Marat “Cobra” Gafurov is ready to re-emerge in ONE Championship.
Five months removed from suffering the first professional defeat of his career, and losing the ONE Featherweight World Championship to Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, the Dagestan-born athlete will restart his ascent up the divisional ranks with a special attraction.
On Saturday, 20 January, Gafurov (15-1) will meet former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki (39-8, 1 NC) in the promotion’s second-ever Grappling Super-Match at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE. The card will broadcast live from the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia.
Even though “Cobra” is participating in a unique contest this time around, his intentions remain quite clear for 2018.
“I want to get my belt back,” the 33-year-old states. “Martin’s victory was a lucky punch, and when we meet again, you will see I am the rightful champion.”
It is the latest turn in what could become the greatest rivalry in ONE’s history.
When the two initially met in September 2015, it was Nguyen who replaced then-titleholder Narantungalag Jadambaa on two days’ notice to challenge Gafurov for the ONE Interim Featherweight World Championship. “Cobra” quickly reversed the Vietnamese-Australian’s takedown, and then sunk in a tight rear-naked choke to force the tap in 41 seconds.
While the Dagestani proved to be far superior on that night, their rematch in August 2017 told a different story.
In the second bout, Gafurov was the undisputed titleholder, and the heavy favorite. He even stunned “The Situ-Asian” with a punch early in the bout, and nearly submitted him again with the rear-naked choke.
To Nguyen’s credit, he learned from his past mistake, and escaped the deadly hold which claimed six victims in a row up to that point.
Nearly a minute and a half into the second round, Gafurov made a grave error. He swung his left hand down while throwing a leg kick, which prompted Nguyen to launch his trademark overhand right and knock him out.
Although it was a tough loss, the Dagestani points out the crucial mistake that led to his downfall.
“I underestimated Martin,” he admits. “My problem was not technical; it was in my head. I was overconfident, and it backfired against me.
“The first round was easy. I nearly won with yet another rear-naked choke, but the bell saved him. I felt like I was winning the bout. Maybe I was too relaxed – that is why I missed that punch.”
Also, “Cobra” was not in his customary top physical condition. Something was amiss.
“I do not want to sound like I am making excuses now, but I was not in good shape during my last bout. Blood tests showed low levels of hemoglobin, which explains my constant tiredness and lack of concentration.”
That discovery caused Gafurov to change the way he approaches training and competing. He recruited a highly skilled team of experts to help maximize his performance, protect himself from injuries, as well as prevent physical and mental exhaustion.
The new regime includes a distinct strength and conditioning program, and is accompanied by regular medical exams to test his blood, hormones, reflexes, and oxygen consumption.
“I understood that my body and mind need a lot more care, which includes working closely with doctors and personal trainers, and spending quality time just relaxing with friends and family,” he says.
Gafurov did exactly that in the weeks following his title loss. He traveled his native Russia, gained some perspective, and spent a lot of time with his family, which includes his parents, wife, and two children.
“They are my main motivation,” he says. “I feel like I let them down last time, but it will not happen again.”
The Dagestani is determined to get back to his winning ways. He will have the chance to do that on 20 January, when he meets martial arts legend Aoki in a Grappling Super-Match on the main card of ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE.
He cannot wait to give everyone a “beautiful show,” and hopes to get the victory and prove to the organization that he is “worthy of an immediate title shot.”
“You will see a new and improved version of Marat Gafurov,” he says. “I am an absolute beast now.”