For Kairat Akhmetov, the challenge is to regain what was lost. Adriano Moraes snatched away his perfect professional record, his championship belt, and his momentum with a one-sided decision win against the Kazakh in Macau last August.
Akhmetov, who holds a record of 24-1, has already beaten Moraes once and wants to do so again. But first he has to deal with another rematch at ONE: Global Superheroes, where he needs to take care of some unfinished business with Geje Eustaquio. The event takes place on Friday in Manila.
Akhmetov beat Eustaquio by split decision in September, but it was controversial to say the least. The scorecards could have gone either way, but they would perhaps not have been needed had the former champion not been given an erroneous timeout when he looked badly hurt.
Eustaquio connected with a perfectly legal up-kick and Akhmetov appeared stunned. Yet for some reason, Yuji Shimada called a timeout and the man from Almaty acknowledges it was the wrong decision.
“I could have continued fighting, but the referee interrupted for some reason. It was mostly the referee’s mistake. If he didn’t stop the fight, I would have continued and I didn’t like that we were made to stand up because I was working on the ground.”
The referee might have succeeded in upsetting both fighters with that decision, but Eustaquio certainly earned Akhmetov’s respect that night.
“As a person and fighter he is a very good guy, very good fighter. I was watching him even before I joined the organization. He is one of ONE Championship’s stars and it has always been interesting for me to watch his fights. I think he is a good competitor and most importantly, I like him as a person. He doesn’t show off.”
Having shared the cage with Eustaquio for 15 minutes, Akhmetov also has a good impression of his fighting abilities.
“I can’t say he is stronger or weaker (than me). Everyone knows his striking technique is very good; his wrestling is not bad. The most important thing here is how well you deliver, how you prepare, and who is smarter. These things will define the fight.”
An interim flyweight title will be on the line at “Global Superheroes,” but with regular champion Moraes still active, Akhmetov isn’t reading too much into that.
“A temporary belt for me is a chance to fight for the real belt. To combine them, so to say.”
Akhmetov was a big favorite going into the first fight with Eustaquio, but says he wasn’t surprised to be pushed so hard by the Filipino.
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“He didn’t surprise me. As I expected, he was a very serious contender. You can’t beat him easily. So he didn’t surprise me. I expected that kind of fight from him.”
However, Akhmetov does realize that fortune favored him the first time around and that he can’t count on lady luck in the rematch.
“He was unlucky last time; he can be lucky tomorrow.”
The Kazakh has been based at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket for the best part of a year. He’s determined to claim an interim belt and a shot at the champion if he can beat Eustaquio for the second time in the space of six months.