A month ago, Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov (23-1) lost the ONE Flyweight World Championship and received the first blemish of his sparkling professional career. In fact, Akhmetov was just one win away from equalling the largest active winning streak in the world.
Even though the defeat is still fresh, he is wasting no time in getting back into action. On Saturday, 16 September, the 29-year-old kicks off his quest back to the title against Team Lakay flyweight standout Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (9-5) at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY. The headlining bout will take place at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia on Saturday, 16 September.
“It is very important for me to recover from that loss and get back on a winning streak,” Akhmetov says. “Now, it is important for me to stay active. I want to compete as often as possible.”
“The Kazakh” entered ONE Championship as an undefeated martial artist with a world-class grappling background, having been a three-time national wrestling champion. He displayed that elite talent in November 2015 by defeating then-ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes via split decision in his promotional debut, and captured the prestigious title.
Akhmetov was planning to defend the belt soon thereafter, but in 2016, while training at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he aggravated an old back injury. The pain was so excruciating, he even contemplated retirement.
Before making that call, however, he underwent some heavy treatment to heal the diagnosed hernia. A year later, the issue cleared up, and he was able to resume his career. During his time away from action, however, the division moved on. Moraes won the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship, which meant that at some point, the two would have to battle once again to unify the belts.
That collision course came to a head at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS this past August, but unlike their first bout, there was a definitive winner. Brazil’s Moraes showcased much-improved takedown defense, and negated Akhmetov’s world-class wrestling.
He even brought “The Kazakh” to the ground a few times, and consistently landed the more telling strikes throughout the bout. As a result, “Mikinho” scored a unanimous decision victory, and became the undisputed champion.
The Kazakhstani chalks up the defeat to his long layoff and inactivity.
“I felt very rusty from the beginning, and after the first round, my hands started to feel heavy and tight. I could not throw punches like I used to – the speed was not there. In the later rounds, I just battled with my heart. But it was not enough,” he says.
“After the final round, I knew I lost the match. Adriano (Moraes) did everything right, and I could not follow my game plan. I take my hat off to him. I do not want to look back and regret things. My preparation was great, but Adriano was a better man that night. Right now, the score is 1-1.”
Clearly, Akhmetov is looking for a trilogy match, but he will have to earn his way back to title contention first. That is something he is eager to do. That led to the main event booking against Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY on Saturday, 16 September in Jakarta.
Eustaquio, who trains out of Team Lakay alongside the likes of ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang, is a former title contender who lost to Moraes in a bout for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship back in September 2014.
Despite experiencing mixed results in the bouts to follow, as well as a brief campaign in the bantamweight division last year, the Filipino made a thunderous return to the flyweight division this past May. He defeated Thailand’s Anatpong Bunrad via split decision at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, avenging a previous loss.
“Geje (Eustaquio) is a good striker with decent takedown defense, and he has a good team behind him. I do not think he has a lot of weaknesses,” the former champion acknowledges. “My advantage should be my wrestling and ground game, but I am not going to rely only on that. I am willing to test myself against him on the feet, and show what my hands can do.
“I envision every possible scenario, from a quick win, to a tough decision where I overcome adversity,” he says. “Whatever he brings to me, I will be ready for it.”