Top Sports Stories that Defined Kazakhstan in 2023

ASTANA – It has been a remarkable year for sport in Kazakhstan, which began with Elena Rybakina being the first woman to reach the Australian Open 2023 finals and culminated in a glorious victory of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Shavkat Rakhmonov at the 296th Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tournament.

Photo credit: Kazakhstan Football Federation.

2023 gave Kazakhstan many “firsts” in sport throughout the year. The Kazakh sport also said goodbye to one of its biggest legends, boxer Gennadiy Golovkin as he resigned all of his titles.

As 2023 comes to an end, here is a look back at some of those stories that defined the year in sports for Kazakhstan.


Kazakhstan’s Rybakina went big this year, winning the singles quarterfinal at the Australian Open 2023. She was also one win away from the championship at the Miami Open in March, yielding to Czech Petra Kvitova.

Rybakina and Sabalenka hug each other after a sensational final. Photo credit: Australian Open

Following her impressive achievements at the 2023 French Open championship (Roland Garros) in June, Rybakina ascended to the third position in the updated Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles ranking. As of now, she holds the fourth position.

She also secured a spot among the world’s top ten highest-paid female athletes this year, as reported by the Sportico sports business journal. She claimed the seventh position in the ranking with total earnings of $9.5 million ($6 million in prize money). 

Those achievements, as remarkable as they are, are only part of Kazakhstan’s tennis scene in 2023.


Kazakhstan’s women’s chess team showed outstanding performance reaching the finals of the International Chess Federation World Women’s Team Championship (FIDE WWTC) 2023 for the first time.

Bibisara Assaubayeva takes the bronze medal in the individual performance. Photo credit:

The national team, consisting of Bibisara Assaubayeva, Xeniya Balabayeva, Assel Serikbay, Meruert Kamalidenova, Alua Nurmanova and Amina Kairbekova brought Kazakhstan the “praiseworthy silver medal.” All left their marks on the game in different, indelible ways.

For Kazakhstan’s youngest two-time blitz world champion Assaubayeva, 2023 marked with personal victories as well. She defeated one of the world’s strongest grandmasters, Sergey Karyakin, in the rapid chess format at the International Chess Stars Tournament in Moscow in January. She also emerged victorious against the esteemed Chinese player Tan Zhongyi at the Grand Swiss 2023 tournament in October.

The year ends with another good news from Yernur Amangeldy, a 15-year-old Kazakh chess player, who secured a draw against vice-world chess champion Ian Nepomniachtchi in a second-round match of the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships, held in Samarkand from Dec. 26 to 30. 

Any discussions of chess in the world were centered around Astana as it hosted the 2023 FIDE World Chess Championship in April, with the first game between two chess titans, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren, ending in a draw.

The three-week game full of plot twists resulted in Ding’s triumphant win at the final game of the tiebreak on April 30. 


It would not be much of a year-in-review without acknowledging Kazakhstan’s achievements in football.

Photo. credit: Akorda.

Kazakhstan’s football team reached their momentum this year when they gave hope to millions of Kazakhs to qualify for Euro 2024, defeating Northern Ireland 1:0, Finland 2:1 and San Marino 3:1. However, Kazakhstan’s hopes of advancing to Euro 2024 were dashed as they suffered a 1:2 defeat in a tense match against Slovenia.

The road to Euro 2024 in Germany has not been completely barred. Team Kazakhstan still has a chance to advance to Euro 2024 in the Nations League playoffs in 2024, facing Greece in the semifinals and with a potential to face either Georgia or Luxembourg in the final game.


When Kazakh legendary boxer Golovkin announced he formally resigned the International Boxing Federation (IBF) middleweight belt in February, it caught everybody by surprise. His decision was followed by vacating the World Boxing Association (WBA) in March and the International Boxing Organisation (IBO) middleweight title in June.

Photo credit:

Although it would be hard to beat Golovkin’s score of holding the IBO belt for over 12 years, there has already been a string of highlights, with Kazakhstan’s Janibek Alimkhanuly claiming the top spot in the middleweight ratings of the American boxing magazine The Ring in October.

Alimkhanuly secured the IBF middleweight title, adding to his World Boxing Organization (WBO) title, after he defeated Germany’s Vincenzo Gualtieri in October in Rosenberg, Texas. 

Kazakhstan national team finished second at the IBA Men’s World Boxing Championships in Uzbekistan. 

Mixed Martial Arts

On the eve of Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, emerging MMA sensation Rakhmonov notched his 18th victory at the 296th Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) tournament against American fighter Stephen Thompson in Las Vegas on Dec. 17.

Rakhmonov is the first person to ever finish Thompson by submission in his MMA career. Photo credit:

This victory represents the fulfillment of the commitment made by Rakhmonov in an interview with The Astana Times, where he declared “the best is yet to come,” following his victory over American fighter Geoff Neal in his fifth UFC bout in Las Vegas on March 4.

Dota 2

If conventional sports fail to capture a viewer’s interest, Kazakhstan has embraced unconventional sports with equal enthusiasm.

Photo credit: Global Esports Federation/GEF.

Kazakhstan’s gaming community embraced the Dota 2 finals in Riyadh, with the Kazakh team emerging as the triumphant champions on Dec. 17.

The team’s journey to victory was nothing short of impressive as they navigated through fierce competition from South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. The final match showcased their prowess, determination, and ability to adapt to the dynamic nature of Dota 2.

At the turn of the calendar, those inspiring moments of the Kazakh athletes offer hope for Kazakhstan’s bright future in the sport. But that is a story for 2024.

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