Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov (24-1) has not had an easy life, but has always managed to find a way to push his way through.
Even after losing the ONE Flyweight World Championship to Adriano Moraes (17-2) in August 2017, the 30-year-old did not sulk around the locker room and feel sorry for himself. Instead, he promptly embarked on his comeback trail, with the singular focus of getting a title rematch.
“No matter what adversities are in your way, you have to know that life goes on, and you need stay positive to do your best and overcome all difficulties,” he says. “Nothing lasts forever. Everything will pass.”
“The Kazakh” knows that better than most.
Ever since he first laced up a pair of wrestling shoes at age 12, he has experienced many trials and tribulations. While he initially performed well in the national sport of wrestling, he went through a competitive slump that nearly caused him to quit.
Finding inspiration in his Olympic heroes, Kazakhstani wrestlers Zhaksylik Ushkempirov and Daulet Turlihanov, he powered through to eventually win the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2002, and the Asian Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2003.
Years later, as an adult, the trials became more difficult and career-threatening. The first of which was money, a common problem for most of his home country’s grapplers.
“In Kazakhstan, there are a lot of talented athletes who, at some point, lose sight of their goal. The turning point is mostly when they start to compete as adults. Because of the lack of financial support, a lot of people were giving up,” he explains.
However, Akhmetov persevered with help from his family, but would once again suffer morale-crushing losses.
Fortunately, he had his coach Aset Imanbaev, who was himself a SEA Games gold medalist, a two-time Asian Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion, and an Olympian who participated in the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
“He had a big impact on me. He was a good role model and a decorated wrestler himself,” Akhmetov explains. “At that time, I did not have good results in competitions for two years. But he was the one who believed in me, and pushed me to the next level.”
Imanbaev’s coaching and mentorship paid off, and led Akhmetov to the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Championship for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011.
That success carried over into his professional cage career, where he went unbeaten and claimed the ONE Flyweight World Championship from Moraes in his promotional debut back in November 2015.
Unfortunately, the following year, while training at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, “The Kazakh” aggravated a longtime back injury. The pain was so bad, he almost had to give up his sparkling undefeated record, which was 23-0 at the time.
“Honestly, in my mind, I never thought I would finish my career because of the injury. So even when it was very hard, and thoughts of retirement started to pop out in my head more often, deep inside I knew I could not leave that way, and I had more things to accomplish.”
Despite overcoming the biggest obstacle of his career, Akhmetov lost his title to Moraes in his return bout at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS. However, he wasted no time in letting his future intentions be known. He wants to regain the ONE Flyweight World Championship, and begin another reign of dominance that will once again crown him the best flyweight martial artist on the planet.
To do that, he will first have to defeat Team Lakay’s Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (9-6) to claim the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES, which broadcasts from the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, on Friday, 26 January.
Akhmetov may have never been as motivated as he is right now. Now training at Tiger Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket, Thailand, with smart coaches, valued teammates, and family by his side, “The Kazakh” knows that it has taken a huge collaborative effort to build him into the mega athlete that he is today.
“It is crucial to have family and the right people with you,” he says. “I do not believe in the concept of a self-made man. We all achieve something because of the help of others. That is why is important to have support, and also to give back to others, too.”
Though Akhmetov was able to persevere through his trials and tribulations, he is fully aware that there are many individuals who have lost motivation in their respective life journeys.
So for those who may be at a crossroads, the former world champion has a few gems of advice that have helped him stay the course.
“First, always remember why you started, and what made you do it in the beginning. Second, you should know that it is always too soon to quit — if you quit, you will betray yourself. And third, always remember that a lot of people are counting on you, and you cannot let them down,” he shares.
“If you lose motivation and sight of your goal, find people who will support you. Giving up halfway is not an option.”