NYC’s fighting scene is so diverse, you can hardly find two people who get into the ring for the same reason. Competing means many things for different people. For some it’s more of a soul-searching journey, a newly discovered passion, or a way to battle their inner demons. And while some of the so- called white collar fighters are truly remarkable martial arts practitioners, there is one particular breed of fighter you do not want to ever meet in the ring. It’s this young kid who was born, bred and groomed to be a fighter, and whose sole purpose is competing and winning—because he or she just doesn’t happen to have a plan B. A kick boxer and a mixed martial artist, Zarrukh Adashev is that kind of fighter. At the age of 24, he has already amassed an impressive pro record of 10-3 in kickboxing, and is currently on a 3-fight winning streak and doesn’t plan on stopping with no plans on slowing down. In fact, ever since he started training at the age of five, he never really stopped, paused, or looked back.
“How many times have I fought all in all?” Adashev honestly tries to do the math but eventually gives up. “Frankly, I lost count. I think, throughout my whole fighting career, and if we count all the styles and disciplines, I have amassed more than 500 fights.”
I meet with Adashev at his home gym, LionsFight, in Brooklyn. He has just finished coaching his second kids’ kickboxing class—a gruesome two-hour grind which could easily leave some of amateur fighters gasping for breath. As Adashev himself puts it, his goal is to raise future champions, hence the demanding format. As the kids scurry around—quietly though, on pain of endless push-ups—we get to chat.
“For as long as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with martial arts. I grew up in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and, as a kid, I would spend my days watching UFC matches on TV and nagging my dad to let me join some kind of a martial art program. So, my dad, who himself had some background in martial arts, took me to the local gym. I was training vigorously—first hand-in-hand fighting, then samba—and frequently competing.”
What Adashev really wanted, though, was to fight MMA. Back then, however, it seemed virtually impossible—unlike, say, boxing or even Muay Thai. MMA in Uzbekistan is still in its early stages. But as luck would have it, at the age of 19, Adashev won a green card lottery, which meant he could head to the USA and, one day, fight the cool dudes he saw on TV. Unlike many other of immigrants who come to the country and find themselves at a crossroads, unsure what future holds for them, Adashev arrived in NYC with one and only goal in mind.
“I came to America because I wanted to become a champion. What was once an unattainable dream, became a practical aim. Plan B? I didn’t have one.” Fresh off the plane, Adashev started looking for a place to train. As luck—or destiny—would have it, Adashev ended up joining Brooklyn’s LionsFight kickboxing gym—and has been training and competing out of it ever since.
“LionsFight has always had outstanding striking coaching. What I was seeking, however, was MMA instruction, and LionsFight didn’t have grappling classes. And so, I ended up focusing on my stand-up game, with my usual eagerness. When I just joined our gym, my training partners weren’t that fond of me, at least not in the initial first months. Do you know this person in the gym who always goes full speed and fights his heart out during each sparring session even with partners who are literally twice his size? Well, I was that guy.” Adashev’s gameness soon paid off. It wasn’t long before he found himself fighting his first kickboxing bout, with many more to follow. “It hasn’t been an easy journey. Training and going through fighting camps is already tough enough as it is. Now add to that the traditional aches and pains of immigration. At some point, life got pretty intense and I was contemplating to quit training—at least for a while—sort the money thing out, focus on work. Good thing that I had coach Artem Sahakyan by my side, who’d motivate me greatly and persuade me to stick to the plan. If I wanted to build a future in this country, I couldn’t give up on my dream. So, I stuck to my guns and kept training.”
Adashev characterizes his technique as a blend of different fighting styles. As is often the case with fighters who have trained in multiple disciplines, Adashev had to go through a certain transition period, adjusting to kickboxing style, since his prior background mainly consisted hand-in-hand combat training and samba. “My grappling game has always been strong,” Adashev relates, “And then there was my everlasting fascination with MMA. So, when I just started competing in kickboxing, I had to battle a natural reflex to wrestle. What happened a couple of times is that, in the heat of the moment, I’d sometimes grab my opponents and throw them out of the ring. It was slightly embarrassing. And somewhat painful—I even got disqualified a couple of times. That was a horrible habit and, of course, I did my best to get rid of it.” But there was also another, tougher journey Adashev has had travel while growing and evolving as a fighter—a mental one. His story is a gradual evolution of a naturally aggressive, somewhat wild brawler, into a poised professional who learned to exercise control in the ring.
“Curbing wild aggression and mastering control has been one of the toughest challenges and most valuable lessons I have had to learn,” Adashev says. “I am naturally aggressive. When I was a kid, I would fight every day—at school, out in the street. This trait does come in handy when you compete, but it can also become an obstacle that impedes one’s growth. You see, a pro isn’t supposed to be wild. Your heart needs to be on fire, but the brain should always be in control.”
Adashev learned this truth the hard way. His loss to David Moore in February 2016 (Combat at the Capitale 38) became an inflection point of sorts. “That was probably the toughest defeat I have ever had to recover from. I remember how I charged at Moore and landed a hard shot. He appeared to be stung, so I rushed to him, hoping to finish him off, and ended up eating one of his punches myself instead. It was me who ended up on the floor. That was a hard pill to swallow, and an invaluable lesson.”
So how exactly did Adashev’s fighting style change since then? “I decided from then on, no more brawling. Charging at your opponent isn’t always the best tactics, you kind of need to think it through first. Before, the moment the referee would say ‘fight,’ I’d just rush to my opponent with a sole goal in mind—destroy him, put him out. I would not really care about combos or setting up my attacks. But here is the thing—some fighters are just too good and experienced, and you can’t knock them out. You should focus and try to outsmart them, win on points.” This shift in both mentality and strategy definitely paid off. In his latest bout against the highly experienced Lenox Chance at Combat at the Capitale 39, Adashev scored a dominant win against his opponent. As many said, what was truly striking about this fight (pun not intended) was how much Adashev’s style has transformed, as he displayed crisp technique, solid strategy and self-control. That was a new, improved version of Adashev, who, while retaining a healthy degree of his signature aggressiveness and explosiveness, now demolishes his opponents with a cold calculation and confidence of a surgeon.
“I intend to have a long fighting career,” Adashev says. “There are still lots of things to accomplish. I would really like to fight for Glory one day. Unfortunately, they don’t have my weight division now, but I do hope it will change. And then again, I still want to fight MMA and, one day, become a UFC champion.”
Writer: Nathalie Nayman
Photos: Joshua Brandenburgkickboxing, Lions Fight, New York Fighting, Zarrukh Adashev