Artem Vakhitov (19-5, 8 KO’s) returned from a long injury layoff to defend his light-heavyweight title against Ariel Machado (47-9, 34 KO’s) in the main event of GLORY 47 LYON and, in the process, showed that he has become more dangerous than ever.
His right hand required surgery early in 2017 and kept him in a cast for several months, prompting him to focus his efforts on improving his kicking game, his stamina and his explosiveness. The results were plain to see against Maldonado, who was very lucky to survive a left head-kick in the second round.
That kick whipped up out of nowhere, on the end of a combination, and sat Maldonado down on the middle rope, his arm entangled in the upper rope. Had the ropes not been there he would have met the canvas, hard.
A knockdown was called and Maldonado, impressively, beat the count and managed to survive the rest of the round, albeit under heavy pressure and with a wild look in his eye as his subconscious mind processed the terrifying speed and invisible angle with which that kick had arrived.
A finish looked to be on the cards but never transpired. Maldonado remained under heavy pressure, gamely battling on even as Vakhitov picked him apart, and was able to go the distance through a combination of his own toughness and Vakhitov’s apparent reluctance to let that right hand go.
From the middle round to the end of the fight, it seemed like Vakhitov was being conservative with the right cross and even when he did let it go, it didn’t appear to be firing off at full power. He confirmed this in his post-fight interview, saying that fear of breaking his hand a third time was certainly present in his mind, as much as he tried to put it to one side.
It’s a testament to Vakhitov’s skill level then that he was able to comprehensively handle Maldonado with one of his best weapons not even fully operational. Maldonado has proven himself a devastating kicker in his GLORY run thus far but Vakhitov surpassed him even there.
That left head kick came out several more times in the final three rounds and gave Maldonado nightmares. He quickly learned to stay on-guard for it and was able to block or avoid them, but even when blocked, plenty of power thudded through the guard and rattled his composure.
Vakhitov is the very definition of a “complete” kickboxer. He is able to box, kick, knee and clinch when occasion demands and thus far has proven to be better than every other light-heavyweight in all of those areas.
Another fighter who brings a very complete skillset to the ring is Rico Verhoeven, the reigning heavyweight champion. Vakhitov uttered his name the instant he was asked, post-fight, who he would like to face next.
“Rico Verhoeven,” he nodded. “It can be a superfight or it can be for the heavyweight title, so that I could hold two belts, we would have to work it out with GLORY, but that’s a fight I really want.”
That showdown would certainly get some attention. But Verhoeven is currently focused on a fight with Jamal Ben Saddik at GLORY 49 ROTTERDAM in December. The most likely next opponent for Vakhitov is Pavel Zhuravlev, who won the interim light-heavyweight title in Vakhitov’s absence.
There can only be one true king and Vakhitov does not care to see anyone else purporting to wear the crown. Expect to see those two matched up early in 2018 to determine which of them is the undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world.
Artem Vakhitov def. Ariel Machado by unanimous decision, R5 (49-45, 50-44, 50-44, 50-44, 50-44)
Retains World Light-Heavyweight Championship (Third Defense)