Kamal Shalorus (9-3) was born and raised with wrestling all around him. Growing up near the wrestling hot-bed of Azerbaijan, Shalorus had both the intense Iranian and Russian wrestling cultures pushing in on him as a young man.
The wrestling passion of the region became his, and he used it to lift himself up, professionally. He would go on to represent Britain’s wrestling team at the 2004 summer games, and later become a top MMA fighter.
Kamal’s parents had no problem accepting his career as a wrestler, but fighting in a cage with less rules seemed more foreign to them, at first. “Wrestling, they knew, so they were very supportive,” he tells Cagewriter.
“But MMA, well, my mom was a lot more nervous about that (laughs). But now they see what it is and understand it a bit more.”
It took Shalorus some time himself to begin to fully understand MMA. He first got into the sport as a training partner for MMA fighters to better their wrestling, but soon realize that he was good enough to step into a second career as well.
“The transition was definitely challenging, especially the striking, but I enjoyed it and it ultimately came natural to me,” he says.
Indeed, Shalorus would go on to build an excellent record and fight in the WEC and UFC. In short time, the wrestler had gone from a training partner to an elite fighter himself.
Three straight losses in the UFC snapped the 37 year-old’s undefeated streak in MMA, however, and he had to find a new fighting home. He did so in Singapore-based top Asian promotion ONE FC.
Now, Shalorus is on a two-fight win streak and heads into a lightweight title shot against champion Shinya Aoki (35-6) Friday in Dubai at ONEFC 19. Combat sports have taken Kamal all over the world, since he left his home in Iran as a teenager, alone, two decades ago.
This week, it has taken him from his adopted home of Texas all the way to the U.A.E. for perhaps one last chance at gold. Nearing 40, Shalorus is confident in his skills, but eager to capitalize on a title shot.
“Fighting for a title means a lot,” he admits.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this, if I’m honest. Right now, I feel fantastic, and I go against the young guys and do well, but you never know when you’ll have to stop. We’ll see, later. So, I couldn’t be more motivated or excited for this fight than I am.”
The sense of urgency makes the opportunity against Aoki, a star in Japan and long top-ranked, even more special for Kamal. If the pressure is intense, the wrestler takes solace in the skills he’s been honing since he was a child.
“For sure Aoki has had difficulty against top wrestlers,” he says.
“He uses his Judo well and has great Jiu Jitsu on the ground, but I think I can test him.”