Rasul Yakhyaev may not have appeared in ONE Championship for two years, but he is on the verge of returning to the fabled cage, and could earn a world title shot if he is successful in his next bout.
The Russian athlete will challenge Thai martial arts pioneer Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai (8-1, 1 NC) in the co-main event of ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD at the Impact Arena in Bangkok on Saturday, 9 December.
This dynamic clash serves as a title eliminator for the ONE Lightweight World Championship, and although the 26-year-old will be competing in enemy territory, he is used to being in hostile environments — for better or worse.
Born in Russian Chechnya in 1991, Yakhyaev grew up during turbulent times in the country’s history. Leaders from Moscow and Grozny were locked in conflict, leading to the First Chechen War in 1994, and then the Second Chechen War in 1999.
Needless to say, Yakhyaev did not have the easiest of childhoods. He spent his early years moving from one refugee camp to another, where he lived in tents with his parents, two brothers, and a sister. They were moved to temporary accommodations countless times, staying only for a while before being asked to leave.
After several years of this nomadic lifestyle, the family was finally able to get help and build their own house. They settled in Grozny, the capital in Chechnya, in 2006.
“Those years of uncertainty made me grow up fast. I had to grow a thick skin at a very young age, and learn who I can trust,” confesses Yakhyaev, who continues to keep a tight circle around him to this very day.
“My family and my childhood friends are with me when I win and when I lose. Only their opinion matters.”
While martial arts in the mountainous region of Chechnya has always been popular among men, the future lightweight contender initially had his eyes on another sport.
“My passion was football,” he says. “I spent hours playing outside with my mates.”
Yakhyaev’s older brothers, however, regularly attended wrestling practice, and took taekwondo classes. In fact, one of his brothers then forced him to join the school’s wrestling team.
“I was not thrilled, to be honest,” he admits. However, his passion for martial arts would be ignited. “Things changed ten years ago, when a close friend dragged me to a karate dojo. I got hooked.”
Like all boys of his age, Yakhyaev spent his free time watching “boeviki,” action movies starring Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Later came VHS tapes of Japanese and North American martial arts promotions, where he found a couple of Russian role models.
“Fedor Emelianenko and Adlan Amagov were our heroes,” he states. “I was fascinated by Japan’s tough rules, and dreamt that one day I could challenge someone in the cage, too.”
That served as the catalyst for him learning combat sambo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and then fulfilling his dream of entering the cage himself.
Yakhyaev made his professional debut in February 2010, and won nine of his first eleven bouts. He acquired a strong following, joined the popular gym Fight Club Berkut, and soon was getting calls from many international organizations, including ONE.
The Grozny native would sign with the world’s most exciting martial arts spectacle, and made his ONE Championship debut opposite Hawaii’s Lowen Tynanes in the main event of ONE: KINGDOM OF KHMER in December 2015 in Cambodia.
Despite all of his hard training, things did not go according to plan. The Hawaiian submitted him in the third round via rear-naked choke.
The Russian accepts his defeat, but admits that he was feeling terrible in the days leading up to his big debut. He cites a combination of food poisoning and failure to properly acclimate to his foreign surroundings as reasons for his depleted state.
Through all the losses, including the aforementioned one to Tynanes a few years ago, he has taken away a slew of positives that have impacted his career and mindset moving forward.
“My defeats taught me to take more care of myself — of my health, my diet, and my training schedule.”
This coming weekend, Yakhyaev will make his long awaited return to the global stage, and faces his biggest challenge yet in Bangkok’s Wiratchai at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD.
Wiratchai, a Thai hero, is riding a six-bout win streak and will have thousands of screaming hometown fans behind him. The Thai has been relentless in his quest to become the ONE Lightweight World Champion, but Yakhyaev will not be fazed by “OneShin” or the Bangkok crowd.
After all, he has already lived life in hostile territory, so he knows how to phase out the noise. The Russian athlete is now armed with lessons he learned from the past, and will use that to his advantage as he begins his march towards a world title opportunity.
“Shannon is a decent athlete with a lot of experience in the cage. I have not watched all of his matches, but I am sure I can win,” Yakhyaev states.
“I wish him to have a good training camp with no injuries. However, when the big day comes, one of us must win and one will lose. I will be the one who wins.”