Vitaly Bigdash may be the reigning ONE Middleweight World Champion, but before he was an undefeated title holder, he was just another martial arts fan. It was just a little while, however, before he would embark on a remarkable journey that brought him to the shores of Asia as the best middleweight in the world.
Born in Orenburg, the unbeaten middleweight had a fairly ordinary childhood. However, the family had to regularly relocate around the country, due to his father’s occupation a Russian military officer.
Though Bigdash was always on the move, he was a product of the 80s, at a time when martial arts movies were incredibly popular. Those films resonated with the young Russian, who at the time, was merely 5 years old.
“When I was little, martial arts movies flooded Russia. As a result, we all wanted to be like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I was hugely impressed by Van Damme’s kicks,” he says. “I fell in love with martial arts when I saw a movie starring Bruce Lee. I cannot remember its name now, but I remember loving it, and thinking that I wanted to be like him.”
The chance to train in martial arts came nearly four years later, when his father’s assignment caused the family to move yet again. Bigdash’s first martial arts classes were in Kyokushinkai, a Japanese form of full contact karate that was quickly gaining momentum in Russia. People were enthusiastically practicing it everywhere, from garages and backyards to traditional dojos.
“We moved into another town again,” he begins, “and my father’s new colleagues organized a little welcome party. They were from the military, like dad, and loved martial arts a lot. One of them brought tapes of people training in Kyokushinkai, and told us there was a studio nearby, where I could train from time to time.”
Bigdash went to that nearby studio for one class, and he was instantly hooked. He immediately knew it was something he could see himself doing for years to come.
“I loved everything about it, including the very special atmosphere that the gym had. It was almost a spiritual experience, because people were so passionate about the sport, training in conditions we cannot imagine these days. You would not call it a gym in today’s world, and I really loved wearing a dogi,” he says with a chuckle.
His physical surroundings might have been in a constant state of change, but Kyokushinkai karate remained a constant in Bigdash’s life, as it grounded him and provided a sense of stability. It also armed him with confidence, which was needed, especially since he was always the “new kid” in school.
“I did not ever allow kids to bully me,” he says. “I had to get into few fights – we all did at that age. I am lucky these days to have many ex-classmates from all over Russia.”
Bigdash took his love for Kyokushinkai to the next level when he started competing in, and winning, several regional tournaments. The Russian, however, continued to be enthralled by martial arts, and soon a couple of new passions overtook him — first it was Muay Thai, and then mixed martial arts followed.
“I remember watching the first mixed martial arts fights in 1994 and 1995, and admiring Royce Gracie,” he recollects. “I tried striking and wrestling, and soon realized that mixed martial arts is the pinnacle of martial arts. In my mind, it comes closest to a real fight, and I enjoy training in all aspects of the game.”
With his love for the sport rapidly growing, and his burning desire to compete only intensifying, Bigdash quickly came to the conclusion that he was destined to become a lifelong martial artist. He already had the work ethic. The young man dedicated all of his spare time to training, treating it as a career even before he went professional in 2012.
“My path was very clear – I did not have any other interests or hobbies outside the world of martial arts. I was not going to become anything else but a fighter,” he explains, setting his sights on becoming a world champion. “I found it easy to stay disciplined with training, as I am a very goal-oriented person. I always focus on my next goal, and do not relax until I achieve it.”
Following a successful professional debut in August 2012, where he submitted his opponent via first-round armbar, he racked up six impressive wins – all finishes – to earn an opportunity to compete in ONE Championship for the organization’s middleweight belt.
In October 2015, the undefeated Russian demonstrated nearly superhuman tenacity to overcome several knockdowns, and punched his way to an epic comeback victory over then-middleweight kingpin Igor Svirid to capture the ONE Middleweight World Championship. It won several Fight of the Year awards, and is considered the greatest bout in promotional history.
Now, standing tall at 9-0 with eight stoppages to his name, Bigdash will defend the title for the second time against the “Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang on 30 June, at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION, live from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar.
Just five months earlier, he defended the strap against the Myanmar hero, who was a late replacement, and picked up his lone unanimous decision victory. But when the two clash this time around, the Russian vows to keep it out of the judges’ hands.
“It (a decision) is not going to happen again,” Bigdash says. “I am better prepared, and I want a fast win.”
That is his goal, and as the Russian champion previously said, he will not relax until he achieves it.