The memories of Timofey Nastyukhin’s catastrophic last bout are still fresh in his mind.
The Russian Top Team product fully expected to defeat his opponent, Japan’s Kotetsu “No Face” Boku, at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR last November. But a disastrous low roundhouse kick cost the 27-year-old a broken shin, a loss, and nine months of rehabilitation.
Neither spectators at the Singapore Indoor Stadium nor viewers around the world — not even Timofey himself — really understood what had happened during the second minute of the opening round, when Nastyukhin kicked Boku’s front leg and fell to the floor in pain.
Although he knew he was injured, the Russian showed superhuman determination and grit to finish the round. That was when the doctor deemed him unfit to continue, awarding the TKO win to Boku.
What he didn’t know was the extent of the injury.
“That fateful night nearly cost me my career,” he recalls. “They carried me out of the building on a stretcher, and brought me to the hospital where I heard the diagnosis — a broken tibia. Many people admired my perseverance in that fight, and they cannot believe I finished the round.”
Lying on a hospital bed in a foreign country, all on his own with only an interpreter on the phone to help communicate with doctors, Nastyukhin had to ask himself if he was ready to continue chasing his dream. He was questioning if the devastating injury and the sacrifices he continuously makes to become a world champion was truly worth it.
“The belt has always been my goal. I am not here to just make up numbers on the roster,” he says. “But right after the fight, I had all sort of negative thoughts and doubts. The doctors at the Singapore hospital did a fantastic job, and the surgery went well.”
Nastyukhin had a metal plate placed into his leg, and the day after the surgery, the decision was clear: he decided to move up a weight class, and continue his career in pursuit of the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
“I made a plan in my head,” he begins. “And I am still following it. There is no turning back.”
The Road To Recovery
That plan included going back to Russia and visiting a rehabilitation center in Belokurikha, near his home in Novokuznetsk. For the next four months, he underwent physical therapy, endured painful massages, and had to do special exercises with light weights and rubber bands.
“It’s an expensive facility, by Russian standards, but the doctors are very knowledgeable and they provide good care, too. ONE Championship took care of my rehabilitation financially, which was a huge relief. It’s good to be a part of an organization where you are not left behind in difficult situations”, says Nastyukhin.
“ONE was very supportive of me during this difficult time. I’d like to thank Victor Cui, CEO, International of ONE Championship, who took time to personally get in touch and offer his help. Massive thanks all officials who came to visit me in the hospital, and the lovely note in Russian that they left me – they probably had to use Google translate. I found it very touching. My fans have been amazing, sending messages on Instagram and Facebook, too.”
At first, Nastyukhin could only move on crutches. Walking with a cane followed. Soon, the doctors allowed him to use weights for his upper body, and permitted him to swim. Four months later, he was finally able to resume martial arts training, starting slowly with boxing, and then adding kicks.
Now, with a return to the cage set for 5 August at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao where he will meet former ONE Lightweight World Title challenger Koji Ando, his training has ramped up considerably. In fact, he is fresh off a wrestling camp in Ossetia, and will continue his preparation in Russia until it is time to catch the plane for fight week.
After nine long months of recovery, Nastyukhin’s only goal now is to get a title shot as soon as possible.
“I do not need to look for motivation to continue working towards my dreams of winning ONE Championship gold. Martial arts has been my life since I was a kid, now it is also my profession,” he states. “Motivated or not, an accountant or a bus driver goes to work. I am no different.”
Avoiding A Life Of Crime
Combat sports is nothing new to the lightweight, whose developmental years took place during turbulent times in Russia. That was back when the country’s economy plummeted into inflation and deficit, crime was on the rise, and many sportsmen were tempted to join gangs that offered “protection” to businesses.
“These guys would come and train in our dojo,” Nastyukhin remembers. “They were security guards, big guys covered in tattoos, many of whom served time behind bars. We often received offers to join them. It was tempting, as they had money and nice cars, but I never walked on the dark side.”
Perhaps the reason he was able to stay on the straight and narrow is due to his upbringing. After all, his parents had instilled strong values in him. Born in Kazakhstan, Nastyukhin followed his mom and dad to Novokuznetsk in Siberia when he was just 6 years old.
“After the collapse of the USSR, we had to move, as Russians did not feel welcome in Kazakhstan any longer.” His father had travelled first. “He found a job and got an apartment, then mom and I moved to Siberia. Those were tough times. My dad had to borrow money often. There was no stability, and prices were rising all the time.”
That was where young Nastyukhin’s life would change forever. They say a parent’s love knows no bounds, and Nastyukhin’s were no different. Despite the incredible financial hardship, they always found the cash to pay for their son’s pankration training.
“I can see now how they had to limit their own spending to make sure I could train in the gym,” he reflects. “During my first competitions, I was such a loser. But my parents never scolded me. They would always say, ‘Train hard, and everything will come together.’”
Nastyukhin may not have been spectacular at first, but his parents believed in him. He trained under Ivan Ryabtsev, the same coach he has been learning from since he was 8 years old. It would all pay off in the end, as he went on to become a FILA Pankration world champion.
Discipline And Respect
The Russian might have suffered slow starts in his combat sports endeavors, but he quickly garners success. Despite losing his mixed martial arts debut in April 2010, Nastyukhin came back with a vengeance, and currently sits at 10-3, with stunning knockout victories over the likes of Australian battler Rob Lisita and current ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang on his resume.
He reached the pinnacle of pankration, and is now steadily escalating to the top of ONE’s lightweight division. While martial arts equipped him with the necessary skills to blossom inside the cage, it also gave him what he needed to prosper outside of it.
“One of the most important things I learned is discipline – it helps you in life a lot. We often have to do things we would rather not, but they need to be done,” he says. “It also taught me how to keep calm under pressure. I managed to avoid street brawls, because the gym taught me how to know better, and how to not get involved in battles that are not worth fighting.”
Nastyukhin’s next important battle happens on Saturday, 5 August, when he meets Ando at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS in Macao. This bout could go a long way towards his quest for the title.
However, while in Macao, he will inevitably come face-to-face with Boku, who is scheduled to meet Eric Kelly on the same card. But when that happens, the Russian will not throw animosity in the Japanese former champion’s direction. Instead, he will extend his friendship.
“At the end of the day, he did not break my leg. I broke it myself. Anything can happen in this sport,” the Russian says. “We fought, and it is done. We have nothing to discuss. But if Kotetsu (Boku) comes to me and asks how I am doing, I will not push him away. I will shake his hand.”
Now that is something Nastyukhin’s parents can truly be proud of, and perfectly demonstrates his maturity as a martial artist.