How Amateur MMA Champion Rostem Akman laid the foundations for his ascent to the UFC

Former amateur MMA standout Rostem Akman has become the latest product of the international IMMAF – WMMAA platform to reach the coveted atmosphere of the UFC.

The 27-year-old was officially confirmed in recent days by the UFC as a replacement opponent for impressive Russian welterweight Sergey Khandozhko, following an online campaign for Akman to step in. The showdown is set for Akman’s hometown of Stockholm when UFC Fight Night returns to Sweden on June 1.

With proud family heritage, the man known fantastically as “Kurdimus Prime” was born in Sweden after his parents fled the oppression of northern Kurdistan in 1984. He would go on to represent the Swedish national MMA team as an amateur for a decorated two year period.

Akman’s first taste of martial arts was that of Sambo in 2008 followed by an introduction to MMA shortly after. However, his future in the sport faced a near tragic end as injury snowballed into a hiatus from 2009 to 2012. In that time, the young 175lb newcomer to the sport had ballooned to a depressing 230lbs.

Yet still, Akman clawed his way back from the grip of obesity with a physical and mental recovery, proving to himself that the sky is the limit.

After a successful start on the Swedish circuit, Akman qualified for selection by the Swedish MMA Federation (SMMAF) and would go on to represent the country for two years from 2015 to 2016.

It was the IMMAF European Open Championships where Akman would establish himself as king of the continent at 185lbs, winning the middleweight tournament in back-to-back years for a joint record at the time with Bulgarian duo Alexandra Toncheva (women’s strawweight) and Daniel Galabarov (heavyweight).

During his two years with Team Sweden, Akman’s 11-2 stint among amateur MMA’s international elite served as the foundation for his mighty undefeated start to life as a professional contender.

Unlike the life of a pro, for amateur athletes as individuals there is less pressure, less demand for results. No athlete is defined by their losses, nor their style, and not always by victory. For many, it is the accumulation of experience and utilization of the amateur platform, to achieve the foundations for a well prepared professional career and all the lessons that the journey entails.

Akman embodied this as much as anyone. After his two international defeats including a knockout loss on Day 1 of the 2015 World Championships, and a semi-final defeat as he achieved bronze at the 2016 Worlds, Akman bounced back on each occasion to win the European Open gold, besting four opponents on each occasion with trademark dominance.

As Sweden’s athletes near perfected their approach to the tournament format, Akman was perhaps the most forceful and efficient in shutting down the opposition.

With up to five opponents in as many days en route to the gold medal, intelligence and damage limitation is essential in the long run for all national teams. Akman displayed this awareness, his clubbing fists, while seemingly on the hunt for a stoppage, were often just the patient precursor to unsettling his opponent enough to force a takedown, or to set one up, at times rag-dolling opponents to the ground from where Akman would gain top control, and rarely would he lose the position.

From side control, knee riding or in full mount, Akman would starve his opposition of any options with punishing shots, yet never rushed for a finish, and was often complimented by rivals on his overwhelming strength.

The years spent honing this patience, control and positional awareness would see Akman’s game evolve into a masterpiece transition, making his pro MMA debut in 2017 with Sweden’s premier domestic organisation, Superior Challenge.

“I will get better at what I do,” Akman told ahead of his pro debut. “I want to finish my fights, especially as a pro because it is important to have an exciting fighting style to make a living from MMA. I will start knocking people down now,” and that he did, with incredible effectiveness.

Now 5-0, all elements of his amateur tenure can be seen in Akman’s professional displays, but furthermore, “Kurdimus Prime” was truly unleashed, now with the freedom to fight with the flair of a knockout hunter, evident in successive stoppages for each of his pro triumphs, yet still with effective composure and intelligence in each movement, embedded from his time as an amateur.

“people want to see me fight,” he later commented, “I don’t know if its my personality or my fighting style, maybe both, but because of my amateur achievements I don’t have trouble finding fights.”

Akman described his time on the IMMAF platform as ‘feeling like the Olympics’. His achievements were recognized in Swedish MMA as he made history being the first amateur fighter nominated in the Swedish MMA Awards, all while working part-time in customer service.

While today’s international team landscape has dramatically heated up during the past year, Sweden has remained the World’s top ranked nation since 2016, in great part thanks to the athlete development pathway initiated by the Swedish MMA Federation (SMMAF), the nation’s official regulatory body for Mixed Martial Arts.

“They’ve done a very good job for us (the SMMAF), Akman stated, “It’s really easy for us to compete. You can compete every three weeks back home and that is a huge benefit for us in developing experience and skill.”

In addition to the ever growing list of IMMAF – WMMAA veterans achieving prominence with established promoters, Akman joins the likes of Italy’s Alessio Di Chirico, the USA’s Jose Torres, Brazil’s Amanda Ribas and Russia’s Zabit Magomedsharipov and Peter Yan (to name a few of the strong Russian contingent), in progressing to join the UFC roster.

Headlined by Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Smith in a collision of top light-heavyweight contenders, UFC Fight Night Stockholm takes place on June 1 at the Ericsson Globe Arena.

By lead writer: Jorden Curran

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