Saidyokub Kakhramonov is a new name for most fight fans and, in all likelihood, to his new bosses at the UFC. Had they kept closer tabs on him before his debut, it’s unlikely that he would have even received a contract to fight.
If you tuned into the UFC Vegas 34 this past Saturday and saw Kakhramonov for the first time, you might have wondered why there was so little information on a bantamweight fighter who not only made their debut on a UFC main card, but scored an impressive last-minute submission against Trevin Jones.
As it turns out, Kakhramonov didn’t have time to make the usual media rounds as just days before fight night he was still in his native Uzbekistan.
Kakhramonov, 25, was a short-notice replacement for Mana Martinez, getting the notification just four days ahead of UFC Vegas 34. He traveled from Uzbekistan to Las Vegas (14 hours under the best circumstances on a direct flight) and by the time he arrived there was only time to sleep, take promotional pictures and video, hit the saunas to cut weight, weigh in, and fight.
“I’m pretty sure if they knew I was in Uzbekistan they would not have signed me,” Kakhramonov told MMA Fighting.
Ironically, Kakhramonov is normally situated much closer to Vegas as he currently trains with Team Oyama in Irvine, Calif. However, he admits that in recent months he hadn’t been taking his training seriously because he was low on money and struggled to pay for a fight camp. Making matters worse, someone had stolen the catalytic converter from his Prius (a car part that is particularly valuable due to its precious metals like platinum). He was living in an empty apartment in Los Angeles, sleeping on the carpet with nothing but a pillow, and splitting sandwiches with his friends.
As Kakhramonov puts it, he was depressed. He’d been living in the U.S. since 2010, going from from New York to Iowa to Minnesota to Illinois (where his MMA career began) and now he was just scraping by in California. It was then that his father came calling, telling him to come home.
“When I was going through all that I was like, ‘I’m tired of living this life. I’m gonna just go,’ Kakhramonov said. “At the moment, my father was in Uzbekistan, he’s like, ‘Just come visit, just something different.’ I was just so tired of living in America. Nothing was going my way. I’m broke, I have debts over my head, and I just went back to Uzbekistan. My dad bought me a ticket and I was just there hanging out, helping him out, riding horses, and taking care of sheep and s*it.
“And then I get the call [from the UFC] and I’m like, holy cow, I’ve been in California for so long. Training, being in shape, now I get the call when I’m not even training. … As soon as the phone call came in, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m gonna make it no matter what.’ I’m gonna just go.’”
Though his management reached out to him Monday morning Vegas time, that was late evening in Uzbekistan and Kakhramonov didn’t find out that he received an offer to fight Jones until he woke up Tuesday. Undeterred, he told his manager that he just needed 24 hours to get where the UFC needed him to be, a guarantee that he would question on multiple occasions.
He got on the earliest flight possible, which included a layover in Moscow, almost missed a flight and saw one of his flights delayed by 40 minutes. He wouldn’t arrive in Vegas until Wednesday evening.
“I got to Vegas Wednesday at 7 p.m.,” Kakhramonov said. “I was 146, 145 [pounds], and I went straight to bed. I can’t even train, I’m tired, I lost my baggage. I had to leave my baggage at the airport because I didn’t have enough time to check in. That’s how tight it was. I almost missed my flight. Ten seconds, thirty seconds, I almost missed my flight.
“I mean, it’s a cool story, I guess. Why would I have it easy? I’ve never had anything easy in my life. I never had anything easy in my life. Even this came in the hardest way. I promise 100 percent if it was anybody else in my shoes, they wouldn’t make it. I told a taxi driver, ‘The ETA was 12:47 for the next airport. My flight’s at 1 p.m.’ I told him, ‘Hey, you better break some rules or I’m gonna fight you, I don’t care.’”
Kakhramonov made it, though he wouldn’t make weight, coming in 2.5 pounds over the bantamweight limit for his fight with Jones, an infraction that cost him 20 percent of his purse. It also made him ineligible for a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus, which Kakhramonov is confident he would have received had he not come in heavy.
The purse penalty didn’t rattle Kakhramonov too much. What was important was that the fight was happening and against an opponent that he had foreseen ending up in his path sooner rather than later.
“I knew about Trevin Jones when he made his UFC debut,” Kakhramonov said. “I watched him, he even crossed my mind. I feel like I was talking to myself, ‘He’s the guy I’m probably gonna fight someday.’ I even dreamed about it. I even DM’d him about it, I said, ‘Hey, I dreamed about fighting you.’ He thought it was hype talk. It wasn’t hype talk. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in my dreams.
“It’s stupid. It’s crazy to talk about it. But it happened.”
Kakhramonov (9-2) entered his UFC debut on a two-fight win streak, defeating Tycen Lynn by second-round knockout for a vacant Cage Fury Fighting Championships bantamweight title in March and knocking out Askar Askar in just 39 seconds in the bout prior to that.
He would not score a fast finish against Jones and in fact, he wasn’t sure if the judges saw the fight going his way after what had been a grueling contest. When he locked on the fight-ending choke, all doubt—both of the outcome and the decision to make his long, winding trip to the UFC APEX—was erased.
“When I had the choke, I was like, ‘Damn, I’m about to win, I’m about to win,’” Kakhramonov said. “I’m like, ‘Eeeeeeee’ I put that s*it in, I put him to sleep and I was like, ‘S*it, I can’t believe I just won a fight. Now that I think about it, it just makes me laugh.
“I gambled big time on myself. It was the biggest gamble I ever did in my life.”