“Normally I would like to already have one fight under my belt and be concentrating on the second fight of the year around this time,” Cirkunov said.
But after his fourth UFC win – and finish – over Nikita Krylov last December and the signing of a new six-fight deal with the promotion, the timing is now perfect for the Latvia native, who faces fellow top ten light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir on Sunday.
“I’m fighting top five guys now and it hasn’t even been two years with the UFC and I’m already reaching that kind of level,” he said. “So I think I’m on the right path at the right pace. If anything, I’m doing a really fast pace – there’s still a lot to learn for me and I’m still getting better.”
If the 30-year-old, who makes his home in Toronto, is getting better, that’s a scary prospect for the rest of the 205-pound weight class, because he’s already shown a world-class fight game since debuting in the Octagon in 2015 and then finishing Daniel Jolly, Alex Nicholson, Ion Cutelaba and Krylov. Yet while he’s seen as one of the new breed in a division stacked with seasoned veterans, Cirkunov didn’t fall out of the sky and into the Octagon. This has been a journey going on for over 12 years now.
“People might only know me since I joined the UFC, but I’ve been going towards this path since after I graduated high school,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a really long time to put myself in the position I am now.”
He’s got every intention of seizing these opportunities and making the most of them, and if he seems hungrier to succeed than most, it’s because he’s sacrificed a lot to get here. But he remains patient, and that patient intensity is evident in his fight style. He’s not rushing to get an opponent out of there, but he will do it eventually.
“I started my career as a judo guy and I was never handed anything,” Cirkunov said. “Everything I have in my life, I worked really hard for it and I appreciate it all. It’s all hard work, and being patient is just taking little baby steps, learning, getting better, and I’m excited to take those little steps. In the beginning, it was a little frustrating because for the longest time I was not making any money. But I always believed in myself, even though maybe other people didn’t. I believed if you really, really want something in this life and you work hard at it, then one day you can be successful too. I just believe in hard work and being patient, being humble, and treating people the way you want to be treated.”
That classy approach to life, as well as his ability to emphatically end fights, has made Cirkunov a fan favorite, and while he’s still getting used to his notoriety, he’s not shying away from it either.
“It’s a long journey, a long process, and I’m just excited to meet more people and hopefully make more fans and more people that will support me and watch me fight,” said the light heavyweight standout, who will be shot into a new part of the 205-pound landscape with a win this weekend. He’s looking forward to that.
“In the last two years, I kind of slingshotted really fast based on my last four fights in the UFC and it put me on the map a little bit more,” he said. “But the winner of this one is definitely going to be in position of possibly fighting for the belt or maybe another fight before the belt, and it’s an exciting time.”