In following the world of sports, it’s often easy to forget that there’s a world out there beyond who wins or loses in the big game or the big fight. That doesn’t just go for the fans either, as the athletes are often affected by real life events that have nothing to do with their chosen profession.
For UFC light heavyweight Nikita Krylov, the recent events in his native Ukraine have hit him and everyone in his nation hard, even as he prepares for a key bout this Saturday in Dallas against Ovince Saint Preux.
“I have to be honest, it is difficult,” said the 22-year-old when asked how he keeps his focus during such a difficult time. “What is going on in my country right now is without a doubt the most trend-setting political development since the “Orange Revolution” ten years ago. I was too young to really wrap my head around that back then and I’m not a political person anyway, but I sincerely hope it will have a fast, and especially peaceful, ending, as our people have suffered a lot in recent months.”
With much of the political unrest centering on the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and in the Crimea region, Krylov is removed from the most heated areas, as he trains in his native Donetsk, which he estimates to be “a few hundred miles away.” This has allowed him, at the very least, to get his work done in relative peace.
“Even though the riots and turbulences left nobody unaffected here in Ukraine, fortunately I was able to go through my daily routines without many direct distractions.”
That’s a good thing, especially considering that in addition to fighting a veteran on a hot streak in Saint Preux, he’ll also be doing it for the first time as a light heavyweight, a possibility that became a believable reality as he was getting ready for his January win over Walt Harris.
“We were focusing a lot on functional training, as well as strength and conditioning, for the fight against Harris, and, as an effect, my weight dropped from 235 to 220 pounds,” he said. “I ended up tipping the scales at 218 and fortunately my weight had no effect on the outcome of the fight. At the same time we decided together with my coaches that we don’t want to give up more than 40 pounds in every fight, as other opponents will certainly be able to use their weight more effectively. So I’m trying my luck at light heavyweight, and perhaps we will see an even more effective ‘Al Capone.’”
It will be hard to improve on the result of the bout against Harris, as he dropped his opponent with a head kick, then finished him off with punches - all just taking 25 seconds. It was the performance many expected when he was signed to the UFC, and while he had his moments in his third round TKO loss to Soa Palelei last August, he admits that the first-time Octagon jitters got to him in that debut.
“In my first fight, I fell short of (UFC President) Dana White’s, my coaches’ and also my own expectations,” he said. “I had fought on quite a few big events before, but there is nothing comparable to standing inside that Octagon. My tension and nervousness sapped my energy, and even though I was well-prepared, I ran out of steam in that fight.”
That wasn’t the case the second time around. He didn’t even give himself enough time to lose steam.
“I was a little unsure about my standing in the UFC coming into the fight,” he said of the Harris bout. “But going into the fight with Walt it was much better; I knew what to expect and I managed to play to my strengths again – go in there, take the fight to my opponent and try and end it as soon as possible. Fortunately I was able to do that to earn myself another trip to the Octagon. You can’t believe how much I enjoy fighting in the UFC; it’s the greatest feeling in the world to me.”
And for a fighter who adopted Al Capone as his moniker, being in Chicago was a trip as well, even if he didn’t get to sightsee as much as he wanted to while in town, as this visit was strictly business.
“Getting to fight in Chicago was a great experience and a great omen coming into the fight for me,” he said. “Even though I had never been there before, it felt somewhat of a homecoming for my fighting alter ego. I tried to sightsee as much as possible, but as always when travelling to fight, the main focus is always the fight itself, so I wasn’t able to see too much. I definitely want to try and come back another time when I’m not fighting.”
Expect to see Krylov staying busy in the coming year, especially if he gets by Saint Preux this weekend. A Strikeforce vet who has won two straight in the Octagon, OSP may have the same amount of fights as Krylov (19), but the edge in facing world-class opposition is clearly in his corner as he battles the Ukrainian. Krylov remains confident though.
“Saint Preux is a very athletic fighter with exactly the same size as me,” he said. “Even though he doesn’t come from a martial arts background, his work ethic has allowed him to have a good career, first in Strikeforce and now in the UFC. The main difficulty he presents is his durability – in almost twenty fights he has only been stopped once. At the same time, he hasn’t faced anyone with the pure striking skills that I bring to the table. I’m very much looking forward to putting my skill set to the test against his.”
And after Saturday, he plans on setting his sights on the rest of the fighters in one of the sport’s toughest weight classes.
“I think that the UFC’s 205-pound division is very strong and there are some absolute beasts on top of it,” he said. “Compared to heavyweight, the fighters hit just as hard, but are much more mobile and much more athletic. You need to be big, strong and versatile to succeed
here. I think that I still have plenty of room to improve in all areas, but since I’m still young, I’m optimistic I will. I also think that there are a lot of interesting matchups for me at light heavyweight.”
That’s a confident 22-year-old, one eager to prove that the 25-second win over Harris was just the beginning.
“My plan is to pick up where I left off and deliver more spectacular fights for the fans,” said Krylov. “Win, lose or draw, I want to make it exciting.”
Fighting a Welcome Escape for Krylov
"My plan is to pick up where I left off and deliver more spectacular fights for the fans. Win, lose or draw, I want to make it exciting." - Nikita Krylov