After spending nine long months recuperating from a broken shin, Timofey Nastyukhin (11-3) rededicated himself to his mission of becoming the ONE Lightweight World Champion, and is determined to obliterate every adversary who stands in his way.
The Russian will continue forging ahead with his mission on Friday, 23 February. He is scheduled to meet fellow knockout artist Amir Khan (9-2) at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, which emanates from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar. It is a clash between the man with the most KOs in ONE history, Khan, against the man with the fastest KO in ONE history, Nastyukhin.
The Russian claims that he needs this win, like he needs oxygen.
”I must stop Amir Khan inside three rounds to establish a strong position in the lightweight division. My goal is to shoot for the gold soon after I get Khan out of the way,” the 28-year-old Russian states.
“This guy is on six-bout winning streak, and he is young and hungry. He wants what I want — to dominate the division. But one of us has to clear the path for the other.”
Khan represents a formidable challenge. The 23-year-old Evolve MMA product is a rising star in ONE Championship. In addition to his six-bout winning streak, the Singaporean has set the record for most finishes (8) and knockouts (7) in the promotion’s history.
However, the Russian believes he is capable of stopping Khan’s meteoric rise to superstardom.
A two-time FILA Pankration World Champion with a 91 percent finishing rate inside the cage, Nastyukhin is revered knockout artist. In his promotional debut back in December 2014, he put away future ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in the first round with a picture-perfect flying knee. A year and a half later, he tied the promotion’s record for fastest knockout by flattening Aussie hard-hitter Rob Lisita with a cross-hook combination in six seconds.
However, in November 2016, at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in Singapore, he experienced a catastrophe.
Nastyukhin clashed with inaugural ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku, and he broke his tibia in the opening frame. To everyone’s surprise, the Russian continued competing until the end of the first round in an incredible show of toughness and grit.
“I realized something was wrong when I stepped back and the foot buckled under my weight,” he recalls. “But I did not want to quit. I decided it was down to the doctors and the judges to stop me.”
Ultimately, the doctors stopped the contest between rounds, and the ultra tough Russian had to be carried out of the ONE cage. He may not have flashed his incredible knockout power that night, but he showed a tremendous amount of heart.
Soon thereafter, Nastyukhin had an operation in Singapore, and spent the next several months rehabilitating his injury in Russia. He also contemplated whether or not he wanted to continue chasing his dreams of achieving ONE gold.
“During these months, I questioned if I should go back into the cage,” he confesses. “But I am not a quitter. The rehab was going well, and I started craving my revenge. I felt like I was so close to the top. I almost got it. In hindsight, that setback only made me more determined.”
Nastyukhin made his long awaited return in August 2017, where he met former world title challenger Koji “The Commander” Ando. The Japanese athlete, famous for his judo skills, made it competitive for 15 minutes, but the Russian was getting the better of the stand-up, and hitting him with everything he had.
“He was a very inconvenient opponent,” the Russian begins. “He changed stances, he put pressure on, but acted very carefully, and tried wearing me out. He did not attack much. He tried to spot my mistakes, and use them against me.
“Koji made me work hard for the whole three rounds. I was shocked by his strength, and his ability to take punches. My punches have a knockout power, but this guy absorbed them like they were slaps. I could not believe my eyes.”
In the end, Nastyukhin made a glorious return. He took the unanimous decision victory, and got back into the win column.
Looking back, he admits the match with Ando was a necessary step in his mental growth as a martial artist.
“I did not feel weak or frightened, but I definitely felt unsure if I still belonged in the cage, if I was still the top contender in this game,” he continues. “The only way to beat those thoughts was to compete, and to win.”
Now, having reconfirmed to himself that he is indeed a top contender in ONE’s stacked lightweight division, Nastyukhin is looking to compete, and win, against Khan on 23 February at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD. Despite the Singapore’s dazzling resume, the Russian believes he is “a good athlete, but has never had an opponent like me.”
To prepare for the bout, Nastyukhin started in Ekaterinburg, a city near the Ural Mountains in Russia, where he sparred with 50 of the country’s best martial arts talents.
“It was a good chance to try different sparring partners, and to share an experience,” he reveals. “I never focus on grappling or striking. I do absolutely everything: boxing, wrestling, grappling, and functional training.”
From there, Nastyukhin traveled to Phuket, Thailand for the final part of his camp. There, he gets acclimated to the environment, and trains alongside other world-class talents at Tiger Muay Thai & MMA.
Also, he has been working alongside his main sparring partner Andrei Koshkin, and together the pair have extensively watched all of Khan’s bouts in order to perfect Nastyukhin’s game plan.
“This time, I am not training for a regular type of match, I am training for a match with Amir Khan. I study him, because now I need to win more than ever, and I will come prepared.”
The Russian is putting his best foot forward in 2018, all in an effort to acquire a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Title, and to complete his life’s mission.
As Nastyukhin says, “I am excited to be back.”