Undefeated MMA superstar Anatoly Malykhin feels invincible ahead of ONE 166: Qatar

Undefeated MMA superstar Anatoly Malykhin feels invincible ahead of ONE 166: Qatar

Alkass Digital

In the days leading up to ONE 166: Qatar, the air is charged with anticipation as two-division ONE World Champion Anatoly Malykhin gears up for a momentous challenge.

The undefeated Russian powerhouse is set to face Reinier de Ridder in a rematch for the Dutchman’s ONE Middleweight MMA World Title. This bout headlines ONE Championship’s inaugural on-ground event in Qatar, which broadcasts live from the state-of-the-art Lusail Sports Arena on Friday, March 1.

What makes this bout particularly noteworthy is Malykhin's audacious pursuit of becoming the first simultaneous three-division MMA World Champion in history.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Malykhin – the reigning ONE Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight MMA World Champion – has to move down to middleweight and beat De Ridder again.

While skeptics may express concerns that this shift could compromise the 36-year-old Russian challenger’s vaunted power, he holds a contrasting view.

“I’ve noticed only one change — I have become 20 years younger, and that’s for sure,” Malykhin said. “I’ve never felt the way I feel now. I’m in great shape.”

In fact, he revels in the physical transformation he sees in the mirror, along with the positive performance-related changes he’s experiencing during training.

“I’ll be slimmer this time,” Malykhin stated in jest.

“Absolutely, I feel great this time around. Sometimes during shadowboxing or hitting the bags, I get scared of myself. I’m very fast and very strong. I’m tough and very motivated. I want to make history, and that’s what pushes me to get up early in the morning and give my 100 percent.”

Malykhin’s journey to this pivotal moment traces back to December 2022 when he first crossed paths with De Ridder, who entered the contest with both the ONE Light Heavyweight and Middleweight MMA World Titles.

In a memorable encounter, the Russian knocked out his taller rival to hand the Dutchman his first career loss and take the light heavyweight belt.

Despite the emphatic victory nearly a year and a half ago, Malykhin remains grounded and refuses to underestimate De Ridder as they run it back in the Middle East.

He has left no stone unturned in his preparation for their second battle, with head trainer John Hutchinson ensuring comprehensive coverage of all aspects.

“This time, we focused on wrestling. I’m pretty sure De Ridder will try to wrestle with me. We worked a lot on freestyle wrestling, so it would be hard to take me down. We also worked on jiu-jitsu. But there was also one new thing — I swam a lot. Swimming is good for cardio, and it can be relaxing in general,” Malykhin disclosed.

“I have no weaknesses now. I’m very good in all aspects of MMA. I’m a good striker, my wrestling is great, and my physical condition is at its peak.”

With a perfect 13-0 record, 100 percent finishing rate, a prior victory over the Dutchman, and a slimmer and more shredded physique, there is no doubt that Malykhin’s confidence is at an all-time high.

But also, he feels De Ridder has not fully recovered from the beating he handed the middleweight king in their initial bout in December 2022.

“Surely, he has already drawn conclusions from our previous encounter, but what could he do since then? I don’t think he’s learned how to fight in the stand-up, how to punch hard, or how to freestyle wrestle. Yes, he’s realized how dangerous I am,” Malykhin said.

All things considered, Malykhin foresees a similar outcome in the rematch.

“The scary thing for all my opponents is that I don’t have a plan for any fight at all. I just go out there and do what I love doing,” he said.

“When we get in the cage, we’ll see in the first scrap what De Ridder can do at 205 pounds [against me, and] I think it’s going to be the same as last time.”