Nikita Krylov makes his 18th appearance inside the Octagon this weekend, but headlines for the first time in his career, as he takes on Ryan Spann in a pivotal light heavyweight contest to close out Saturday’s fight card at the UFC APEX.
“It says for me that I’m going forward,” he said when asked what it means to him to be headlining a UFC event for the first time. “My first main event in the UFC is a big deal for me. I’m really happy.”
A 38-fight veteran who turns 31 in a couple weeks, Krylov is a perfect example of a fighter that has been competing on the biggest stage in the sport for an extensive amount of time, but just now appears to be at the point where he’s putting everything together.
He arrived in the UFC at age 21, splitting a pair of bouts at heavyweight before relocating to the 205-pound weight class. He earned five consecutive victories, all by stoppage, between losses to Ovince Saint Preux and Misha Cirkunov before leaving the promotion for four fights, winning all of those by stoppage as well.
Since returning in the fall of 2018 when the UFC made its first journey to Russia, Krylov has split eight fights evenly between wins and losses, but the level of competition he’s faced has been outstanding. Everyone he has faced has been ranked in the Top 15, and the losses have come against two former champions (Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira), a recent title challenger (Magomed Ankalaev), and Paul Craig in a fight where he was too confident playing on the canvas with the Scottish submission ace.
“In the fight with Paul Craig, what happened is bulls***, I think,” Krylov said, when asked about the changes since that meeting in London last March that have led to the two-fight winning streak he carries into Saturday’s showdown with Spann. “I think I’m the better fighter, but his triangle is better than my defense in this fight.”
It’s not just the setbacks that highlight the level of competition Krylov has faced during his second run on the UFC roster, though; it’s the triumphs, as well.
In addition to avenging his earlier loss to Saint Preux, the veteran added a win over Brazilian contender Johnny Walker and followed up his loss to Craig with consecutive victories over former title challengers Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oezdemir to bring his record to level since returning to the UFC fold.
Krylov wouldn’t be the first fighter to struggle against more experienced, more skilled competition early in his career before putting all the pieces together and embarking on a run of success if that is how this all shakes out, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last, either.
In fact, his recent positive form fits with thoughts Spann’s head coach, Sayif Saud, shared about competitors in the heavier weight classes taking a little bit longer to put things together and make everything work when speaking about his charge ahead of this fight.
“The process does maybe take a little longer (with bigger guys),” theorized Saud. “I think that’s why you saw Glover (Teixeira) and these guys having success in these bigger divisions when they’re older, when they’re smarter.”
Krylov has shown growth and development, both inside and outside of the cage, including building a training camp around himself in Kislovodsk, a resort town in the North Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Nikita Krylov: History Is Made | UFC 30th Anniversary
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!
Nikita Krylov: History Is Made | UFC 30th Anniversary
Even taking this fight against Spann on Saturday shows a mature understanding of not only where he stands in the division, but also where a victory may lead, and why the time is right to try and put together a three- or four-fight run of positive results in the light heavyweight division.
“First thing is that it’s the main event,” Krylov said when asked what he liked about the matchup with Spann, who similarly arrives on a two-fight winning streak and seeking to continue moving forward in the championship chase. “Spann is back from me in the rankings and this fight is not going to take me to a title shot, but a contender maybe.
“I think the way the division is right now, everyone is beatable and everyone can beat everybody,” continued Krylov. “As we saw before, it takes two, three fights for someone to establish themselves as champion; (Jiri) Prochazka only won three fights to become the champion.
“I think it’s great because it’s very competitive and it shows there are a lot of guys that can show themselves and prove themselves in this division.”
And Krylov very much intends to do just that this weekend against Spann.
“He has (powerful punches), he’s strong and tall; it will not be an easy fight,” he began when asked about the pairing with the Fortis MMA representative, who earned first-round stoppage wins over Ion Cutelaba and Dominick Reyes in his last two outings. “I think I’m the better mover, I’m better mixing strikes. I think my wrestling is better, my grappling is better — I think I’m better in this fight.”
Because he’s been around for nearly a decade, fans and critics might be reticent to recognize Krylov as a contender in the light heavyweight division, despite the fact that he currently stands at No. 6 in the rankings and will very well land a date with a Top 5 opponent should things go his way this weekend.
But that’s fine with the 30-year-old veteran, who believes that just as it took a little time to reach this point where everything seems to be coming together, the fans will eventually come around on him, as well.
“Sooner or later, people will know that I’m an uncompromising fighter — I’m a fighter that always moves forward and puts on great fights,” suggested Krylov. “If you like MMA, you will see that I’m the kind of person that you want to watch.”