Sasha Palatnikov [6-2] got his UFC career off to a flier last November. Hong Kong's first-ever representative inside the octagon, Palatnikov was pitted against a fellow debutant in the deadly Louis Cosce. The latter was one of two brothers to earn UFC contracts off the back of stellar performances in Dana White's Contender Series, a killer who had won all of his fights in four minutes or less.
Fans were excited to see what these prospects had to offer and it didn't disappoint, with the pair duking it out in an action-packed brawl. Cosce was on top in the early stages before Palatnikov turned the fight in his favor and sealed victory with a ground and pound barrage after downing his opponent. Cosce was able to console himself with his part in their bout capturing Fight of the Night honors.
Next for Palatnikov is the challenge of a wounded beast. Impa Kasanganay [8-1] is coming off the first loss of his career, a highlight-reel KO courtesy of Joaquin Buckley. The spinning kick was so preposterously next-level that it didn't feel out of place to call it a freak finish. Kasanganay was beaten by something special, and there are hardly more palatable ways to see your zero disappear.
That being said, Impa Kasanganay is out for redemption and that means Sasha Palatnikov is in for another tough night at the office. As Sportskeeda found out in an exclusive interview, the steely welterweight wouldn't have it any other way.
Sasha Palatnikov is ready to go
The preparation for Sasha Palatnikov's debut wasn't ideal. A former middleweight champion with the Korean promotion Angel's Fighting Championship, Palatnikov was recovering from Covid-19 in the weeks before UFC 255. He received a fortnight's notice for the biggest bout of his career. It was a baptism of fire.
This time around, Palatnikov has enjoyed a smoother build-up.
"I've had a full camp. I'm in good health, good shape, and I'm ready to go. I'm feeling strong and ready," Sasha Palatnikov told Sportskeeda. "I'm in the best position that I could be in in my career right now so I'm excited to go out there and showcase it on April 10th."
The UFC is the pinnacle of MMA. Combatants who make it to this stage quickly find out that there isn't much time for acclimatization. It's adapt or die. Sasha Palatnikov is thankful to have been paired up with a fighter as hungry as Louis Cosce for his debut. It gave him the chance to instantly prove his mettle.
"I mean, Louis Cosce is a guy that a lot of people that were currently on the UFC roster didn't want to fight. From what I understand, four individual fights got turned down and he had been signed with the UFC since August. So for them to finally get him a fight in November, I know he was appreciative. I watched his interviews and he's like, 'I'm just glad the guys signed up because nobody wanted to fight me.' He's 7-0, all first-round finishes, you know, he's a dangerous prospect."
Palatnikov would go on to inadvertently recite Backstreet Boys' lyrics in his next sentence. It puts a new twist on the hit song from Nick Carter and the rest of the Boys, whose names don't immediately come to mind.
"But for me, I don't care who it is, what you've done, where you're from, as long as that opportunity was there for me to compete and get where I needed to go. I just knew that I had to get in there and do what I do and, you know, like I said, coming from COVID and two weeks notice, it wasn't an ideal situation. Maybe some other people wouldn't have jumped at that opportunity but I didn't see myself in a position to say I couldn't, so it was either do or die. Get it done. I obviously got it done and it was just something that I appreciate about just being able to go in there, go through a three-round war, go back and forth. It wasn't, in my opinion, a great performance, and in my opinion, I genuinely feel like I should have put him away in the first. But I couldn't have written the story any better. The script was written the way it was. The Fight of the Night accolade plus the reaction of Joe Rogan and the commentators obviously created that environment of an exciting back and forth fight. It was an exciting opportunity that I capitalized on."
Anyone in Hong Kong who wasn't already familiar with Sasha Palatnikov became invested in his story overnight. His success in Korea had put him in the sports pages of Hong Kong news. Here was an ambassador for the region, picking up belts across Asia on his way to the UFC. Palatnikov, who describes himself as an international guy, was also picking up support from 'Russia, France and other parts of Europe.' After his win, sponsors began to get in touch. Hong Kong companies want a homegrown son to endorse their products. And there's no mistaking where Palatnikov is from. If the American accent fools you, it will only be a matter of time before he mentions 'his first love', the place he was born and raised.
The challenge that Impa Kasanganay poses
Sasha Palatnikov is a pragmatist of sorts. He will tell you this himself. Although pragmatism in other sports can be construed negatively, for Palatnikov, it's a sign of his confidence as a fighter. He believes in the capacity of his skillset to deal with any problem that he is confronted by. Palatnikov is a self-proclaimed problem-solver. A competitor playing chess while his opponents play checkers.
While Palatnikov acknowledges that Impa Kasanganay is in the early stages of his career, he respects his artillery. "He's got a background in college football. He's tough. He's explosive. He's got good conditioning. It's everything that you kind of want out of a fighter." Palatnikov then began highlighting question marks around Kasanganay. "He's got power, but it doesn't seem to always translate in the fight. And again, he's fought every single fight of his career at 185 pounds and after succumbing to that knockout, he's decided to come down to 170. I don't know what the thought process was there, maybe he was, you know, it was walking around at 185 and it's gonna be an easy weight-cut from there make to 170. I'm not sure."
Palatnikov believes that his background in martial arts gives him the edge over most opponents, Kasanganay being no different.
"I've been competing in martial arts since I was six years old. It's just something that I've been doing for a very long time. I consider myself a chess player when other people are playing checkers in the sport, and I just feel like I'm going to be a couple steps ahead of him in the fight. As long as I'm on point with my defenses on moving right, moving the right way, and making sure that I'm not in a position to get hurt. I truly believe that I will be able to really put it on him. But like I said, he's a tough guy, he's going to bring it, he's coming off of a devastating loss and I'm sure he wants to get back to that win column, as does everybody coming off a loss. They're always going to come back a better version. There's no way they're going to come back worse. I'm expecting the best version of him. I'm expecting an animal in there and that's what I want. I'm not here to get an easy road to victory. I need to go in there and do what I've been doing my whole life. I know what I'm capable of and then like I said, I'm challenging whoever the UFC gives me.
While Sasha Palatnikov wasn't entirely satisfied with his last performance, he wouldn't spill the beans on what's to come. (Nice try, Impa. Thanks for your continued support.) Palatnikov did promise that he had a few tricks up his sleeve. He's happy to box, happy to wrestle. Wherever Kasanganay wants to take the fight, Palatnikov is comfortable going. He would like to add 'a cherry on top' if he can - think of the spinning backfists he was firing at Cosce - and being in better condition than he was last time out, it makes this fight tantalizing.
A potential next UFC opponent for Sasha Palatnikov
Like every fighter starting off in the UFC, Sasha Palatnikov is happy enough to battle any faceless foe that Dana White nudges in his direction. But in an ideal world, who would Palatnikov like lined up as a logical next opponent?
"There's a couple," he tells Sportskeeda. "There's another welterweight fight at Vegas 23, between Mike Perry and Daniel Rodriguez. If I get my hand raised on Saturday, I would like to fight the winner of that potentially. Those guys are no longer prospects. They're just outside the top 15. My goal is to be in the top 15 by the end of this year. So, I want whoever will help propel me to that next level. I'll have faced two DWCS guys. If I get through those, maybe I'll have graduated from that."
Palatnikov went on to tell me that he gave a list of nine names to the UFC after beating Cosce. Everyone on the list was just outside the rankings. The UFC matchmakers said no to every suggestion, but Palatnikov was happy to get Kasanganay. It will be another tough match for him. Maybe if he puts on another good performance, the matchmakers will take a closer look at that list.