Even from the nosebleeds, you can see Nurbolat ‘Nobby’ Kuandyk’s smile beaming through the cage. It’s not the most common thing to see as two men are throwing bones at each other but you can tell that when he’s competing, the ‘Kazakh Kid’ is enjoying every moment. This is expressed through his fighting style and at times sees him throw caution to the wind, often to the crowds’ pleasure. Though he aims to entertain, there is method amongst the chaos. He and his coach Anthony Perosh have considered his approach and devise game plans that allow him to express himself fully, without taking unnecessary risks.
Having come to Australia from Kazakhstan, Nobby explained a bit about what life is like in the post-Soviet state and the differences between the two nations. We also got into his family’s history in martial arts, why he didn’t start training until he was in Australia, and how his love for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grew out of hatred for the art. Nobby also goes into what his vision is for the future, what it’s like competing against people you have deep respect for, and recommends some Kazakh hip-hop for those looking to expand their listening library. But first, he started off by explaining how and why he came to Australia…
Nobby: I was born and raised in Kazakhstan, I only came to Australia in 2008. So, it’s been ten years since I’ve been in Australia. I was born in a small town, Taraz. It’s probably the oldest little town in Kazakhstan…and the most criminal [laughs].
All my blood relatives are still there. In 2008, I got sent to a boarding school here in Australia. I have a stepdad, he had a son from his previous marriage, so they bought a ticket for us and said, ‘alright, off you go to boarding school’. I was around 16. My step-brother and I came to a boarding school in Bathurst and finished high school there. Then I moved to Canberra for uni and from Canberra, I came to Sydney.
The Neversphere: Man, I’m no expert, but I imagine it was a bit of a change coming from Taraz and ending up in a place like Sydney?!
Nobby: Big time, big time. Especially the mentality of people. When I came to Australia I was like, ‘wow, this is paradise’. Everyone’s very polite, everyone’s very nice. You know, being in the post-Soviet Union, it was pretty tough in Kazakhstan. Not that I had many struggles but I’ve seen my friends struggles through life…It’s a very corrupt country. But I’ll be glad to move back there one day and open up my school.
The Neversphere: Did you start training martial arts while you were in Kazakhstan or did that begin once you came to Australia?
Nobby: So, my biological father, all of his side are Greco Roman wrestlers. They all represented the state or even national teams, they won gold medals a couple of times. My cousin, who’s about my age and lives in Kazakhstan, was going to go to Rio to represent Kazakhstan in Greco Roman at 66kg. But he couldn’t make it because of a lower back injury.
My parents split up when I was little and I stuck with my Mum, so I couldn’t do any wrestling or anything like that [laughs]. I was not exposed to any of the martial arts until I came to Australia, where I started doing a bit of boxing and kickboxing, and then somehow something in me – my Dad’s side – switched on.
The Neversphere: A lot of people train martial arts but few compete in MMA, and even fewer compete with a smile on their face like you do. What was your path to MMA?
Nobby: In Canberra, I wanted to start Combat Sambo because of Fedor – he kind of got me into MMA – so I was researching Combat Sambo in Canberra. I couldn’t find anything but I found a Judo school and started doing that.
Schilburger, I used to hate Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I used to hate it. [Laughs] And funnily enough, there was a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class on the same time as Judo. We shared one mat. The Judo guys would look at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guys and go ‘oh my god, they have no idea what they’re doing’ and vice versa [laughs].
The Neversphere: [Laughs] Of course.
Nobby: But ironically, the MMA coach was the BJJ coach. I would train MMA but I wouldn’t do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’d do alright against the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guys and I didn’t think it was very effective…until my MMA coach asked me to compete at the Pan Pacs in Melbourne. That was my first Jiu Jitsu comp and all I knew was Judo. I went there, took the guy down…and he just choked me out. I was like…’wow….my Judo…is not effective against Jiu Jitsu on the ground’. So, I started doing Jiu Jitsu and since that day I have been in love. I’m a Jiu Jitsu nerd. Every day, I study Jiu Jitsu. In order to do MMA, I wanted to prove something to myself. I wanted to go in there and submit everyone, I want to try to use technique instead of being violent. And being very technical with Jiu Jitsu allows you to do that.
Every time I go there, I just want to submit someone. The smiling part? I guess, I’m blessed to be in the cage, a lot of people take it very seriously. I think, to go in the cage after a successful fight camp and able to do what you love in a peaceful country…I think it’s a blessing. When I step in there, I have fun.
The Neversphere: Perhaps related to having fun, while you’re in there, it looks like you’re not afraid to take some risks and throw flashy techniques. Is that planned or just how you are?
Nobby: I think that’s just my personality coming through. If I make it to the UFC, I want to be the guy who collects all the performance bonuses rather than trying to play it safe and make it to the title. I just want to make it fun for my family who are watching, fun for my friends. I want to be proud of my performances so I can look back when I’m a grandfather, show it to my grandchildren and say ‘look, I was doing some crazy stuff’.
The Neversphere: And how does [your coach] Anthony Perosh feel about this approach?
Nobby: [Laughs] He tells me, ‘be Nobby but please don’t give up positions, don’t take crazy risks or if you do, make sure it’s at the end of the round’. Not many judges can be experienced in MMA, so if they see a guy on the bottom and a guy on top. The guy on the bottom always looks like a loser, no matter how active you are.
He’s had so many fights, he is experienced, so he knows how to win and what it takes to win. I guess, I’m a young guy and I just want to have fun in there. But in the long term, you need to stack up the wins and play the game.
The Neversphere: It’s a style that has worked well for you so far. Most recently at Eternal 33, how did you feel about that fight?
Nobby: Actually, Schilburger, I took this fight because my friend Phil was fighting on the card and I didn’t want him to go by himself. So, I jumped on the card with him. Two teammates fighting on the same card. I hadn’t fought for around a year and five minutes before the fight I just didn’t want to fight. I didn’t feel violent or like I wanted to hurt my opponent because Garret Gross is such a nice guy. I just didn’t want to impose my will on him.
I was back there, slapping myself going ‘man, Nobby, wake up! You’re in a fight, you gotta wake up!’. But thank goodness my Jiu Jitsu muscle memory kicked in. I didn’t throw many punches, I just did my submission game. I’m very happy with the outcome.
The Neversphere: Man, that’s a tough position to be in. In previous fights, you seemed friendly with you competition. How do you usually go about getting into a war with a dude you’re friendly with? Obviously, it’s your job…but…
Nobby: One thing with Kazakh people is they’re very open and very friendly, in terms of hospitality. And respect is a big thing in Kazakhstan. A big, big thing. So, I’ll always respect my opponent, no matter who it is, even if they’re going to smash me in the face. I want to be a nice guy because they’re doing what they need to do and it’s for the love of the sport. We’re here to get better. I see it as proving myself, rather than going into a fight. I’m doing it for myself, for the martial arts, rather than a hostility thing.
The Neversphere: You said a little earlier that you’re looking to the UFC, is that your long-term goal?
Nobby: I think that’s every fighters’ dream. I would love to go to the UFC because of the higher level competition, great exposure, and I want to represent Australia and Kazakhstan. I want to show the world that Kazakh people can make it to the big stage too. I want to go in there with a Kazakh flag on my shorts. And also I want to cash in bonuses [laughs]. It’s a good way to make money.
The Neversphere: Before the interview, you told me you were into hip-hop at the moment, some Kazakh hip-hop too. Is there anything you can recommend for people looking to expand their music library?
Nobby: Yeah, when I came to Australia, I started drifting away from Kazakh culture. But I love Kazakh culture, I love my family, I love the food. Now, my friends recommending me music every day. One guy is called Scriptonite, he is very good. He did a song with Major Lazer. It’s pretty cool to see a Kazakh guy collaborating with Major Lazer. My favourites are MiyaGi & Endshpiel though. They’re brothers and they make amazing music. It’s kind of like reggae, reggae-rap.
The Neversphere: Before I let you go, any shoutouts?
Nobby: Yeah, to my friend and strength and conditioning coach Meer Awny, he’s one of the best in the country. I didn’t take strength and conditioning very seriously until this fight and I felt great. He took care of my strength and conditioning, and takes care of me nutrition-wise, and for rehydration after the weigh-ins.