Nikita Krylov had every intention of returning to the UFC when he announced that he would part ways with the promotion in Dec. 2016, following a loss to Misha Cirkunov at UFC 206.
As he explained in an Instagram post, he felt he still needed to grow as an MMA fighter before challenging at the top table of the light-heavyweight division.
“I understand that everyone who asks would be interested to see how I would fight against Manuwa or Gustafsson, I myself would be interested in fighting them, but not right now. Why? Because I’m 25 years old, from which 20 years I did not practice as a professional MMA fighter. Because it is not the greatest pleasure to fly 10,000 km to the fights and leave my one-year-old son,” Krylov explained, as transcribed by Bloody Elbow.
“Consider that this is such the stage of my career where I am gaining experience and laying the foundation,” he added. “Fight Nights are determined to offer me interesting rivals and for this, too, thank you.”
It’s funny how things work out.
After leaving the promotion to compete closer to home, Krylov now makes his return in a venue that’s only a short drive from where he lives. The irony of it all isn’t lost on “The Miner.”
(Editor’s note: Quotes in this article have been edited for clarity and concision)
“I’ve been joking with the team, ‘I left the UFC to fight in Russia, but I could not fight in Moscow until I returned to the UFC’,” Krylov told MMA Fighting through a translator.
“My apartment is 10 kilometers from the venue. I can take the subway and drive 30 minutes to the Olympic Stadium, so it will be an interesting experience. At the same time, I don’t even know what to expect. This is a historic card, but I’m not in the main event. There will be several more popular fighters from Russia, so I’m sure they will have more attention on them on Sept. 15.”
Fight Nights Global released Krylov from his contract in order for him to broker his UFC return in Moscow. He claimed four stoppage victories in as many outings under the banner leading the masses to push for his return to the UFC.
Considering his reasons for wanting to leave the UFC in 2016, Krylov thinks his time away from the Octagon went exactly has planned.
“I’m even a bit surprised because life does not often go the way you plan, especially if you plan two years ahead,” stated Krylov.
“But if we talk about my career after leaving the UFC, everything turned out as I expected. I began to understand how to prepare for battles better. I won four fights, became a champion of Fight Nights Global, defeated Fabio Maldonado and had several good training camps.”
Krylov thinks he relied too much on his karate background when we first saw him in the Octagon. He is confident that he became a far more complete MMA fighter during his time with Fight Nights Global.
“I began to look at fighting differently,” said Krylov. “I began to behave differently in battle. I felt those differences a lot against Maldonado. Before, my style in MMA was in many ways determined my training in karate. You could say I fought in MMA as a person from Kyokushin karate. The fewer steps back, the better.
“Now I’ve begun to understand MMA better as a sport. It is complex. It is important. I have not just improved my boxing or my ju-jitsu; I improved as an MMA fighter. That is different.”
UFC have suggested the company has high hopes for Krylov 2.0 by booking him against fourth-ranked Jan Blachowicz. The Ukrainian knockout artist wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I expected that I would get an opponent from the top 10. When I left the UFC I was a top 10 fighter and won four fights, the last of which was a very quick stoppage. The light heavyweight division is in quite a difficult situation; there is no clear leader now that Cormier has moved to heavyweight. I feel like a top 10 fighter, so I’m glad that the UFC apparently thinks the same way.”
The only prediction Krylov has for his clash with Blachowicz is that it will not go the distance.
“Over the course of a 10-year career, MMA fighters will have 20 to 25 fights. Therefore, each turns out to be special. This is not football, where a team plays 50 games a year and you get an idea of how things shape up. In MMA, it is so difficult to predict,” he said.
“I can only say that I have a style that makes it hard for me to win or lose on points. If I understand that the fight is going away from me, I’d rather start taking more risks to change something, so the only prediction is that everything will end in less than 15 minutes.”
It’s clear that Krylov is trying to be measured when he considers his path to the title. However, he admits that he finds himself pondering how a clash with Jon Jones would transpire, knowing that he may not climb the ladder in time to face current champion, Daniel Cormier.
“I’m only 26 years old. I understand that even if I fight for the title, it’s likely that it will not be against Daniel Cormier. Perhaps Jon Jones will be champion by the time I get there.
“Recently, in Russia, several interviews with him were published. On the way to training, almost all the time, I think about how I could fight him: how I can block his elbows, hurt him with my punches and my kicks.
“The very idea that in two weeks I will start to fight in that division, where the belt has been held by top-class athletes, is very motivating. Right now, my fight for the title seems difficult to imagine, but I believe that I will continue to progress. For example at 30 years old, it will be a completely different Nikita Krylov.
“I hope you will ask me this question again, and I will answer more specifically,” he said.