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Winning the only thing on Askar Askarov's mind ahead of UFC Fight Night 212

Flyweight contender determined to get back to winning ways and climb back to the top of the pecking order, starting Saturday night.
askar-askarov

In the lead-up to his clash with Kai Kara-France in March, Askar Askarov spoke about finally feeling 100 percent and ready to show the UFC audience all he was capable of doing inside the octagon.

Although the talented flyweight had earned three consecutive victories after opening his UFC career with a draw against current interim champ Brandon Moreno, Askarov wasn't satisfied with his efforts. He'd earned finishes in each of his 11 appearances prior to reaching the biggest stage in the sport, and while he maintained his unbeaten record through those initial four appearances, Askarov had gone the distance in all four outings.

Ahead of the bout with Kara-France in Columbus, the Russian contender and former Deaflympics gold medalist in freestyle wrestling had undergone surgery to address a lingering wrist issue he believed was impeding his performance. With everything fixed, Askarov saw the clash with the knockout artist from New Zealand as an opportunity to put his full arsenal on display.

But things didn't go as planned earlier this year in Ohio: Kara-France was able to deal with Askarov's grappling and get the better of the striking exchanges, emerging with a unanimous decision victory that knocked Askarov (14-1-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC) from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Now, as he readies to return against Brandon Royval (14-6 MMA, 4-2 UFC) this weekend in a critical clash between top 10 standouts, the once-beaten fighter has a very different outlook on his fight with Kara-France than he did heading into the bout.

"I didn't fight for one year before that and I got surgery before that fight," Askarov said through a translator when asked about dealing with the first loss of his career. "In my opinion, I didn't lose that fight, because I couldn't show my full skills.

"I showed 50 percent of my skills because of the surgery and because I didn't fight for one year. I'm not stopping on that. I don't think I lost that fight because I wasn't 100 percent in that fight."

No one will argue that shaking off the rust following a year on the sidelines is difficult, and that doing so in addition to rehabbing from a surgical procedure and then stepping in with a white-hot knockout artist ups the degree of difficulty by several points.

Perhaps the comments ahead of the fight with Kara-France were an attempt to speak those things into existence – a means of convincing himself that he was ready to go, finally capable of firing on all cylinders – but it didn't play out that way, and now Askarov is looking to get back into the win column and under scrutiny for the first time in his UFC career, not that he's bothered by any of it.

"I don't feel any pressure," he said when asked about returning off his first professional setback and facing off with a dangerous agent of chaos like Royval. "I'm not a new guy in the sport – I take everything seriously. I don't have pressure

"I wasn't ready for that last fight, wasn't 100 percent like I said before, but I'm so confident for this one. I'm ready to go. I don't feel any pressure."

He may not feel any pressure now, but Royval is definitely going to make him feel pressure on Saturday night.

The 30-year-old Factory X representative registered submission wins over Tim Elliott and Kara-France in his first two UFC appearances before an injury led to a loss against Moreno, which was followed by a submission defeat at the hands of perennial contender Alexandre Pantoja in the summer of 2021.

But 2022 has already been a bounce-back year for the Colorado-based "Raw Dawg," as Royval halted his two-fight skid with a split decision win over Rogerio Bontorin in January and followed it up with a first-round submission finish of Matt Schnell at UFC 274 in May.

Known for his all-action style and "devil may care" approach, Royval is the kind of skilled, aggressive opponent that is a problem for everyone he faces. While he acknowledges this, Askarov isn't particularly worried about what his adversary will be bringing to the Octagon this weekend in Las Vegas.

"Brandon is a tough guy," began Askarov, who was forced from a July assignment opposite Alex Perez after breaking two fingers in training camp. "His striking is good, his grappling and wrestling are good, and I'm ready for that.

"But I will do my own things," he added. "I don't care about what Brandon is going to do."

His confidence is brimming because this time around, Askarov is truly in good health and good form, and unlike when he promised to deliver a dynamic performance that shows everything he's capable of inside the octagon ahead of his first appearance of the year, he's really going to deliver this weekend.

"This fight, my health is good, everything is good; no injuries," he said assuringly. "Camp was really good, so I'm ready to put on a show on Saturday night.

"I'm going to give 100 percent in there and I'm going to get my win. I don't care how – I will get my win."

This story first published at UFC.com.