If a fighter has a major rival, they might just be willing to change sports to chase them down. Alex Pereira did that to Israel Adesanya. Is ‘Poatan’ about to see himself a victim of the same kind of single-minded relentlessness that drove him to the UFC middleweight title?
Artem Vakhitov, the last person to beat Alex Pereira before he moved from kickboxing to focusing solely on MMA, is now apparently making his own change of sport. MMA Fighting reported on Sunday that Vakhitov will make his debut in MMA on June 11 at Open FC 31 in Shergesh, Russia.
Vakhitov, 32, will reportedly face Ashraf Bashandy, who will also be making his pro debut in MMA. Bashandy brings amateur MMA experience with him, having fought four times from 2017 to 2019. His record shows that he’s got some grappling skills to show for it, with three of his four wins coming via submission.
Artem Vakhitov’s kickboxing title reign + rivalry with Pereira
Artem Vakhitov fought as a kickboxer for more than a decade, attaining 23 wins over his combat sports career. He most notably competed in GLORY, holding the promotion’s light heavyweight title over two separate stints. He first captured the belt in 2016 with a win over Saulo Cavalari. That reign lasted up until early 2021 when Pereira dethroned him at Glory 77 in a split decision result.
Vakhitov avenged that loss just eight months later, going another five rounds against Pereira to pick up a majority decision win and regain his light heavyweight title in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Even at the time, Pereira had been working toward the idea of testing his skills in MMA, having already taken steps toward that plan before he started his two-fight rivalry with Vakhitov.
In 2020, Pereira announced the signing of a contract with MMA promotion LFA. Two months before dethroning Vakhitov at Glory 77, the Brazilian won in his return to the cage with a first-round knockout of Thomas Powell.
The same week that Pereira faced Vakhitov for the second time, it was announced that he would make his UFC debut against Andreas Michailidis at UFC 268.
The brief post-GLORY career of Vakhitov
GLORY Kickboxing released Vakhitov last year along with other Russian fighters last year, stating that the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused “a variety of obstacles” that made it “impossible” to book matchups for them. This move ended his second reign as a champion without dropping it to an opponent.
Vakhitov has competed once since then, overcoming Pascal Toure at a Muay Thai Factory event in February.
Trilogy against Pereira? Don’t hold your breath
Pereira’s jump from kickboxing to MMA to chase down Israel Adesanya has been extensively documented at this point. So should we expect a similar scenario here? It’s possible, but it will also be a long time until we find out.
Pereira was able to get to a title shot in what felt like record time time due to his elite level striking skills, helped along by his ability to make quick turnarounds and not suffer any major setbacks via losses or injuries. While he had a few MMA fights under his belt, it took him just one fight in his return to the sport before UFC signed him. After that, he shot to the top of the middleweight rankings after three emphatic wins within a year’s time. It took Pereira a couple of years to realize a title opportunity in MMA, and even that was the fast track.
Even if that kind of meteoric rise were possible, it might be that Vakhitov isn’t even interested in facing Pereira again? There’s nothing to say that his new venture won’t lead to entirely different opportunities and the potential for a whole new world of rivalries if he can be successful. Then again, maybe it means a whole new world class striker for the UFC to snap up and add to their light heavyweight division.
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