Marat “Cobra” Gafurov (15-0) seems to be surrounded by an air of invincibility.
Ever since launching his mixed martial arts career in 2010, the decorated grappler from Dagestan, Russia, has proven indomitable, as he has triumphed over every opponent who has stood across from him en route to the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
“Being a champion means you are number one, that you are invincible,” the 32-year-old says.
A champion’s job is never done, however, and Gafurov’s invincibility is about to be tested once again. On 18 August, he will make his third title defense against a familiar foe in Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS, live from the Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
This will be a rematch from their initial encounter nearly two years ago. Gafurov then faced a late replacement in Nguyen, who was competing against “Cobra” for the interim belt.
While “The Situ-Asian” demonstrated courage in taking the bout on short notice, Gafurov was simply too much. Following some brief striking exchanges, Nguyen landed an awkward single leg takedown.
A split second later, the Russian latched onto his back, brought him to the canvas, locked in a body lock and then sank in his signature rear-naked choke. The bout lasted a total of 41 seconds.
“Martin Nguyen was a substitute, but he was ready. I did not make any specific adjustments for that bout. I wanted to strike with him, but he decided to grapple, and you all saw the result,” Gafurov explains. “Maybe I was a little disappointed, because it was a very fast bout. I wanted to use more of my striking, but it did not work out that way.”
“Cobra” displayed some of his striking skills in his next few bouts, but every match would end in the same fashion.
The Russian became the undisputed ONE Featherweight World Champion two months later after submitting then-champion Narantungalag Jadambaa at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (BEIJING II) via rear-naked choke.
He followed that up with two more rear-naked choke wins, tapping out multi-division DEEP Champion Kazunori Yokota in May 2016, and Jadambaa again in their title rematch later that November.
That last victory marked Gafurov’s sixth consecutive rear-naked choke finish, and his ninth overall, which could very well be a world record.
“I do not try to look for the rear naked choke in particular,” he admits. “It is just the way it happens, and I always take advantage of my opportunities.”
Gafurov will most certainly take advantage of that opportunity, should it present itself, when he defends the belt against Nguyen at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS. But that is not a guarantee, as “The Situ-Asian” has evolved since their initial encounter.
The master grappler respects his opponent’s skill set, and is quick to offer that “his best attribute is his stand-up, but he is well-rounded and has bit of everything.” Gafurov believes their talents are worlds apart, however, and he also believes history will repeat itself in the main event bout.
“He is a good competitor and has potential, but I do not think he is on my level. This bout is going to be exactly like the first one. It will end the same way,” Gafurov says. “I am confident of my skills. My martial arts, my grappling, my conditioning – all of that makes me confident.”