in any round,” Nastyukhin says.
“Of course, we want to finish the fight in the first round – and to finish it with a spectacular knockout in my style.”