Ilya Freymanov has quickly risen up the ranks in ONE Championship’s featherweight MMA division since arriving on the global stage last year. On Friday, Oct. 6, the Russian will get his first chance at gold when he meets Thanh Le for the ONE interim featherweight world title in the main event of ONE Fight Night 15.
His journey had its start in Russia, and ahead of his first title tilt he reflected on his route to Bangkok this weekend.
“I have many memories from my childhood, both good and not-so-good. My family often went fishing together and spent time in nature. Those are good times that I will remember,” Freymanov told ONE.
“The school and the neighborhood were not considered exemplary or good for various reasons. There were a lot of kids from poor and troubled families, and some were already addicted to drugs from a young age.
“But on the whole, it was normal. I was engaged in sports, choral singing, and theater, and this helped me to see the good [in life] and follow the right path in the future.”
The difficulties growing up didn’t just have to do with his neighborhood. When he was young, both parents were diagnosed with cancer. And in his teens, his father’s returned and couldn’t be cured.
“It so happened that my parents both got cancer, went through chemotherapy together, and were cured, but my father relapsed and died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 53. I was 14 years old,” the #3-ranked featherweight contender recalled.
“In general, I grew up outdoors, looking for adventure. I was an active child who practiced sports and tried many disciplines, including acrobatics, swimming, and then martial arts. I always tested myself and tried to prove something to myself. I was always driven by that desire to be the best.”
Keeping him away from falling down the wrong path was his mother.
The matriarch of the family pushed him into military school, which would prove to help focus Freymanov and steer him clear of a road that he may not have recovered from.
“My mother suggested that I enroll in the cadet corps, and I immediately agreed. At that time, many people said that I was a difficult child, and if I was not enrolled in sports school or cadets, the street would take me and I would be lost, like many young guys of our time,” the Russian stated.
“I thought that cadetship was my personal choice, but my mom later admitted that she couldn’t cope and it was the only option and the solution to our problems.”
Although Freymanov trained in martial arts at an early age, it wasn’t until his military school days that he found the tools that would spark his professional career. His trainers seeing his innate abilities soon brought him into the world of active competition.
“I started practicing martial arts at the age of 7. Many thanks to my first coach, Alexander Valerievich. He saw potential in me, and I am grateful to him. He instilled in me a love for the sport, and I couldn’t live without martial arts anymore,” Freymanov said.
“After entering the Kuban Cossack Cadet Corps of Ataman Babich, I started practicing new disciplines, like wrestling and different striking techniques.”
“I began to compete in many combat disciplines – hand-to-hand combat, army combat, universal combat. A year later I met my head coach and friend, Oleg Vladimirovich Perevertunov. We immediately began to compete in Muay Thai, pankration, kickboxing, savate, and MMA.”
“He put his soul, his hopes and beliefs into me, poured his sweat and tears [into training me]. Without his support, my path would not have been so eventful and bright, for which I am immeasurably grateful.”
His well-rounded skills brought him titles on the amateur circuit. But jumping into the professional ranks didn’t immediately follow.
Freymanov began a career as a software engineer. However, his heart was still in martial arts. Knowing that, he decided to dedicate himself to MMA, making the difficult decision to leave home and train full-time in Thailand.
“I moved to Thailand to approach and sign with a [major promotion]. I felt that I could achieve that and fate helped me, so it happened. At home, it felt like I was getting stale, so I took everything I had and left to realize myself fully through the sport,” Freymanov said.
“The hardest part was taking risks, stepping out of my comfort zone, and going after my goals and dreams. I only had enough money for a few months, so I was limited in terms of time.”
“And the nice thing is that my risks paid off and the results speak for themselves. I achieved what I wanted and now I am doing professionally what I love.”
ONE Fight Night 15: Le vs. Freymanov airs live on Prime Video on Friday, Oct. 6, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. The event is free for all Amazon Prime members based in the U.S. and Canada.
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