"To become a champion needs many years of hard work, countless hours in
the gym, and plenty of dedication and sacrifice. I’m willing to put that
in, but first things first." - Nikita Krylov
When informed that at 21 years old he had sped past “old man” Max Holloway as the youngest fighter currently on the UFC roster, Ukrainian heavyweight Nikita Krylov was surprised. Yet while most would take this little tidbit of trivia and just store it in their back pocket, Krylov sees it not just as an honor, but a responsibility.
“I am honored to be the youngest and it is a great responsibility,” he said. “For all the young guys I want to show that even though we may be lacking in experience and routine, we can make up for it with a big heart and an undying fighting spirit.”
Stepping into the Octagon for the first time on August 31 against Soa Palelei at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, Krylov comes to the UFC with 15 wins against only two losses, a slate that includes 15 finishes, all in the first round. Needless to say, he doesn’t stay around for overtime. And with Palelei also boasting a 100% finishing rate in his 18 victories, this one can’t possibly go all 15 minutes.
“Soa is a very powerful opponent with a lot of knockout power,” said Krylov. “He is also very well-rounded and is riding an eight fight win streak, so I expect him to be brimming with confidence and coming out of the gates like a house on fire. I also like to take no prisoners and finish my fights early, so fans better not blink.”
If comments like that make you like the Donetsk native immediately, that’s not surprising, as he does show up to fight and finish, and if you don’t get him early, he’s bound to get you, making him an intriguing addition to a heavyweight division that can always use an injection of young blood.
“I really wanted to be in the UFC, to be among the strongest fighters of the world,” said Krylov. “Now my job is to show that I deserve to be one of them. In the UFC, there are no weak fighters and the heavyweights especially are all very dangerous. But I'm here and I do not care who will be in my way.”
Only a pro since 2012, Krylov didn’t just fall out of the sky into MMA though, as he’s been competing in Kyokushin Karate since he was a child, eventually adding other combat sports disciplines to the mix.
“I've been doing karate since childhood and watching mixed martial arts, and I always kept a desire to try my hand at MMA and evolve in this direction,” he said. “I think the sport is the strongest, because an MMA fighter is a very versatile fighter – he can box like a boxer, kick like a karateka, and wrestle like a wrestler. That's why I'm training MMA; I want to be the most versatile fighter of all.”
Well, he’s got some strong influences, with former PRIDE star Igor Vovchanchyn and Olympic wrestler Ilya Mate sitting atop his favorites list. But what about two more fellow countrymen, heavyweight boxing champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko?
“I respect the Klitschko brothers,” he said. “They have achieved a lot in boxing and they are being admired all across Ukraine. I can say that they are national heroes. But I like MMA and people close to the sport.”
Fair enough, but how can we go on without asking about the origin of one of the most unique nicknames in the sport, “Al Capone”?
“I really like the mystery surrounding Al Capone and I read a lot and watched a lot of documentaries about him,” said Krylov of the notorious gangster. “He’s someone who managed to put his footprint on history. He was good and evil in one person; he did a lot of positive things for the people of Chicago, but obviously committed many outrageous crimes as well. I think that the nickname suits me well, because I plan on being one bad dude inside the Octagon, while still being a good person outside of it. I also want to leave my footprint in the history of MMA.”
He knew that was his goal as soon as he saw the sport.
“The first UFCs I remember watching had Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture and Minotauro Nogueira battling for the heavyweight title,” he recalled. “I also grew up watching the great Fedor Emelianenko fight during the last years of PRIDE, which inspired me a lot.”
Being inspired and finding a place to truly grow as a fighter are two different things, and when Krylov started competing in his new sport, it wasn’t in the midst of an exploding scene like those throughout Europe at the moment.
“Our domestic scene is growing, but it is still trailing behind our neighboring countries Russia and even Poland when it comes to the number and quality of events,” he said. “We do have a great tradition in boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, however, and it is only a matter of time until that will translate into MMA as well.”
Krylov made due with what he had in front of him, and though there have been a couple setbacks, for the most part, he has made his mark in Europe, leaving no reason why he shouldn’t get the opportunity to test himself in the UFC. Yet despite fighting like he’s double-parked, he’s staying patient when it comes to his career.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start dreaming about the championship,” said the UFC newcomer. “First I need to make a successful debut and then take it from there. To become a champion needs many years of hard work, countless hours in the gym, and plenty of dedication and sacrifice. I’m willing to put that in, but first things first.”