Kamal Shalorus’ resume reads like a who’s who of the world’s best lightweights. He’s faced Jim Miller, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Rafael dos Anjos, Shinya Aoki, and Eduard Folayang during a career that has taken him from the WEC to the UFC to ONE Championship.
The Iranian returns after a two-year absence to face Ev Ting in the main event of ONE: Throne of Tigers on Friday night (local time). Their fight headlines the card in Kuala Lumpur and has the makings of a potential title eliminator for both men.
Ting’s won three straight fights, but intriguingly Shalorus, who came up short in a 2014 title shot against Shinya Aoki, also holds a win over reigning champion Eduard Folayang. He’s beaten the division’s top dog once and believes he can do it again.
“Folayang is a tough fighter, but I beat him and I’m coming for his belt. I like his belt so much I can’t help it, I want to take it.”
Standing in his way at Stadium Negara this week is Ting. The Malaysian’s on a fine run of form and is significantly younger than Shalorus, who believes that his wrestling prowess will make the difference in this fight.
“He’s a good striker, he’s good all round, but my wrestling is sharp. He won’t be able to stop that. He’s training so hard, trying to stop my takedown, but you can’t learn in two or three months. You need at least 40 years to learn that.”
Shalorus’ experience can be measured in numbers in terms of the decades he has been training and competing, and the 15 pro fights he has had, but caliber of opponents is something which is much more difficult to quantify. The Iranian has consistently faced top contenders and champions in three of the world’s top promotions.
He believes that being thrown in with the likes of Nurmagomedov, dos Anjos, and Aoki has helped make him the fighter he is today.
“I always have a tough fight. They never give me easy fight. And I’m proud of that because I am tough. That is why they give tough fights. I learn a lot because when you have a tough fight you train harder.”
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Shalorus didn’t start facing famous lightweights until he signed with the WEC, but the Iranian says this desire to test himself has been a feature throughout his MMA career.
“My first fight was in Texas. I never want to fight as an amateur fighter, (but) I told them just put me in with the champion. My first fight I fought the King of Kombat champion for the belt and I KO’d him after a few seconds.”
Although he left Iran as a 16-year-old, Shalorus still feels a close connection to the tiny village he grew up in.
“I grew up close to Caspian Sea, exactly on the border (with Azerbaijan) in a city called Hero. There’s nothing much there, maybe 10 houses, and I was born and raised there.”
Shalorus would probably still be living there today had he not emerged as a standout wrestler.
“I figured out only sport is going to take me anywhere I want. Then I started to practice wrestling and I won. Then I started to travel all around the world and it took me where I am (today). I am so grateful I’m doing MMA (because) I grew up in the middle of nowhere and my dream when I was a kid was to travel all around the world.”
He’s a permanent resident in the U.S. now, but still heads back to his birthplace once in a while to visit his mother. Shalorus won a couple of minor titles early in his career, but has not picked up any silverware since and says his dream is to return home with a ONE Championship belt slung over the shoulder.
“I’m going to take this belt and show the people in my village and say, ‘Do you remember? There you go. This is the belt.’”
Folayang’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of ONE Championship’s lightweight division has opened up some exciting possibilities for Shalorus. Having beaten the Filipino fairly comfortably the first time around, he is entitled to believe he could do so again and a win on Friday might be all he needs to secure a second title shot.
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