Turkmenistan has unveiled an impressive squad of 37 Muay Thai fighters, including genuine medal prospects, to compete at the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from 17–27 September.
The biggest multi-sport event ever staged in Central Asia will mark an astonishing rise for Turkmen Muaythai, which was only officially recognised in the country in 2014, so it will be a moment to savour for national coach Bashimow Orazmuhammed.
The pioneering sports leader, who doubles up as President of the Federation of Thai Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts of Turkmenistan, is a key reason why Muaythai exists in the host country.
Orazmuhammed, who founded the Federation in December 2014, hand-picked the national team who include a number of fighters that have already achieved podium places on the global scene.
“When the Federation was formed, we hardly had any athletes with us as no-one knew about the sport,” he said. “Three months later, we organised the Turkmen National Championships and that’s how people began to notice us. Slowly, athletes from Boxing, Wushu, Karate and Kickboxing trickled in and the nucleus of the national team was born.”
Some of the first athletes to take up the sport have already brought Turkmenistan its first major Muaythai international medals.
While Nabat Batyrowa took bronze at the 2014 Asian Beach Games in Phuket, Thailand, Rasul Rasulow came up with a similar outcome at the 2015 World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.
A year later, Rustem Bayramdurdyyew and Mustafa Saparmyradow each won silver medals at the 2016 World Championships in Jonkoping, Sweden.
Come September and the quartet will represent Turkmenistan’s strongest chance for medals at Ashgabat 2017. Despite the pressure, Batyrowa, who will compete in the 60kg event, said she was ready.
“Ever since winning bronze in Phuket, my sole aim has been to put on a good show at home,” she said. “Now that the moment is so near, I’m mentally preparing myself for the challenge. I’m really excited. Competing at home could be nerve wracking, but I say bring it on,” said the confident 24-year-old, who played Karate before moving to Muaythai.
Meanwhile, Rasulow, who left behind him 12 years of Boxing experience, felt it was one of the best decisions of his life.
“While Boxing makes great use of the fists, Muaythai focuses a lot on fighting with the legs,” said the men’s 86kg contender. “For me, the transformation from one sport to another was quite difficult. But after getting the hang of it, I started enjoying Muaythai immensely. It also won me my first medals. Looking back, switching over was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Bayramdurdyyew, who will appear in the men’s 57kg category, spoke about his pride in representing Turkmenistan.
“Despite being a Boxer for 10 years, Muaythai gave me my first chance to shine for my country. I cannot say how immensely proud I am to represent Turkmenistan at home. I’ve been training for five hours a day, six days a week. I’m hopeful the hard work will pay off and I can win a medal,” he said.
Saparmyradow, who will fight in the men’s 67kg event, believes his previous exposure on the world stage will stand him in good stead for Ashgabat 2017.
“After winning a silver in Sweden, my confidence is at an all-time high,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for this moment and my feeling is that I’ll have it easier at home than it was in Sweden. While I won’t underestimate my opposition, I won’t be overawed by them either.”
Turkmenistan’s medal prospects aside, one athlete who stands out with her sheer determination and willpower is 35-year-old Enejan Welmyradowa. The former Boxer, who gave birth to a baby girl last year, is back in the ring to prove a point.
“It wasn’t easy to return to combat sports so soon after giving birth. But I wanted to desperately be a part of Ashgabat 2017. I wanted to prove a point that I’m still up to the challenge. Next month, my little girl will be there with my family to watch me fight. I want to make her proud. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Muaythai competitions will be held at the Muaythai Kickboxing Arena in the Ashgabat Olympic Complex from 17–21 September.