Sweden’s Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam out to snatch Ben Askren’s welterweight title at One Championship

The 26-year-old was a complete unknown until he knocked out Brazilian title contender Luis Santos and now sets his sights on upsetting the best welterweight around in Shanghai next month

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 6:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 7:26pm

No tale has been left untold in the lead-up to Sunday’s fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. Be they real or imagined.

Such has been the hunger from all involved to drain every last cent from this particular circus that a few wags in Dublin even managed to help the promotional cause – stateside at least – by casting the Irish capital to US media as more like a troubled early New York, circa mid-19th century as portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated Gangs of New York, with McGregor as the plucky pugilist who fought his way up off the streets to fame and fortune against all the odds, and all comers.

Whether it all helps PPV and ticket sales will be only revealed when the lights come on Sunday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas – what happens in the actually bout remains anyone’s guess – but history has shown us through the ages that the best sporting tales are actually those that need no embellishing, even if the fight game has priors for stretching truth to its outer most limits.

So while Mayweather and McGregor ponder whether to take a bath in gold or splurge on another polar bear fur coat with their hundreds of millions earned, turn your attention instead to a certain Swede named Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam who is trying to add another chapter to one of more incredible stories to emerge from the fight world this year.

And we’re not making any of this up.

Watch: Zebaztian Kadestam knocks out Luis Santos with brutal knees on the ground

On Saturday, September 2, the 26-year-old Kadestam will step into the cage at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre and try to wrest a world title from the grasp of One Championship’s welterweight champion Ben Askren, the American who is arguably one of the best going around in mixed martial arts circles.

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It’s fair to say that to outside only the most committed of MMA tragics, Kadestam was a complete unknown as recently ago as May when – on two week’s notice – he jumped at the chance to fight One welterweight contender Luis Santos after the opponent scheduled to fight the bad ass Brazilian was forced out through injury.

Up until that fight the Swede had been crafting out a serviceable – but by no means brilliant – career at 8-3 with fights in far-flung places such as Guam and Hunan.

Kadestam was copping a bit of a pounding from the veteran Santos – notoriously a fast starter across a career that stood 63-9-1 at the time. For the first two rounds, Kadestam hardly fired a shot in anger. But, midway through the third, there was a slip during a takedown attempt and the Swede pounced in a flash, with fists and then a few well-directed knees knocking the Santos out cold.

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“Now I want Askren,” Kadestam said.

You do what?

Kadestam had arrived in Singapore for the fight pretty much penniless, with fellow fighters and friends helping pay for his meals and assorted pre-fight medical costs. “It’s never really been an issue with me to not have money because I don’t spend money. All I do is train and eat,” says Kadestam, who’s apparently still not adverse to dossing down on gym floors when those pockets are empty. Which is often.

No one had given him any chance against Santos, the only fighter to have so far worried the unbeaten Askren – their fight back in 2015 ending with a poke to the Brazilian’s eye he later claimed was a deliberate move to end the fight early.

But this week Kadestam revealed that the plan all along had been to dispense with Santos and move on to the champion, a one-time Olympic wrestler and four- time All American whose record in MMA stands at 16 and zip.

While as a teenager Askren was carving his name into the annuals of collegiate sport history in the US, Kadestam around the same time had fallen in with the wrong crowd in Stockholm.

“I was in and out of youth training centres from the time I was 14 years old until I was 19,” says Kadestam. “So I didn’t go to school so much. I didn’t really work so much either. But I found martial arts. Without it maybe I would have grown up, maybe I would have found something else. Or maybe I would have continued doing what I was doing and that wouldn’t have been a pretty sight. I’m sure of that.”

A move at 19 to Thailand and full-time training in combat sports turned Kadestam’s life around. He says he revels in the role of the underdog and he’ll be exactly that come next Saturday’s world title night in Shanghai.

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“I’ve been up and I’ve been down,” says Kadestam. “I couldn’t really care less who it is. The only real reason I am doing this is to collect names so the bigger they are the more fire inside me. I don’t feel any pressure. All my life I’ve been looking for that shot. If it’s there, I’m going to take it. That’s what life is all about.”

Isn’t that the truth.