Anatoly "Sladkiy" Malykhin, the newest two-division World Champion in the ONE Championship, has had an almost faultless year.
The undefeated Russian powerhouse began 2022 waiting patiently for his opportunity to make a heavyweight title defence, and he ended the year with a golden 26-pound belt on each of his gigantic shoulders.
Malykhin has made an extraordinary ascension to the top of the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions, and that, together with his iconic highlight-reel knockouts, has solidified him as ONE's MMA Athlete of the Year for 2022.
A future World Title possibility was given to Malykhin by ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong after Malykhin defeated Iranian superstar Amir Aliakbari in September 2021.
That chance came to the 34-year-old during his first outing of 2022. The Russian faced unbeaten Belarusian challenger Kirill Grishenko for the ONE Interim Heavyweight World Championship at ONE: BAD BLOOD in February as a result of contract negotiations stuttering with divisional heavyweight Arjan Bhullar.
Malykhin demonstrated his wrestling prowess in the opening round by strategically landing hammerfists and short elbows to knock Grishenko to the ground in the middle of the frame.
However, "Sladkiy" is not compensated hourly, so he started round two unwilling to watch a third. The Russian wrecking ball started delivering bombs, but Grishenko remained resilient and scored some of his own shots.
The burden eventually became too much for the Belarusian to bear. At 3:42 in the second round, Malykhin used a massive looping overhand to finish out his opponent and win the interim gold. Additionally, he would receive two $50,000 performance bonuses.
A unification match between Malykhin and Bhullar was initially planned for later in the year, but the Indian was injured and was forced to sit out even longer.
The bulky Russian dropped down in weight to compete for his light heavyweight title against unbeaten two-division ONE World Champion Reinier de Ridder in the main event of ONE on Prime Video 5 earlier in December. He did this out of a desire to keep active and take on a new challenge.
Malykhin joined the Circle after making weight very easily and destroyed "The Dutch Knight" in the opening round.
During his three years of promotion, De Ridder's submission game had scared the organization's roster, but "Sladkiy" effortlessly avoided his rival's takedown attempts and pounded him with devastating blows.
Malykhin was methodical in his assault, eventually knocking the Dutchman to the ground with a powerful right hook and then forcing the stoppage at the 4:35 mark of the first frame with hammerfists.
With that outstanding win, Malykhin improved his record to 12-0, maintained a perfect finishing percentage of 100 percent, and received a US$100,000 performance incentive from Sityodtong.
Additionally, the Russian entered an exclusive club of competitors who have concurrently ruled over two weight classes with this historic victory, and he will now enter 2023 as one of the organization's biggest stars.