Kairat "The Kazakh" Akhmetov is one of the most accomplished MMA fighters on the ONE Championship roster.
The Almaty, Kazakhstan native sports a 28-2 record, he's a former ONE flyweight world champion, and he's one of the only men who has defeated the division's reigning king, Adriano Moraes.
But his success inside the ONE circle is second to his family. The 34-year-old is a loving husband and father to his wife and three kids, a caring son to his two parents, and a supportive brother to his teammates at his gym.
Those individuals mean everything to him.
"Family is my main motivation," he said. "They help me psychologically and mentally, and I draw strength from them, and work even harder when they are with me."
With their strength and support, Akhmetov is extra motivated to perform to the best of his abilities in his return to action on Friday, June 3rd.
"It is crucial to have family and the right people with you. I do not believe in the concept of a self-made man. We all achieve something because of the help of others," Akhmetov added.
Since childhood, Akhmetov's parents have been a pivotal source of motivation. They guided and supported him in everything he did, including wrestling.
The Almaty native, who spent his younger days playing football and rugby, discovered the grappling arts after his brother brought him to a wrestling class in their hometown.
"I had my first competition when I was 12 years old," he said. "I did pretty well. After that, I fell in love with Greco-Roman wrestling. My family was happy with it."
This made his dad especially proud, as he himself was a former amateur Greco-Roman wrestling champion.
Despite some early success, Akhmetov would go through some serious slumps and nearly walked away from the mats for good.
"I had a lot of times when I lost and thought about quitting," the flyweight said. "But over the years, due to my obstinacy, I always kept pursuing my goals."
Akhmetov was determined to right the ship, so he attended wrestling camps in different cities and countries to fine-tune his craft.
When the jigsaw slowly started to piece together, "The Kazakh" returned to the mats with a new hunger – and it didn't take him long to achieve success once again.
In 2002, he became a Kazakh Greco-Roman wrestling youth champion, and he followed that up a year later by winning the Asian Greco-Roman wrestling youth championship.
Then, he captured the national titles in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but his first was the most significant turning point in his young career.
"I am most proud of the first time I won the Kazakhstan Championship. After that, I always believed in myself. That achievement gave me a lot of confidence," he admitted.
However, while he was training for his second national title, Akhmetov started expanding his combat sports knowledge by taking up MMA classes. And that same year, he made his debut in the all-encompassing sport, winning it in 48 seconds via rear-naked choke.
The Almaty native went on a jaw-dropping 22-0 run before penning a deal with Singapore-based ONE Championship.
And in his promotional debut, the grappling specialist edged out then-titleholder "Mikinho" Moraes to claim the ONE flyweight world championship.
It was a joyous moment for "The Kazakh," but while training at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, several months later, he reaggravated an old back injury that had plagued him since he was a teenager.
The pain was so terrible, he even pondered retirement. But his pillar of support helped him erase those negative thoughts. Akhmetov eventually returned to competition and though he dropped the gold to Moraes in their rematch in August 2017, just stepping back into the ONE circle was a massive victory within itself.
Now, the Almaty fighter is at full strength. He is riding a four-bout winning streak, and a victory over Wada at ONE 158 would all but ensure him the world title trilogy bout with Moraes that he has long wanted.
Regardless, he will always remember the support he received from his family, ranging from his wife and kids, parents, teammates, and coaches at Arlan MMA and Tiger Muay Thai.
"First, always remember why you started, and what made you do it in the beginning," Akhmetov said. "If you lose motivation and sight of your goal, find people who will support you."