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Manager: Former GLORY champion Artem Vakhitov a free agent, open to joining UFC for MMA debut

Artem Vakhitov won a decision over Alex Pereira in his most recent kickboxing bout.
Photo via GLORY

Artem Vakhitov could make the jump to MMA next.

The GLORY light heavyweight champion was released from his contract after the kickboxing promotion decided to part ways with all Russians on its roster citing a list of “obstacles” after Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. The call leaves the 31-year-old Vakhitov, 22-6 in kickboxing after a decision win over Alex Pereira this past September, free in the market to explore other options.

Vakhitov’s manager Andrey Busygin said in an interview with MMA Fighting they had contacted UFC and PFL matchmakers during a trip to the United States in April 2021, and are now open to the idea of possibly making the transition to MMA.

“Why not? We are ready to go, because Artem started training MMA, step by step,” Busygin said. “If he would get exact date and exact opponent, for example, for step-in fight, against striker as well, to fight [on the feet], not with wrestler or something like that, why not? To feel the cage for the first fight. It’s very interesting for society, for viewers, for MMA fans watching the fights, strikers against strikers. It’s really nice and really brightness, people love this kind of show, love the punches, love the kicks, love the good dynamic in this kind of fights.”

Busygin said they have contacted UFC matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby to initiate conversations about a possible deal, and have met ONE Championship officials in a recent trip to Singapore as well.

“We have sent letters to UFC matchmakers [to inform] that Artem is free agent, to Mick and Sean, to see what they will answer to us. Let’s see what ONE Championship will answer,” he said. “Also, we have good opportunities to get fights locally in Russia in different rules, to continue in kickboxing and also to debut in MMA. Last few years, we also got good offers from boxing. … Boxing might not be a smart story [right now], but everything depends on contract clauses and contract things, depends on how much they are ready to offer.”

According to Busygin, ONE was interested in signing the kickboxer in the past but he opted to re-sign with GLORY at the time. If he chooses to join ONE now, Vakhitov is open to facing Roman Kryklia for the light heavyweight title in kickboxing. Kryklia was part of Vakhitov’s camp for the Pereira rematch in GLORY in 2021, but Busygin said that wouldn’t stop them from accepting it.

Busygin added that they had “friendly conversations” with ONE officials in Singapore “but still nothing serious. We didn’t get an exact offer from them with exact numbers and opponents and dates.”

“ONE Championship could be the future for Artem,” he said. “Could be, but not 100 percent. First of all, we have to get what we want for what we are working and what we are preparing every time. It really depends on all the clauses of the contracts.”

Vakhitov has yet to return to competition since winning a majority decision over “Poatan” in Rotterdam, Pereira’s retirement bout in kickboxing before jumping full-time to MMA and winning three straight inside the octagon to earn a shot at UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. For Busygin’s team, however, Pereira should have lost both matches in GLORY.

“The first fight against Artem for sure was bullsh*t, Artem won 100 percent,” Busygin said. “It was very good story for Alex. We don’t know how it was done with GLORY matchmakers and the managers of Alex to get him to take two titles in his division and Artem’s. They named him as a double champ, it was good opportunity to send him to UFC.

“The second fight against Pereira, for sure Artem won, but it wasn’t so bright as the first one. It was more difficult because Alex already knew how to work against Artem, but, anyway, Artem won. Alex is doing good now, he’s continuing doing his KO strike, the left hook. I think he didn’t even make one takedown because he’s still trying to solve it and [finish] it [on the feet].”

Regarding Vakhitov’s exit from GLORY, Busygin was not happy with the way GLORY CEO Scott Rudmann has dealt with things. In its official statement, while announcing a fight for Vakhitov’s vacant title, GLORY said it has “encountered a variety of obstacles that have made it impossible to arrange bouts for its Russian athletes, barriers like travel bans, safety concerns, payment blockages in an environment of worldwide financial sanctions against Russian, and unwilling opponents.”

Busygin said they had already secured visas, plane tickets and all the necessary paperwork for Vakhitov’s clash with Luis Tavares on March 19 in in Hasselt, Belgium. He claimed that GLORY offered a replacement at heavyweight after Tavares withdrew, but the 205-pound champion was on the final day of camp and 26 pounds lighter than his proposed opponent, making it impossible to gain muscle weight to compete at heavyweight.

“We requested the full fight purse for the fight because [Tavares pulled out], it wasn’t our fault, and after that we were waiting but there was no answer,” Busygin said. “We got weird things from the CEO of GLORY, Scott Rudmann, a very sneaky guy. During the 10 years of working with GLORY we worked very clear with the rest of the GLORY team, and personally chairman Pierre Andurand. He was happy with us and we respect him a lot because he’s No. 1 person who grew kickboxing in the world. We told to the GLORY team. ‘Let’s do something because we can’t wait, we’re tired of sitting and waiting.

“It took some time, every day telling us, ‘We are waiting, let’s check, let’s wait.’ Also, we told them that if you guys are not ready to solve it, let us go, we don’t wanna waste time because time is running and guys are not super young and we need to do something. After that, I got a call from GLORY matchmaker and he told, ‘Yes, we are ready to release all the contracts’. The chairman confirmed to us he would get the fight purse. And then we got the call form the matchmaker saying, unfortunately, he would have to release all the contracts because of this, this, and this, sponsors, obligations, people don’t want to fight against Russian. Super really weird story.

“We said ‘Ok, we are ready to release contracts, no problem’. It was three fighters from the same gym. We got this call, I contacted the head manager of our team to give him the information. But GLORY prepared well. They prepared all the stuff for social media, for all the magazines, newspapers. They just called me and in 20 minutes, they posted everything to social media. It was super quick, for sure. It could be [done] more gently, you know? It look super sneaky preparation to get us out.

“[What GLORY posted] is not true. We got visas, we got flights, we had no issues regarding bank accounts for transferring money. They just played for it and used, mostly it was done by CEO because he’s a person who is doing like that.”

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