Chris Lokteff is on the verge of a ONE FC title shot after stepping up on short notice to take on Tony Johnson Jr. last November. The Bellator and King of the Cage veteran was the most formidable opponent the Australian had ever faced, but he put in the most impressive performance of his career to win by unanimous decision.
The man known as “Igor” was born in Australia to Russian parents. He rocked Johnson repeatedly with the right hand that has helped him secure nine wins by KO or TKO. Lokteff also scored with multiple soccer kicks at ONE FC: Warrior Spirit in Kuala Lumpur, and says he particularly enjoyed fighting under the unique rule set adopted by Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
“We don’t have that rule in Australia, so I hadn’t fought with them, but they seemed to come very naturally for me and I definitely was excited about the ONE FC rule set. In the days leading into the fight my corner had discussed the fact that I would be much quicker in the scramble getting back to my feet and the opportunity to use the soccer kicks would be there.
“It took me a round to adjust as I instinctively rushed in after the first couple of times I dropped him and unfortunately forgot about the soccer kick opportunity, which saw me get taken down. Once I had warmed into it though, I started using them at the right moment and they were very effective. Next time I will be prepared to use them and will train with them more,” he told MMAWeekly.com.
Lokteff had to survive a rear naked choke attempt at the end of the second round, which looked tight, but he was able to escape and feels that this was the turning point in the fight.
“It was very tight and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the thought of defeat flashed through my mind for a split second, but I could feel him tiring so I held on and got the reversal. I knew Tony had put everything he had into that submission attempt and expended most of what energy he had left.”
Johnson’s only previous defeat had come at the hands of Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner and current UFC fighter Daniel Cormier, and Lokteff, whose record currently stands at 12-1, knew that he had never faced an opponent of this caliber before.
“He was definitely my best opponent. We knew he would have very strong wrestling and that his only loss had come from Daniel Cormier. Although I had never faced someone of his wrestling ability in the cage, my coach and I work very hard on my wrestling in Australia so I felt that I could hold my own in that department. Coach Higgins told me to expect to be on my back at some time in the fight, so I was prepared mentally for a tough fight early and always believed that I would finish the stronger,” he said.
That prediction proved prophetic as Lokteff was able to maintain a higher pace than his American opponent in the final round to ensure an unassailable lead on the scorecards and vindicate his team’s decision to take the fight at such short notice.
“I accepted the fight on 10-days notice. I had been looking forward to my first fight on One FC and was surprised and excited for it to happen so quickly after signing with them. I didn’t have any hesitation in accepting because my coach, Dan Higgins, and manager, Tony Green, believed in me and I believed in my training so it did not matter who ONE FC placed in front of me.”
Lokteff’s reputation for being heavy handed is well earned. He had never previously seen the start of the third round, let along gone the full 15 minutes, and was pleased that his stamina stood up to this unfamiliar scrutiny despite not having had the benefit of a full training camp.
“There are always times in a fight even at your fittest where you will feel tired. I knew if I was tired, he was feeling worse than me, so as he tired more it just made me push harder, but there were no stamina issues to speak of. We always put in the hard yards at training, so I was confident even at short notice that I could keep pushing the pace in the fight. With notice for my next fight, I will be able to put on an even more exciting fight for the promotion and ONE FC fans,” he said.
The win over Johnson Jr. has instantly established Lokteff as a frontrunner for the inaugural ONE FC heavyweight title. The division is in its infancy, but the main contender is Paul Cheng and Igor says he would not be averse to accepting a title shot against the 4-1 Taiwanese Canadian.
“That’s the goal/dream to fight for that belt and become the ONE FC heavyweight champion. I know a lot of talk was getting about that if Tony Johnson won our fight that he would have the opportunity to fight for the title, so I would like to think I’ve put my case forward as worthy. I also see Paul Cheng had a good win in Manila, so maybe we could put on an exciting title fight. I’m sure the One FC fans would enjoy watching it and I know I’m keen.”
With a 12-1 record, Lokteff has established himself among the division’s elite and having 11 stoppage wins to his name marks him out as one of the most dangerous heavyweight fighters. It’s a skillset fans in Asia will relish watching and Igor is hoping it will help him secure a 2014 title shot.
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter | Photo courtesy of One FC)