Despite a flawless 23-0 record, adverse circumstances have kept ONE Flyweight World Champion Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov out of action for nearly two years. But now, after fighting back from the brink of retirement, the 29-year-old is ready to return to action.
In a highly-anticipated rematch, Akhmetov is scheduled to face the last man to fall by his hand, ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes (15-2), on Saturday, 5 August. The two competitors will attempt to unify the titles in the co-headliner of ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS, which takes place at the Cotai Arena in Macao.
“I am in high spirits, and eagerly waiting the fight. I have worked hard. The most important thing for both of us is being in perfect condition, and avoiding injuries or sickness so that we can show a real war to the public,” Akhmetov says. “I am hungry, and longing for a fight.”
The stakes could not be higher for the champion.
Akhmetov made his promotional debut and challenged then-titleholder Moraes for the belt at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES (BEIJING II) in November 2015. It was a see-saw battle, but “The Kazakh” used his world-class Greco-Roman Wrestling and crisp boxing to snag a razor-thin split decision victory, and the belt.
“Everything went as I had planned. I prepared well, but I did not show everything in that fight because he was the champion and I was the contender, so I was a bit cautious,” he explains.
“Getting my hand raised is the most important thing to me, and it does not matter how I won, split decision or not. The fact remains that I was the one who prevailed that night, and I feel that I am the real champion.”
After defeating Moraes, Akhmetov was ready to kick his title reign into gear. But a nagging back injury suffered while training at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, nearly ended his career.
“The Kazakh” has struggled with back issues since he was a teenager, but the pain was so severe, he considered hanging up his gloves. On top of that, there were family issues plaguing the young champion, which only added to his troubles.
Quitting did not remain on his mind for long. He cleared a few personal hurdles, rehabilitated his back injury, and relocated with his family to Phuket, Thailand, to train at Tiger Muay Thai. Now, he is ready to prove to the world that he is the rightful ONE Flyweight World Champion.
“It is very difficult for any athlete to think about ending his career. I could not just put up with it. Perhaps my obstinacy helped me overcome everything,” Akhmetov explains. “Many athletes break when challenged with health or family problems, but I overcame both. I waited a long time. It was difficult for me. I am not saying it was easy, but eventually I overcame it all. I think it was all for the better.“
During his time fixing his body and family issues, ONE Championship’s flyweight division was forced to move on without him. In his absence, Moraes regained his lost glory — first he defeated Filipino knockout artist Eugene Toquero in March 2016, and then he snared the interim title by submitting Tilek Batyrov later that August.
So now, for “The Kazakh,” his quest to cement his position at the top continues with an epic rematch against Moraes. And, if all goes according to plan, the judges will have a short night. Akhmetov has no intentions on letting the Brazilian see the closing bell of the fifth round.
“I feel great, because the fight is going to take place. I have been looking forward to it for a long time,” he admits. “It will be a huge show, and a good fight.”