Like many other youngsters, 20-year-old Estonian Andi Uustalu was a victim of bullying at a young age and felt insecure of himself.
But even though those years are not long ago, Andi has come a long way from his home in Viljandi, a small town in central Estonia with 17,000 inhabitants.
Now, Andi finds himself in the state of Kelantan, on the north-eastern peninsula of Malaysia. He is just hours away from his 26th professional fight, and despite only been training for 5 years, he will once again fight at the very top of his chosen sport of Muay Thai.
Looking back at his early beginnings, Andi reveals that he had a hard time growing up.
“I used to be a chubby boy” Andi shares. “I was bullied by the older kids, and that is one of the reasons why I started training.”
“I started when I was 14 years old, and got more serious when I was 15-16. That’s when I started fighting. My friend invited me and I found it very challenging, that’s why I liked it.”
“I saw a very fast self improvement. Training changed my mind fully, everything has changed.”
This Saturday, Andi will go up against the legendary Thai fighter Iquezang, who has well over 500 professional fights and a lifetime of experience.
With another top fight coming up, Andi has proven that his relentless training at Charn Chai Muay Thai Gym in northern Thailand has paid off.
“It’s been amazing, but very hard,” Andi says about his training in Thailand.
“I am pushing it to the limits all the time. Sometimes I want to quit, but all of this makes me stronger. I just know that hard work pays off and the trainers are also very motivating.”
“If you want to be a professional fighter, you need to be in the gym every day. There are no short cuts, just hard work. You just need to keep going.”
Andi has fought multiple Muay Thai champions
Andi has already experience from the bright lights of big promotions as Muay Hardcore and Thai Fight, where he knocked out Kongjak Por Pau and went three hard-fought rounds against top fighter Sudsakorn Sor Klimnee.
His two most recent opponents has been against two veterans with a combined record of almost 600 fights and multiple championship belts, but Andi thrives under pressure.
He also knows that a win against Iquezang will prove that he is a top contender.
The fight is arranged by Kelantan Muay Thai Channel (KMC) in Malaysia, with fight booking made by the Cambodian-based fight management The Riel Team.
Expecting well over 1500 spectators, Andi says that his initial reactions now has turned for the better.
“At first, I was nervous. But I have fought legends before and they are all humans like me,” Andi says. “Of course, he is very good and it’s going to be a hard fight but I like it and it’s a good chance for me.”
“I can improve myself and it’s going to be a good fight!”
The event will not be live, but the aftermath of the bout will surely be heard around the world.
As Andi is becoming a familiar face in his native Estonia and the martial arts community, you can be sure that his accomplishments will be celebrated by his fans, win, lose or draw.
“They have told me that I am a (role model) for them,” he says about the young kids at home.
Tonight he will have the opportunity to show that he belongs among the legends of the sport.