On Friday Night, 11 November, unbeaten Russian submission master and ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov will defend his belt in a title rematch against former champion Narantungalag “Tungaa” Jadambaa at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR, which broadcasts live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Gafurov was successful when the two warriors met inside the ONE Championship cage last November, as he put the Mongolian to sleep with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round. This time, however, “Cobra” plans to shut the challenger down and defeat him even quicker.
“Everyone is waiting for this fight. I am anticipating it even more because I want to show that I can finish him faster than last time,” the 31-year-old admits. “It will be hard to finish him because he is a very strong fighter who does not give up and he wants to win too.”
Following the bitter loss, Jadambaa returned with a vengeance. He submitted former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu Boku back in May at ONE: ASCENT OF POWER with a Von Flue choke in the third round, and doubled down two months later when he knocked out perennial contender Eric Kelly at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (HEFEI) in 44 seconds.
Now sporting a respectable 12-4 record with a two-fight stoppage win streak to boot, the Mongolia native, who holds black belts in judo and Kyokushin karate, wants to reclaim the strap and restore his glory.
“Jadambaa is great as a fighter and as a man. I understand that he is a great family man. I see him traveling with his big family,” Gafurov acknowledges. “He is a good stand-up fighter who possesses both patience and stamina. He doesn’t have many weaknesses. He’s an all around good fighter.”
That said, “Cobra” is an all around good fighter as well. In fact, he is one of the best featherweights in the world and has been Russia’s best-kept secret for several years.
Gafurov, a relentless Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a background in pankration and combat sambo, has been unstoppable ever since making his professional MMA debut in 2010. After winning his first six fights with relative ease, the Dagestan, Russia, native submitted Vugar Bakhshiev with his favorite move, the rear-naked choke, in the first round to claim the vacant M-1 Global Featherweight Title.
Following a pair of successful title defenses, the Top Team Makhachkala product signed with ONE, and started on an impressive streak of submission victories over highly-regarded prospects with first-round rear-naked chokes. Those prospects were Rob Lisita, Ev Ting, and Martin Nguyen, the latter of which was a contest that earned him the Interim ONE Featherweight World Championship.
Upon returning home, the interim champ received a hero’s welcome. That euphoria only intensified when he fought Jadambaa, then the ONE Featherweight World Champion, in a title unification match last November at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (BEIJING II).
Although Gafurov had a difficult time taking “Tunga” down in the opening stanza, he brought him to the ground in the second round and nearly tapped him with an armbar. In fact, the armbar was so tight, he nearly broke the limb.
Jadambaa, however, survived and amazingly escaped. While the Russian constantly worked his ground strikes from top position and attempted a few more submissions, he felt zapped of his energy, and the Mongolian made it back to his feet.
“I got too carried away with ground and pound, and he managed to stand up. I felt very tired and he was looking pretty fresh. I couldn’t understand what was happening,” Gafurov recalls. “After round two, I got quite stiff. My legs were tired. I thought that I was getting exhausted, and it was time to fight hard and finish it.”
Jadambaa controlled Gafurov in the third round, as he stuffed his takedowns and absolutely battered him with powerful punches, heavy kicks, and knees in the clinch. The Mongolia resident turned the heat up even more in the fourth round, but “Cobra” got his second wind.
Gafurov was able to maneuver around Jadambaa, take his back, and lock in a rear-naked choke, tightening it until his opponent was rendered unconscious. With that victory, Gafurov unified the belts and put on the fight of the night.
“From the beginning, I understood he was not going to be easy. If he wasn’t going to give up when I was trying to break his arm, surely he was not going to tap when being choked out. I knew he’d rather go to sleep than give up, so when choking him out, I was actually trying to make him go to sleep,” Gafurov said.
“People call my fight with Jadambaa one of the best in ONE Championship. I agree with them,” he continues. “It was a spectacular fight. There were good punches and good ground game. It was an exciting fight.”
The Russian submission master followed that stellar performance up by defeating DEEP Featherweight Champion Kazunori Yokota at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS this past May. “Cobra” put on a grappling clinic in the first round, and though most of the second stanza featured a stand-up exchange, he secured the takedown and ended the bout with his fifth consecutive rear-naked choke victory to push his record to a spotless 14-0 and set a new ONE record for most RNC victories in a row.
While Gafurov has convincingly defeated every fighter he has encountered, it is the 40-year-old Jadambaa who has given him the most trouble inside the cage. The Russian is fully aware of that, and when they meet in a title rematch at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, he wants to dominate.
“I always work hard, and this time, I am sure I can win. I always feel that I have an advantage over another fighter,” Gaforuv said. “I always try to finish quickly and not stay in the cage for too long. This time, I plan to do the same.”