Kamal Shalorus established himself as an immediate contender for Shinya Aoki’s ONE FC lightweight belt with a decision win over Eduard Folayang last month and the Iranian wasted no time in calling out the reigning 155-pound champion.
“I would love to fight with Shinya Aoki and honestly I think it’s a good match-up because he’s a grappler, but I’m a wrestler, he cannot take me down and I can strike with him. I competed 16 minutes with Saulo Ribeiro and he couldn’t submit me, so Aoki’s not going to do anything to me. That’s a very good match-up for me; Eduard Folayang is a harder fight for me than Aoki.”
It’s fighting talk from a man who finds himself back in Asia fighting for ONE FC, after a career that had been spent competing exclusively in his adopted home of America. There is no question that the recent win over Folayang has thrust him immediately into the title picture in a division that is also home to Lowen Tynanes, Ariel Sexton and Caros Fodor.
Shalorus has risen through the ranks from small southern promotions to the WEC and eventually the UFC and ONE FC, but the significance of that journey pales in comparison to the one that would take him from the mountains of northern Iran to competing for the most prestigious promotions in the MMA world.
In an exclusive interview with MMAWeekly.com, he recalled the hardships he endured growing up in rural isolation close to the border with Azerbaijan.
“There is no electric, no school, no hospital, nothing, and in winter time when the snow comes heavy all the roads are closed so we don’t have access to the big city. If we wanted to go to the big city, we have to travel seven hours, eight hours to reach there and the big city was more of a big village. It was that kind of lifestyle.”
The current age of the Iranian has been reported as anything from 35 to 40, but it’s difficult for MMA websites or organizations to accurately report how old Shalorus is when he can’t actually answer the question himself.
“I was born in my own house, not in hospital, so no paper, no nothing and I have two brothers older than me. One of them he passed away, so they give his birth certificate to me. I don't know how old I am, but I think I am around 35 because my brother used to be able to hold me and carry me around, but I am older than him on my birth certificate.”
Not only did the place where Shalorus spent his formative years lack modern facilities and infrastructure, but he also had to endure some harsh and inhospitable weather as his family etched out a living by herding sheep.
“I grew up on a big, big mountain in north Iran, very close to Azerbaijan and the Russian border and sometimes you would see snow there for 12 months. There was snow all the time. We were shepherds and we had maybe 2,000 sheep. We built our own house with my family and my uncle and a couple of relatives, we lived together and herded sheep.”
Shalorus might have remained in this rural existence for his entire life had it not been for his aptitude for wrestling. He discovered during his school days that he excelled at this sport and it ultimately provided him with a ticket out of Iran.
“I was a good wrestler. When I competed with junior national team, I came first and the Turkey national team they brought me as a sparring partner. After that I went to Greece and I met the UK team there and they invited me to come to England to train with them, this happened in 1997 when I was 21 or 22.”
Although he would never compete there, it was in England that Shalorus first started to transition into mixed martial arts as local fighters sought him out for his wrestling knowledge and in return started to school him in the other aspects of the game.
“Lee Murray was my good friend in England, he helped me a lot and Alex Reid. I used to teach them wrestling and they said ‘Kamal you can be good in fighting.' I moved to Texas because my girlfriend is from Texas and we moved there. My first fight I fought welterweight for the King of Combat title against a guy who had around 12 wins and was an All-American wrestler and I knocked him down after 75 seconds.”
The rest is history, but perhaps due to his wrestling prowess, Shalorus has hardly ever been given easy fights. When assessing the worth of his 8-3-2 record, it is important to take into consideration that throughout his career he has consistently been thrown in with far more experienced opponents.
He is coming off a decision win over Eduard Folayang at ONE FC: Rise to Power in Manila. Shalorus credited a disciplined tactical approach to that fight for enabling him to emerge victorious against another dangerous opponent.
“Eduard Folayang is very tough, he's not going to get tired, he's not going to get knocked out, but I stuck with my game plan. So I didn’t throw too much striking, just a stiff one-two, and try to bring him to my wrestling home, make him tired and then block all his weird kicks. He has very strong kicks and dangerous kicks, you don’t know where they are coming from,” he recounted.
Shalorus was sporting a badly bruised eye afterwards, but it was a small price to pay for the privilege of beating the most popular fighter in the Philippines in his own backyard. The win also arrested a three-fight losing skid and revitalized the career of the Iranian, who now has his sights firmly set on Aoki’s 155-pound belt.
“I have fought so many different shows, but ONE FC has good energy and a good vibe; they respect the fighters. I will go back and train harder, come back much better, and when ONE FC call me I will be ready. To win the belt would be awesome, that’s my dream.”