Features

How Zebaztian Kadestam Planned His Stunning Upset At ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES

May 31, 2017

Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam made headlines on Friday, 26 May, when he upset former ONE Welterweight World Title challenger Luis “Sapo” Santos at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES in Singapore.

The incredible feat was especially impressive, because the little-known Swede had been completely dominated in the opening two rounds of the contest, before pulling off a miraculous knockout in the final stanza.

However, Kadestam claims this was no fluke. This whole time, the 26-year-old and his team had envisioned a third-round victory. It just so happens everything went according to plan — a plan that was put into action two weeks before the event.

Kadestam, who splits his time between Pancrase Gym Sweden and Legacy Gym, was offered the chance to replace Vuyisile Colossa in Singapore, and make his promotional debut against Santos. After conversing with his team, he accepted the match.

For the next nine days, the Muay Thai specialist trained three times a day at Pancrase Gym Sweden, with his only rest being the time when he and his coach Kristoffer Persson flew into Singapore.

“We were able to get a lot of work done in those nine days before I left,” he says. “A lot of people stepped up and helped me.”

In the days to follow, he spent his time becoming acclimated to Singapore’s humidity, and trained at Juggernaut Fight Club with famed coach Arvind Lalwani. The gym has served as an affiliate of Legacy Gym since 2011, when fellow ONE athlete Ole Laursen first trained there. Lalwani had even previously cornered the “The Bandit,” so it served as the perfect headquarters.

The trio of Kadestam, Persson, and Lalwani extensively studied the Brazilian’s previous bouts in ONE, and identified some perceived weaknesses. They were aware of Santos’ immense knockout power and dangerous ground game, but they also found that his striking was more power-based and that cardio was a glaring weakness.

“He hits hard, and he goes for the knockout, so we knew for at least the first three minutes, he would be throwing everything but the kitchen sink,” Lalwani offers. “So our goal was to try and take him to the third round, and go for the finish there.”

“We knew he was strong and explosive,” continued Kadestam. “We also knew he would gas, so my game plan was to move a lot the first round and try to find his body with kicks. As he would slow down, I would pick up the pace. Similar game plan in the second, and in the third I would go for the finish, if possible.”

There was plenty of risk with that strategy, such as absorbing a powerful shot in the early going or not capitalizing on an opportunity. Still, that was the strategy, and at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, he stuck to it.

In the opening minutes of the bout, Santos delivered massive kicks that battered the Swede’s elbows and bruised his legs, and swept him before jumping into guard. “Sapo” spent the rest of the round advancing his position and dropping heavy strikes.

The second frame saw “The Bandit” miss on his widely-known leg kicks, and Santos returning to his takedown and ground-and-pound ways. But as the round wore on, the Brazilian’s energy began to wane, and so did the power behind his strikes.

Although everything was going according to plan, Kadestam was surprised by a few things.

“First of all, that he wanted to wrestle so much. Also, he was backing off, so I thought he would press forward more,” he acknowledges. “I noticed right away his distance judgement was perfect and that he kicked like a monster, so I could not let my hands go, and I had a hard time finding my kicks. I basically let him tire himself out on me, while I tried to save my energy for the third round.”

When the third round hit, Kadestam installed the most crucial aspect of his plan. He immediately rushed forward to pressure his tiring foe. “Sapo” connected with a sloppy takedown against the cage, but the Stockholm native returned to his feet and jockeyed for position in the clinch.

The Brazilian tripped him and grappled for position, but “The Bandit” surrendered his back and used that as a ploy to escape.

An exhausted Santos went for third takedown, but Kadestam stuffed it and exploded with a stiff knee to the chin that rattled his opponent. The Swede moved into side control, rained down punches, and then knocked out the former title challenger with a pair of knees.

Evidently, the plan was a huge success.

“‘Sapo’ is a great fighter, but we knew he had to adapt. He just came in the past week and needed to adapt to the humidity, so we knew he was going to gas, period. We saw that in the second round, because we could hear him breathing heavily,” Lalwani explains.

“At the end of the second round, Zebaztian was just getting warmed up. We told him it was time to go and he was like, ‘Yeah, I am ready, let’s go now and get it done.’ He was ready, and he did it.”

There are always risks in martial arts, but Kadestam risked everything in this particular match. He risked being underprepared for his promotional debut, he risked losing against the dangerous and well-rounded “Sapo” on two weeks notice, and he risked taking punishment in the first two rounds before attempting to explode in the final five-minute window.

Fortunately, the risk paid off, and “The Bandit” was rewarded with an unforgettable knockout that could very well be the upset of 2017. And now, he could be given a title shot against ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren later this August in Malaysia, as the champion himself outlined in his post-bout interview.

“I had to fight smart this time. I really needed this win,” Kadestam states. “I hope people enjoyed the fight, but I think I still showed that I did not come for nothing less than that title.”