How do beat a man who’s never been beaten? That’s the question Zebaztian Kadestam must have been pondering every day in Sweden as he prepares to challenge Ben Askren for the ONE Championship welterweight title in Shanghai on Saturday.
Kadestam burst onto the international scene by stopping Luis Santos earlier this year. He was a late replacement, and the result represented something of an upset but the former PXC welterweight champion wants to spring an even bigger surprise by beating Askren at ONE: Shanghai.
“I’ve never liked his style of fighting, but he’s really good at it, decision, lay and pray. But he has holes, everyone has holes, everyone knows what he’s going to try to do. He don’t know what I’m going to try to do.”
When Kadestam was wrecking his way through the PXC welterweight division, he gained a reputation for being a devastating striker. He won six fights out of six for the Pacific promotion with five of those victories coming inside the distance, and gained a reputation as a devastating striker.
He’s known for his kicking ability and spent several years training at Ole Laursens’ gym in Thailand. He’s also spent time training in the Philippines and has fought for promotions all over Asia but Kadestam’s life hasn’t always been about travelling to tropical resorts to train and fight.
As a teenager, he was constantly in and out of prison and actually discovered martial arts during one of these stints.
“I went to this place, and we had to train once a day, and we got to choose from lifting weights at the gym or doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I chose Brazilian jujitsu, and that’s kind of how I got introduced to MMA, I started hearing about Pride and UFC and stuff like this, and I was kind of building dreams that when I get out of this place that’s what I’m going to do.”
Lots of incarcerated men have big dreams but few of them will have the discipline or dedication to make them happen. Kadestam is an exception and he believes pursuing his ambitions as a professional fighter has helped to keep him out of prison.
“My life got a little bit rough because I chose some wrong paths and it wasn’t for me, but I’m on the right path now. Every time I somehow got away from martial arts I got into a lot of trouble in life. But every time I got back into martial arts my life went a bit more smoothly.”
Kadestam currently trains and teaches at the Pancrase Gym in Stockholm. Some of the younger children see him as a mentor and it represents a huge reversal of roles for the former convict.
“I’ve never thought about myself as a role model, but I hear it a lot from the younger guys and the kids I’m teaching. And I’m starting to embrace it and I think it’s important and I’m really happy to hear that I can be a role model because a few years ago that was the last thing I could be.”
His life contrasts starkly with that of Askren, a high school wrestling champion who was destined for greatness from an early age. However, Kadestam has nothing but respect for the champion
“I got to respect a man to have kids and a wife and still being able to put in all these hours, I couldn’t do it. He has a huge academy and pays a lot of attention to the younger generation in wrestling. I respect him for being able to show up and perform with so much else going on around his life.”
Kadestam might have respect for his opponent, but he won’t let it stop him from going all out to knock Askren out. It’s how the Swedish welterweight wins most of his fights, and he feels five rounds will be more than enough time for him to land the sort of shot that will shock the world.
“I’m confident you know, I’m not stupid I know it’s a huge test but I also know that I’ve knocked guys out with far more experience striking wise and far better strikers than him. 25 minutes is a long time, I believe I can get it done.”
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