Ross Levine sees himself as a pioneer who can help take the sport of karate to the next level.
The American is set to challenge for his first Karate Combat title on June 25 in Florida against champion Shahin Atamov.
Levine earned his shot at Atamov by beating ‘The Iberian Bull’ Igor de Castaneda in a final eliminator in May, a few months after successfully making his debut against Andrei Grinevich.
Understandably there is a lot of hype behind him, something which he embraces with open arms.
“Absolutely yeah, I look at myself as a trailblazer for Karate Combat,” Levine exclusively told GiveMeSport.com.
“There’s so many people that are coming up in my footsteps that are literally where I was when I reached a certain point in sports karate six or seven years ago where it was like I’d fought the best guys, I’d won the biggest tournaments, where do I go now?
“But there was nowhere for me to go so I had to transition to boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA, you know, there wasn’t an outlet, and now there’s finally an outlet.
“It’s so funny, when I was doing sport karate, all the kickboxers and MMA guys were like, ‘Oh, he’s just a karate guy who can’t really fight’, and then we started to dominate there.
“And now in Karate Combat, everyone’s saying ‘Oh, he’s not a martial artist, he’s just a kickboxer’.
“Like Shahin said he’s got 26 years in karate, that’s cool – I’ve got 27 years in Taekwondo and sport karate.
“So it’s all the same man, sport is sport, and karate is karate. In my opinion, combat sports and prizefighting are separate, it’s totally different. This is my world so I can’t wait to pave the way for the next group to come up and shine because I know they can.”
Atamov is a formidable matchup on paper having fought and beaten every opponent he has faced in The Pit since becoming champion in 2021 when he avenged his defeat to Franklin Mina.
And although he will be trying to take his most prized possession away from him in just a matter of hours, Levine was quick to give him his props.
“Shahin is the champion for a reason, right? He has a big powerful right hand. He’s a lot faster than people think he is,” he added.
“I think in the past, watching some of his fights in Karate Combat, I think people have really underestimated him.
“That’s something I will absolutely not being.
“He’s quick, he’s actually pretty agile, his footwork is decent, he maintains range very well, and he can grapple a little bit better than the rest of the field.
“He’s a very strong opponent and there’s a reason why he’s the champion but there’s also a reason why I’m here.”
But after watching tape of Atamov’s win over De Castaneda, Levine says he knows all about the titleholder’s qualities – but he also reckons this won’t be the last time they fight either.
He continued: “That is the common denominator and we both finished him essentially in the same fashion in the same round.
“It was almost identical you know. Igor didn’t really have a good gameplan against either of us. But I think he’s still young in Karate Combat as well like he’s going to be sticking around.
“I don’t see too many other people that are going to beat Igor so I think the three of us may be seeing each other quite frequently in the next year potentially.
“But no, I don’t take anything away from that fight, more so how did he approach fighting a tall southpaw, simply because Igor and I are similar frames.
“So seeing the way Shahin reacts to certain situations and certain techniques, it gives me a little bit of insight into what I can expect from his fights.”