‘Some crumbled emotionally after losing in Mortal Kombat’ – MMA fighter Ilyas Hamzin on Games of the Future

‘Some crumbled emotionally after losing in Mortal Kombat’ – MMA fighter Ilyas Hamzin on Games of the Future

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A time will come, when the International Olympic Committee will notice phygital sports, says Ilyas Khamzin, a member of team Gamers of Future, in an interview with RT at the Games of the Future in Kazan. The athlete admitted he would be thrilled to see phygital events become part of the Olympics. The RCC fighter also spoke about his team’s performance, revealed how he got an injury in a fight with Vladislav Sukalenko, and announced that he wants to compete in the 2025 Games.

– Putting aside the results of the Games for a moment, what are your overall thoughts about the competitions in Kazan?

– It was great, and I enjoyed it a lot. Organization-wise, it was perfect. The opening ceremony was especially memorable. It was such a grand spectacle, and we even had several foreign leaders attending.

– Did the presence of all these heads of states give you additional motivation?

– I feel like it had a positive effect on the athletes: they got inspired and pushed themselves further. Besides, it is an honor just to be around these people. For example, one of the members of the RCC Academy of Martial Arts, Khalim Nazruloyev, even had a chance to personally meet President Vladimir Putin in person and shake hands with him. I think he hasn’t washed his hand since then (laughs).

– What do you make of the very concept that was tested at the Games – to combine traditional sports with e-sports?

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– This was the first time we participated in a tournament of this type. And we had no idea just how tough it was going to be. If we talk about impressions, I have to say we’ve never experienced anything like this before. It felt very unusual. You play on a console for a few minutes, and then they take your gamepad away, put gloves on you and send you to a real, physical fight. I think that’s the future of sports – and it’s already here. I imagine that a time will come when the International Olympic Committee will take notice of phygital sports, as well. As for me, I’d certainly be thrilled to compete at that level myself – or simply watch the games as a spectator.

– Going back to the tournament itself, it didn’t go the way you and your team hoped it would. In an interview, your team’s coach Ivan Shtyrkov said he hoped you’d make it to the finals. Why didn’t that work out?

– It’s hard to say exactly. Perhaps, we burned out at some point, or got too excited and nervous. From the very beginning, something was off.

– Shtyrkov said that, when you were training before the Games, for some people on the team it was the first time they held a gamepad in their hands, while others were fairly experienced. Which category are you?

– I have a Sony PlayStation 5 at home, and I play on it regularly. Although I do prefer a different type of games. It wasn’t hard for me to adjust, but my expectations turned out to be quite different from reality. Before the competition, I thought I was good at fighting games, but it didn’t work out quite like that. My opponents were very strong. There was something that I lacked – either in experience or in the time I had to prepare.

– What games do you play in your free time?

– UFC, Call of Duty, Ghost of Tsushima, Assassin’s Creed. I’ve never actually sat down to practice playing Mortal Kombat on purpose before the Games. I think the last time I was into a Mortal Kombat game was during the SEGA days. So I only got back to playing it when the Games started. Sure, I would join someone and play a couple of fights, but no more than that. I didn’t specifically focus on improving my skills.

To me, a better decision would have been to compete in a UFC game and not in Mortal Kombat. Personally, I was surprised that they chose MK. I guess there are issues with licensing or copyright.

– Which fighter do you usually play as in the UFC game?

– I don’t think I’m going to surprise anyone with my answer. I mainly go for my clubmate and comrade Petr Yan. Just like in real life, he is very strong in the simulation: fast, versatile, excellent boxing, kicking and wrestling. In the lightweight division I pick Rafael Fiziev. Generally, I tend to choose my compatriots.

– You’re playing UFC 5 now, am I correct?

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– Yes, I bought the game a while ago.

– As the series evolved, the physics of the game and the fighting mechanics changed a lot. Which do you like more: the earlier versions or the newer ones?

– I prefer the newer games. But to each his own. I know that some people really enjoy the second game in the series. They like the way the fighters move, how fast they hit. Others are fans of the first entry, even though it’s more of a casual game. In their view, the fighters did fewer ‘stupid’ moves back then, were much more responsive to inputs, and did combos quicker. But I personally focus more on other things, like overall presentation and the evolution of the career mode.

In my opinion, UFC 5 has fights that are closer to reality. You can’t just rush at your opponent, you have to think. For example, you can do some body strikes, then move a little, press your opponent to the net and corner him.

– But in the later versions, it sometimes feels like the characters are fighting in water.

– It does feel that way sometimes, yes.

– In UFC, you pick Yan and Fiziev, and in Mortal Kombat you chose to play Noob Saibot. Why him?

– I was choosing between him, Raiden, Sub-Zero and Scorpion. During my training, Noob Saibot seemed easier to handle, and I was able to do combos more consistently with him. But later I realized I was wrong.

– Who should you have picked then?

– Raiden. With him I think I’d be able to reposition myself and get out of tight spots that I kept getting squeezed into. I mean, he can teleport and appear behind the enemy’s back. In addition to other cool abilities, like summoning lightning bolts. I think that could have helped.

– Shtyrkov said that your teammate Denis Lavrentiev had his son help him prepare for the digital part of the tournament. And who helped you?

– I have three children, so the TV is always ‘occupied’. As soon as I got on the team, I went to the electronics store and bought another one. I put it in the bedroom, and every night after training I would lock myself in there and practice. On average, I spent about an hour a day practicing. We also had training sessions with the teammates at the academy. It was then that I tried playing as Noob Saibot, and I felt I was good at it. So the coach suggested I choose him. No matter, next year I’ll try my hand as the god of thunder.

– Are you planning to participate in the next Games of the Future in 2025?

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– Of course, I’d love to! And after all, now my teammates and I know the kind of pitfalls to look out for. So we’re definitely going back next year.

– Let’s talk about your opponent, Vladislav Sukalenko. He is a tough one, and he had already competed in the preliminary tournaments. Was that an important factor?

– Definitely, he had more experience in phygital sports than I did. By the way, Vlad and I are on great terms, we talk to each other a lot. After the tournament, we also had a chat, and I said: “I didn’t expect you to be so good at Mortal Kombat.” He replied, “I’m not anything special. I just learned two or three combos and kept using them all the time.” I think that’s the recipe for success. You have to practice a couple of combinations a lot and be ready to use them at any given moment. Sukalenko really had it down to muscle memory.

Besides, Vlad entered the cage without his hand wraps. Without them, it is much easier to use your fingers, and this is something that makes a difference, too. I didn’t know about these nuances and wrapped my hands up beforehand, so using a controller felt a little uncomfortable. Although initially I thought it wouldn’t matter much. I was wrong.

– So, he had his hands wrapped after the digital stage?

– No, he fought without the wraps, although it is generally recommended that you use them. You have to take care of your hands. I think that all these finer details have to be regulated in some way, so that all participants compete on an equal footing.

– From the outside, it was hard to tell how upset you were by your loss in Mortal Kombat. Was it difficult to fight in the cage right after that?

– No. I had a chance to look at the other guys, I saw how some of them literally crumbled emotionally after losing in Mortal Kombat. And when the time came for them to enter the cage, they were already in shambles. I prepared myself for that, I told myself ahead of time: “If things go wrong at the very start, then so be it. There is no need to get upset”.

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– Magomed Ismailov admitted that even at home he gets very emotional about losing in video games and often takes his anger out on his gamepad. Would you say that you are an emotional player, too?

– I can get emotional at times, but not to that extent. If you break your gamepad, you have to spend money on a new one. So it’s better to not get carried away like that. Just say something under your breath and calm down. I do that, and I haven’t broken a single gamepad in my life.

– Speaking about the fights themselves, how comfortable were you competing in this ‘semi-amateur’ format?

– Basically, the only difference was the length of the rounds. At the Games, each round lasted three minutes, so it was even easier for me. As far as I know, originally they wanted to ban submission holds, elbow and knee strikes, but then they changed their mind. I didn’t use those anyway. I didn’t want to use dirty tricks in my fight with Vlad.

– In the second round, there was a moment when Sukalenko slipped, but you refused to take advantage of that and attack. Why?

– I had enough chances to attack even before that, but I didn’t strike, I didn’t want to beat him up. Like I said, we know each other well, we keep in touch. I heard they weren’t initially planning to pit us against each other, but no one wanted to fight me. As Vlad said later, they put the youngest fighter against the strongest one.

– What did the drawing procedure look like?

– It was a separate event held in Moscow. The pairings were decided randomly – it was a drawing of lots. Ideally, I would have liked my opponent to be someone from Arabian Warriors, and I would have liked Sukalenko to face off against a fighter from the American MMA Academy. I believe the fans would have had much more fun watching these matches, and we could have shown different parts of ourselves, as well.

– In your fight the decisive episode was the one on the ground, when you were caught in a heel hook.

– That was very unexpected for me. Vlad instantly grabbed the heel and literally ‘ripped’ it off. And then he twisted it a little more.

– After the fight, you held on to your leg. There were no injuries, I hope?

– Unfortunately, there were. I have a partial tear of all ankle ligaments. But at the moment I was more worried about my knee, because I heard a cracking sound. I thought it was going to be an ACL injury. But fortunately, everything was fine.

– How long will it take to recover?

– I can`t give you exact date, but it’s going to take some time. In addition to the ankle, I also have problems with my shoulder. So I’ll have to spend some time on recovery. In fact, the team and I planned that after the Games I would take a break. Last year was an intense one, I cut weight four times, had several injuries. So I figured it was time to have a rest. And now this is literally the only option.