While the rest of the world ponders its New Year’s resolutions, Vitaly Bigdash’s aim in 2018 has been locked in since last summer - get his world title back.
Bigdash lost the ONE Middleweight World Championship to Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang seven months ago, and the Russian has been consumed by the desire to work his way back to the title, and reclaim the belt he believes should still be his.
“I will get my belt back,” said the 33-year-old.
“My ultimate goal is to become a champion again, so I will go up against whoever it is necessary to get there.”
The first step towards the title comes at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE in Jakarta on 20 January, when he takes on five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Leandro Ataides (10-3). It’s a stiff test against a man many believe could offer up a serious title challenge of his own.
Bigdash’s credentials are without question. The Russian reeled off seven straight wins - all by stoppage - to earn his spot on the ONE Championship roster.
His first bout saw him capture world championship gold, as he unseated then-champion Igor Svirid with a come-from-behind victory to claim the ONE Middleweight Title in October 2015, recovering from multiple knockdowns in the first round to knock out the champion in the second.
Bigdash then went on to cement his position as ONE’s middleweight king with a dominant decision victory over Aung La N Sang, who stepped in at short notice.
However, “The Burmese Python” did enough on short notice to warrant a second shot at the belt - this time with a full training camp - and he defeated Bigdash after five thrilling rounds at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in June.
It was a bout that earned Bout of the Year honours in ONE Championship’s end-of-year awards list, but the judges’ decision from that night still rankles with Bigdash, who maintains he did enough on the night to retain his title.
“I respect the judges and ONE Championship, but I am not going to agree with this decision,” he begins.
“I think Aung La N Sang did not do enough to get that belt. I felt that he got the win because the bout happened on his home turf.”
While he disputes the judges’ verdict, he also admits he was also partly to blame for his title loss.
“While I disagree with the judges, I have to take responsibility for my own actions,” he said.
“To be honest, I underestimated Aung La N Sang. I competed against him before, I knew his style, and I did not expect any surprises. But my opponent was quick and brave. It did not help when I made a technical mistake.”
Bigdash was dropped in the first round as Aung La N Sang poured on the pressure in search of a first-round finish. And while Bigdash survived to battle it out toe-to-toe with the “Burmese Python” for the remainder of the contest, that huge opening round proved the difference-maker when the judges rendered their verdicts.
Bigdash said his own preparations played a part in his downfall, citing his arrival in Myanmar just three days before the bout as one of the mistakes made during the lead-up to that contest.
“It was not enough time for acclimatisation,” he admitted.
It was a lesson he’s taken on board ahead of his upcoming bout with Ataides. Leaving behind his team at Akhmat MMA in Chechnya, Bigdash travelled over to Thailand to hook up with Phuket Top Team for two solid months of preparation ahead of ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE, acclimatising his body while sharpening his skills for the bout.
“I do not want to repeat my old mistakes with acclimatisation,” he said.
“I am training all aspects of the game to achieve my goal — to win against Ataides and be one step closer to getting my belt back. I am not treating this match lightly.
“He is a physically strong guy and an outstanding jiu-jitsu practitioner. I did not expect ONE to give me an easy opponent.”
Victory for Bigdash could see him pitched into a trilogy matchup with his old rival Aung La N Sang later this year. It would be one of the biggest rematches in ONE Championship history, with both men holding a win over the other.
With that bout, and a shot at the title, firmly in his sights, Bigdash is ready to deliver a big performance at the start of a big year for ONE Championship.