Kazakhstan’s ONE Championship middleweight king Igor “Lionheart” Svirid (10-1) headlines the card in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow as he defends his title against Vitaly Bigdash (7-0) in ONE: Tigers of Asia tomorrow. The event also includes three Malaysian super fights as Ann “Athena” Osman takes on Russian kickboxer Irina Mazepa, Ev Ting battles the Philippines’ Honorio Banario and Peter Davis tackles Australia’s Adrian Pang. The Post spoke to Svirid before what is sure to be a high-octane clash with the undefeated Russian.
Tell us something about your sporting background.
I was a huge soccer and volleyball fan when I was young as I started playing soccer and volleyball at 11 years old. It has helped me a lot with my stamina and coordination now in my MMA career. My dad is my hero. I’m very glad that my father raised me the way I am. My father taught me from the beginning to respect my elders. Always treat others the way you want to be treated. He taught me that my word is my bond. I appreciate him so much, he’s always been there for me. My mum, however, is still worried about me being an MMA athlete but I will convince her.
What brought you to MMA?
In school I played soccer and volleyball. When I was 20 I was introduced to combat sambo and I just fell in love. The reason I love MMA and this sport is because it is a very honest sport. Two people walk in the cage and one walks out. It’s not like team sport.
You are fighting a Russian: does this give you any extra incentive to win?
No, I treat every opponent the same – with respect. Nationality doesn’t matter to me. God created Adam and Eve and we are all God’s children. I’m honoured to represent my nation. I’ m very honoured and humbled to represent my country. Kazakstan is my motherland. To me representing my country in other countries is an honour.
There seems to be a distinct move towards more standup action recently in MMA. What do you think has caused this shift?
I think most fighters want to be entertaining and hence they want to strike more. But some fighters who are better grapplers will still fall back on their strength.
Does you consider yourself a role model for other Kazakhs?
Yes. Being the ONE middleweight champion is an honour. I always wanted to be a champion in one of the best promotions. So it’s like a dream come true and it has inspired me to be a role model now.
Who do you admire, both professionally and personally?
Fedor Emelianenko. He’s a great fighter. He represented all countries – everybody came together around him regardless of their nationality. He’s a great fighter but very respectful. Fedor is my idol. My dream is to be like Fedor [MMA’s Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight champion 2003-7].
What is your biggest strength?
I’m sorry but that’s a secret. What I bring to the cage is going to be a surprise. I prefer not to say. I am not the kind of guy that likes to talk about himself.
What are your dietary and training regimes?
I work extremely hard. Today I work hard, tomorrow I will work twice as hard. The one day I miss in the gym my opponent may be in the gym. I train twice, sometimes three times a day. I have a strict diet, proteins, vegetables, but nearer the fight I have to cut my food intake to make the weight.
What advice would you give to aspiring fighters?
Have the right attitude. Never give up. Even if you lose, make sure you gave 120 per cent inside the cage.
Where does your nickname come from?
I am very dedicated and I fight with heart – like the king of the jungle!
You are ONE middleweight champ. How do you see your career progressing?
I want to continue to be undefeated and stay ONE champion. When I retire I want to coach more Kazakh fighters and groom them to be champions!
The full ONE: Tigers of Asia card can be seen at the Irish Place, St 110, from 8pm