Vitaly Bigdash (12-2) has endured a series of setbacks since losing the ONE middleweight world title in 2017, but after years of hard work, he feels prepared to reclaim the throne.
On July 22, the former divisional king will challenge Reinier de Ridder (15-0) for the belt in the main event of ONE 159.
He's reached this point with three impressive wins – including a trilogy fight victory over longtime rival Aung La N Sang in February – and he's thrilled to be competing for gold once again at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
"Deep inside, of course, I'm very happy to have this opportunity to fight for the title again because I've been waiting for it for a long time," Bigdash said. "After I lost the belt, I had a series of injuries and obstacles, world pandemics. So I'm very happy that I managed to win a number of fights and again reach the title bout.
"It feels like divine providence. I feel that everything leads me to the title, and everything that's happened was a challenge leading up to what's next."
It's been a long time since Bigdash last had the middleweight strap around his waist, and he's felt every moment without it.
However, the 37-year-old has never lost sight of his mission. He's constantly tried to improve his MMA game so that he'd be ready when his shot finally came back. Now, that moment has arrived.
"Five years and 22 days," Bigdash said. "That's how long it will have been since I held the belt in my hands. And every hour, every minute has been dedicated to exactly this moment.
"It will be the new step in my career I've long been longing for. It will be the peak of my MMA career. Taking the belt of the best league in the world is the dream of every MMA fighter."
Bigdash: I'm better than de Ridder in 'all aspects'
In order to claim the ONE middleweight world title, Bigdash will need to accomplish a historic feat.
So far, no mixed martial artist has been able to defeat reigning two-division king de Ridder. The Dutch superstar owns a perfect 15-0 MMA record and a dominant 6-0 slate since joining ONE Championship.
As a Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt, de Ridder is most potent on the ground, though Bigdash still sees some holes to exploit.
"I consider him a tough, strong fighter," Bigdash said. "He has been undefeated so far, a champion in two weights. His awards speak for themselves. I (don't) underestimate him in any way, but he has not met a fighter like me.
"His weakness is of course his striking. (He has) very weak strikes with his arms and legs, I think this is his big omission. Also, I think, nobody has seen him lying on his back. His power is his top control, but nobody has seen him in the guard position on his back, defending and attacking (from that position)."
It's clear that Bigdash is certain he can handle whatever de Ridder brings to the table in Singapore.
The former karate champion has showcased his wrestling and submission skills in recent bouts, and he owns a stellar professional MMA record of 12-2.
So, while "The Dutch Knight" called him "predictable" leading up to their contest, the Russian plans to overwhelm his opponent with a well-rounded arsenal on July 22.
"I'm confident," the Akhmat Fight Team and Tiger Muay Thai representative added. "I know which skills I have in order to beat him. I think he would not be the champion if we faced off earlier because I believe I'm better in all aspects of fighting. I'm physically stronger, and my striking is way better so I don't think he would have been able to pass me.
"I'm ready to knock him out, submit him, dominate all five rounds – it doesn't matter to me. Like I said after (the Aung La N Sang) fight, I will break his face."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.