At this stage, any fighter going up against Ben Askren knows he is going to be an underdog. The odds are against Nikolay Aleksakhin ahead of ONE: Global Rivals, but the Russian believes he can register a win that would probably go down as the greatest upset in the history of Asian MMA.
Aleksakhin has had plenty of time to prepare for Friday night’s title fight in Manila and he says he has spotted some holes in his opponent’s game.
“His weakness is his striking, he doesn’t use his legs or his hands. I know he’s an Olympic level wrestler with great technique, but I think I will win this fight.”
The show at the Mall of Asia Arena is being billed as Global Rivals because it pits the U.S. against Russia. Askren’s had a few choice words for the challenger and Aleksakhin is looking forwards to ramming them back down his throat.
“I think trash talking is very popular in the USA (but) in Russia if you say something you must do it. On fight night I will give him an answer for his words.”
To prepare for this fight he’s been training with the best pound-for-pound fighter Russia has ever produced. Aleksakhin is a student of Fedor Emelianenko and credits the former Pride heavyweight champion for transforming him into a title contender.
“When I was a child, I saw Fedor fight and I wanted to be like Fedor. My life changed when I was in Fedor Emelienaneko’s team and I saw how he trained. I started to see it as a professional sport.”
Just like his hero and mentor, Aleksakhin trains in Combat Sambo and he believes that it is the perfect base for MMA.
“Combat Sambo is very close to MMA. They share a lot of the same techniques. On fight night, I think Combat Sambo uses more techniques than wrestling. It is better than wrestling.”
As a child, Aleksakhin was a keen swimmer as well as training in Combat Sambo, but he didn’t take up MMA until the age of 20. He credits the sport with helping him to keep him on the straight and narrow, despite growing up in a rough area in Russia.
“When I was growing up, my hometown was very bad. I grew up fighting on the streets. When I started training in sports that became my whole life.”
Aleksakhin is still fiercely proud of his Russian roots and admits that patriotic pride will be on the line when he takes on the former U.S. Olympian.
“It’s important to fight for my country and my motherland. It’s important to raise the Russian flag.”
ONE Championship already has two Russian champions with Vitaly Bigdash holding the middleweight strap and Marat Gafurov the current featherweight title holder. If Aleksakhin can upset the odds by beating Askren to take his title, he promises not to let the achievement go to his head.
“If I win against a guy who talks more trash, it is good, but not the most important thing. Most important thing for me is just to win. Fedor did not lose in 10 years and he stayed a humble guy. He didn’t become a become a big superstar; he stayed humble the whole time.”
Fedor experienced defeat relatively early in his career, but bounced back to go an entire decade undefeated and establish himself as the greatest fighter on the planet. Aleksakhin will be hoping to enjoy a similarly steep trajectory and knows a win over the seemingly unbeatable Askren would be a huge step in the right direction.
“I want to finish him, but I understand this fight could be five rounds. All my life it’s been my goal to be a champion. It’s the most important thing for me.”
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