Timofey Nastyukhin has never minded being the underdog throughout his career but some recognition for the work he’s done wouldn’t hurt.
The 31-year-old Russian fighter has been a mainstay on the ONE Championship roster for the past seven years while constantly serving as one of the top contenders in the lightweight division. He’s definitely faced his share of ups and downs including an infamous moment against Kotetsu Boku in 2016 where Nastyukhin suffered a broken leg but refused to stop until the round was over and only then was a doctor able to examine him in order to call a stop to the contest.
Perhaps his highest-profile moment came just over two years ago when Nastyukhin was the fighter selected to welcome former UFC champion Eddie Alvarez to the promotion at the start of the ONE Lightweight Grand Prix. On that night, Nastyukhin put on arguably his best performance to date as he bludgeoned Alvarez with punches and finished the fight by TKO at just 4:05 into the opening round.
In theory, that win should have helped boost Nastyukhin’s profile with fans but instead the bulk of the attention when towards Alvarez after he came up short in his ONE debut.
While he’s never begged for attention, Nastyukhin has certainly put together the kind of resume that deserves it and he could potentially alter the direction of his course forever if he’s able to beat reigning ONE lightweight champion Christian Lee in the main event at ONE on TNT 2 on Wednesday night.
“All these obstacles, everything that I had to go through, training, family wise, of course you guys see the stuff that goes on in the fight game but you don’t see the stuff personally at home. If you think there’s certain setbacks [in the cage] there are always setbacks at home. As a warrior in life, you just have to get through that and move forward,” Nastyukhin explained when speaking to MMA Fighting.
“As for what it would mean for me to become champion, it would mean everything. Because everything I’ve had to go through in my career and all the years I’ve spent in this sport training, it all comes down to this one moment, so it means everything to me. Especially, with the birth of my daughter and my family, it would mean everything to me.”
When he steps into the cage on Wednesday, Nastyukhin will once again find himself in familiar territory because he’s currently listed as somewhere around a 3-to-1 underdog against Lee in the title fight.
None of that seems to rattle Nastyukhin, who has become accustomed to people doubting him and then he gets to surprise the world by pulling off another upset victory.
“Being an underdog in my career, almost every fight, this happened before when I was put into my first ONE Championship fight and you guys saw what happened,” Nastyukhin said in reference to his debut knockout over former lightweight champion Eduard Folayang.
“There were many instances where I was being put as the underdog but for me that’s just more motivation. Whether it’s in fighting or in life, when you’re made the underdog, it puts you in a situation where it’s a win-win. So when you go out there and you show yourself, you look that much better. It’s just more motivation.”
Throughout his career, Nastyukhin has typically just gone about his business without trying to grab a piece of the spotlight for himself.
Even his team has largely stayed under the radar including his head coach, Steven Lukatsky, who is a 26-year-old striking prodigy working with a number of high profile fighters including Nastyukhin and PFL standout Brendan Loughnane.
While some fighters thirst for praise or admiration, Nastyukhin has always just gone about his business and that won’t change just because he’s about to compete for a title. He’s even subdued yet still brutally honest when asked for his opinion on Lee, who is stepping into his third title defense since becoming champion.
“He’s a good fighter,” Nastyukhin said about Lee. “He’s young, he’s explosive, he’s well-rounded. He can grapple, he can strike. Personally, I’m not at all impressed by anything he does.
“He’s a well-rounded fighter but I’ve been fighting guys like that my whole career. I think stylistically, it’s a good matchup for me. It’s a good fight for the fans as well.”
Rather than drumming up interest with some inflated trash talk, Nastyukhin prefers to handle himself as a true martial artist and proud family man, who just also happens to be a devastating knockout artist when he clocks in for work everyday.
The same could be said for his prediction because Nastyukhin doesn’t feel a need to make some kind of veiled threat at Lee about what’s coming to him when they finally clash.
As always, Nastyukhin believes actions are better than words and that’s what he’ll look to deliver at ONE on TNT 2.
“Personally, I never was the guy predicting what I’m going to do or what’s going to happen,” Nastyukhin said. “You guys know this sport. For me, every fight I’m always looking to win. I’m always predicting a victory, otherwise there’s no point of even being in the sport. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not confident.
“Whether it’s a knockout or a submission or a five round fight, it doesn’t matter to me. My mind is only set on victory and that’s what I’ve prepared myself for in this fight.”