Ahead of the first title fight of his professional career, lightweight prospect Zulkarnaiyn Kamchybekov insists he hasn’t changed a single thing about his preparation.

“I think everything is the same,” Kamchybekov said. “Just more training, maybe. Same gameplan. Same coaches. Same sparring partners. I’m just training hard all the time and focusing on the fight. That’s why I win.”

Born in Kyrgyzstan, Kamchybekov wasn’t an MMA fan in his youth. There, wrestling was the combat sport of choice. In 2015, Kamchybekov came to the U.S. for a grappling competition and decided to stay in hopes of finding better training. That’s when he saw how quickly MMA was growing across the country, and he met with Extreme Evolution Fight Camp coach John Marquez about the possibility of giving it a try.

“I never thought about MMA before – only wrestling,” Kamchybekov said. “I had only watched UFC before, not like all MMA. When I came to the U.S., I saw a lot of people doing MMA. I met with John, and he said, ‘Let’s go. You want to try MMA?’ I tried it, and I liked it.

“I’m learning striking from John, and everything in who I am now is because of John. He helped me a lot. It’s all his game.”

MMA has since experienced quite the growth in Kamchybekov’s home nation, fueled in no small part by the dominance of Kyrgyzstan native Valentina Shevchenko, the reigning UFC women’s flyweight champion. However, more talent from the nation is starting to emerge, as well.

“Now it’s very famous,” Kamchybekov said. “Before, not nearly as much. National wrestling is all we had. Now, maybe MMA is No. 1 there.”

Kamchybekov (4-1) hopes to add his name to the list of his country’s national sporting heroes. He can take a step in that direction at Friday’s CFFC 95, which streams live on UFC Fight Pass from Philadelphia’s 2300 Arena. In the night’s main event, he faces the unbeaten Jesse Smith (4-0) for the vacant CFFC lightweight title.

It’s the biggest fight of his career to date, but Kamchybekov said he’s not too worried about anything other than performing the way he knows that he can.

“I don’t know much about Jesse, really,” Kamchybekov said. “I know he has a good record of 4-0, but we’ll see. I don’t know a lot about him. I don’t like to watch the opponent and study him too much. It’s not my game. A fight is a fight. We’ll see when we get in the cage.”

Kamchybekov’s game has developed quickly, and back-to-back TKO wins have shown his striking is becoming an impressive tool in his arsenal. His lone career loss to date came via split decision to Matthew Semelsberger, who is now competing in the UFC and earned a “Performance of the Night” bonus in his most recent outing.

Kamchybekov also believes he’s ready to compete at the sport’s highest level.

“I think so because we have good people in our gym,” Kamchybekov said. “Sean Brady, Pat Sabatini, Nah-Shon Burrell – a lot of guys. I train with them, and I think that I’m ready.”

A CFFC title win would certainly go a long way toward proving his readiness to compete in the UFC’s famed octagon, and Kamchybekov is anxious to do exactly that.

“I’m excited,” Kamchybekov said. “I’m happy for the title shot, but it’s the same gameplan. Hard work, that’s it. Nothing special.

“I’ll do my best, and I’ll try my best to get a finish. Only God knows what will happen in the cage, but I will do my best.”

This story was first published at CFFC.tv.