An epic clash of elite flyweights in Jakarta could very well decide the next challenger for the ONE Flyweight World Championship.
This coming Saturday, 16 September, former titleholder Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov (23-1) will square off against former title challenger Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (9-5) in the main event of ONE: TOTAL VICTORY. The card emanates from the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
Both men are in hot pursuit of the flyweight strap, currently held by Adriano Moraes (16-2), and will do everything in their power to secure the win and a shot at the gold. Here’s everything we know about the two competitors, and the bout, so far.
Beginning The Martial Way
Martial arts has always been in Akhmetov’s blood. The son of an amateur Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion, it was only natural for “The Kazakh” to follow his father’s footsteps onto the wrestling mats.
He started at age 12, won a pair of youth championships a few years later, and then linked up with his new coach and former Kazakhstani Olympian, Aset Imanbaev, to perfect his technique. That led to winning three consecutive Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships from 2009 to 2011.
Along the way, Akhmetov followed his childhood dream of competing professionally, and made his official debut with a 48-second rear-naked choke victory. He continued racking up win after win, eventually joining ONE Championship in 2015 to defeat Moraes and claim the ONE Flyweight World Championship.
While martial arts has always been in Akhmetov’s blood, the same cannot be said for Eustaquio. In fact, his family initially discouraged it.
“Gravity,” who grew up idolizing Bruce Lee, was completely hooked on martial arts after watching a small kickboxing event as a teenager in Baguio. His parents, however, wanted him to pursue an education instead of train.
Fortunately, Eustaquio satisfied both his parents’ desire for higher learning, all while pursuing his martial arts dreams. After starting his kickboxing training at age 14, he was selected for the Junior National Team for wushu, and was consequently awarded a scholarship to the University of the Cordilleras.
At university, he competed on the school’s wushu team under head coach Mark Sangiao, and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Education. The Baguio flyweight translated his impeccable wushu talent to the cage in February 2011, winning six of his first eight matches and getting an opportunity to vie for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship in September 2014.
The Road To Jakarta
In 2016, only months after capturing the coveted belt, Akhmetov was training in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at Jackson Wink MMA in anticipation of his first title defense, when suddenly, he aggravated an old back injury. The excruciating pain caused him to pull out of the proposed contest, and nearly forced him to retire.
Finally, after recovering for the better part of a year and relocating his family to Phuket, Thailand, he returned to defend the belt against then-interim titleholder Moraes at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS this past August.
It was apparent that cage rust was an issue for “The Kazakh,” who admittedly felt slower and duller than usual. Moraes, however, was on fire. The Brazilian out-struck, out-grappled and out-pointed the champion en route to a unanimous decision and the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Championship.
Akhmetov, who had been out of action for nearly two years, had already spent enough time on the sidelines, and wanted to get on the comeback trail immediately, bringing him to Jakarta’s contest.
Eustaquio knows exactly what that is like. Since losing in the inaugural title bout to Moraes back in September 2014, “Gravity” has been looking for redemption. He experienced some mixed results in the years to follow, but seems to be on track.
The Filipino has won three of his last four matches, all over quality opposition, including Gianni Subba and Saiful “The Vampire” Merican. Most recently, in May, he defeated longtime rival Anatpong “Mak” Bunrad via split decision.
Both athletes share identical goals of getting the belt and avenging losses against the man who took the flyweight title from their grasp. A victory will put the winner one step closer to that inevitable date with destiny. The only question is: who wants it more?
The Game Plans
There is no doubt that both competitors will be ready for any scenario, but clearly each flyweight will play to their respective strengths. With so much on the line, neither will take too many high-risk chances outside of their comfort zone.
Akhmetov is comfortable with his boxing, as he has sufficient hand-speed and power in his fists. He is further diversifying his skill set at Tiger Muay Thai & MMA in Phuket, Thailand, so he may have a few new tricks up his sleeve.
Still, he will want to use his world-class wrestling to bring “Gravity” to the ground, where he can deliver the TKO or perhaps record another submission victory.
While grappling had previously been the bane of Team Lakay, head coach Mark Sangiao has strengthened his wushu athletes’ perceived weakness in recent years. Eustaquio will aim to utilize those skills to keep himself upright against the Kazakhstan Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion.
By doing so, he could keep the match standing, and use his sharp stand-up and cat-like quickness to overwhelm the former champion.
Our Experts Give Their Take
Rich Franklin, Martial Arts Legend And Former Middleweight World Champion
Champions always have the ‘get back on the horse’ mentality, which is why I am not surprised Akhmetov is competing again so quickly. I would expect him to come out aggressively and push the pace against Eustaquio. After all, I am sure he wants the rubber match with Moraes.
Eustaquio cannot let Akhmetov impose his will in this bout. They both push a fast pace, and both are dangerous on the feet. Akhmetov should look to take Eustaquio down, as it will be the path of least resistance, so Eustaquio will need to make the match gritty from the clinch and inside positions.
This will be a high volume, ‘do not blink’ kind of match — the kind that will be difficult to judge!
Brian Ebersole, Retired Martial Artist And Evolve MMA Head Coach
Being able to return to action so quickly after a loss is a great advantage, and quite a gift, actually. Akhmetov does not have to start over, regarding weight loss and fitness. Plus, his timing should remain sharp.
Eustaquio will need to avoid Akhmetov’s power punching, something Moraes was able to do with his length, footwork, and versatile kicking in Macao. And should he succumb to the inevitable takedown attempts of Akhmetov, a tight but active guard would serve him well. Too loose, and Akhmetov can posture and punch. Too lazy, and Akhmetov can grind him down and end up passing.
I think Akhmetov is the stronger athlete, but this is not a game where the stronger guy always wins. It helps, though. I am excited, exactly because it is a matchup of distinctly different styles. It will be interesting to see if one frustrates the other, maybe outclasses the other, or tricks him into falling into a trap.
Mitch Chilson, Former ONE Athlete And Current Broadcast Analyst
Akhmetov and Eustaquio are a contrast of styles. One is blistering speed with precision striking, while the other is strength combined with aggression on the ground. These contests are a battle of who can impose their will on the other.
Eustaquio has proven he is a exciting striker, but if he gets taken down, can he get up? Akhmetov proved his mettle by capturing the greatest prize in martial arts. However, if Plan A fails him, how does he adjust?
These are two of the highest caliber martial artists in the world, but the battle between striker and grappler still exists. How does one adapt to the other’s strengths? Will speed conquer strength, or will the power reign? This is what excites me most about this main event.