ONE Championship return with their second action packed event of January 2018. Global Superheroes will showcase a main event title bout, renowned sanda practitioner Lan Ming Qiang continues his MMA journey, homegrown featherweight standout Eric “The Natural” Kelly competes, and so much more. Additionally, Geje Eustaquio and Kairat Akhmetov have some history going into this rematch at the top of the marquee.
The initial fight between Geje Eustaquio and Kairat Akhmetov at ONE: Total Victory resulted in a razor thin split decision win for Akhmetov in September 2017. With a world title now up for grabs plus the added motivation of each wanting a definitive finish this time out, all the makings for a classic are at play. MMA Torch/ Liberty Multimedia contributor Dylan Bowker got to ask the main eventers some questions ahead of this crucial bout.
Dylan Bowker: You’ve fought the best of the best in ONE’s flyweight division. Is the ultimate goal to win here then have a rubber match with Adriano Moraes?
Kairat Akhmetov: In 2017, I had ups and downs. I do not want to look back. In 2018, I am looking forward to reaching my dream to battle Adriano Moraes in my hometown. But of course, I have to beat Geje first to fulfill my dream.
Dylan Bowker: You beat Geje in your last bout by split decision. What did you learn from him during your first fight that you can apply to a more emphatic victory this time out?
Kairat Akhmetov: Geje Eustaquio is a good striker with decent takedown defense, and he has a good team behind him. I do not think he has a lot of weaknesses.
My advantage should be my wrestling and ground game, but I am not going to rely only on that. I am willing to test myself against him on the feet, and show what my hands can do. I envision every possible scenario, from a quick win, to a tough decision where I overcome adversity. Whatever he brings to me, I will be ready for it.
Dylan Bowker: Where do the flyweight fighters in ONE Championship stack up to fellow 125lb fighters internationally?
Kairat Akhmetov: ONE Championship houses the best and the brightest in Asia. Not all best talents are found in the West. There are many untapped talents here in the region. ONE Championship is fully maximizing the potential of Asian fighters. The good news is that most competitors here are from the lower weight classes. If you would think of it, there is an endless supply of competition.”
Dylan Bowker: You train frequently in Phuket and cross train with Jackson Wink. What specific areas have you improved in with this latest camp?
Kairat Akhmetov: I came there to sharpen my striking. Geje is explosive. He comes from different angles. Like what I said, I envision every possible scenario.
Dylan Bowker: Who were the training partners you put in work with for this fight camp?
Kairat Akhmetov: At Tiger Muay Thai, there is a wide array of talents that I could work with, including Cody Stevens, Nick Hein, Roger Huerta, Shannon Wiratchai and the list goes on.
Dylan Bowker: How important is it for you to represent Kazakhstan on a diverse international stage like ONE Championship?
Kairat Akhmetov: I got my moniker because I always represent my country with pride and honor. Whether it’s on the mat or inside the cage, I will always show the true Kazakh warrior spirit.
Dylan Bowker: Lost to Kairat in your last bout by split decision. What did you learn from him during your first fight that you can apply to a victorious effort this time out?
Geje Eustaquio: It was a learning experience for me, the first time I met Kairat. I knew going into the match that it would be one of the biggest challenges of my career, given that he is a former world champion. Honestly, I was a little flustered. I thought I could have pushed the pace more, and maybe forced him to defend my strikes.
Dylan Bowker: Having been with the promotion since ONE’s second event, what has it been like for you to see all of the tremendous growth with the ONE organization?
Geje Eustaquio: My first ONE Championship fight is the most memorable to me. It is the biggest victory of my career because it was the first time I won internationally. Since then, the organization has become a ground-breaking force. I am happy to be with them because they provide a platform for fighters from different parts of Asia.
Dylan Bowker: You could have conceivably got a first-round KO in your last fight had it not been for an odd referee call. Are you still frustrated by that or do you look forward to this fight opportunity for validation?
Geje Eustaquio: I lost focus of the game plan and allowed myself to operate at Akhmetov’s pace instead of dictating the action on the feet. I also could have had better takedown defense. I would have loved to have won, but it is what it is.”
Kairat is a tricky opponent. After three rounds with him, I have gotten to know him a little bit better. I am able to understand what makes him a great martial artist.
Dylan Bowker: How important is capturing a title in this fight to your overall legacy as an MMA fighter?
Geje Eustaquio: Nothing is easy. A person has to go through hardship to become successful. I know it will be hard, but I am willing to dig deep and get that victory. In order to be a winner, you have to endure. I am here to endure all the hardships because I want to be the best.
I want this win. I want to have a remarkable winning result, and then I want to move forward onto that flyweight belt. I am here for the challenge. I am not backing down. Do not miss the chance to witness when the good becomes better and the better becomes the best.
Dylan Bowker: How does your mindset differ heading into the main event fight on a big card with so much focus on you?
Geje Eustaquio: One of the aspects of my game I am working very hard on is my takedown defense. Every day, we drill very hard in training. We all work to improve our ground game and takedown defense, so we can better showcase our Wushu. After every bout, I aim to get better, win or lose. Every bout is a learning experience.
Be sure to check out ONE Championship: Global Superheroes which goes Friday January 26th. It emanates from Manila at the Mall of Asia Arena. The interim flyweight world title is up for grabs between Akhmetov and Eustaquio, rising strawweight wushu practitioner Joshua Pacio steps in the cage again, and a special Muay Thai bout will take place. Go to onefc.com for more information.