Former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov has his life priorities in order. He does not even hesitate for a split second when speaking them out loud.
“Family first,” the 33-year-old states. “I love martial arts and it means the world to me, but nothing comes close to my family.”
Perhaps the reason Gafurov clings to his family so tightly is because his own childhood upbringing was far from ideal.
After Gafurov was born, his parents made a serious life decision. They relocated to Dagestan’s capital city Makhachkala, but did not bring their son along with them. Instead, they placed him in the care of his grandparents, who raised the young “Cobra” in the small village of Ishkarty.
Gafurov missed his parents terribly, but had to accept his fate.
“My mom and dad had other priorities, so they left for the big city to make money and left me behind. I moved back with them when I was 15. I do not blame them. This is how our family life turned out,” the Dagestani says, his voice a little sad.
“Of course, I wanted to be with my parents. Every kid wants to be cared for by their parents. I felt hurt and resentful back then. But time goes on. I am a man now.”
With only two elderly grandparents to guide him, Gafurov built his character based on what he saw as right and wrong. He embraced his family’s circumstances, but also credits the republic’s society and its norms in helping to shape his character.
“In Dagestan,” he says, “people respect you only if you are strong.”
So, Gafurov did what he had to do in order to be strong.
When he reached the age of 15, he relocated from Ishkarty to Makhachkala to live with his parents. Even though he was reunited with his mother and father again, the teenager found it unsettling. In some ways, it was like he was sharing a residence with strangers.
“I was used to living almost by myself, in my own world. I became my own person, and it was hard to adjust to living with mom and dad. I hardly knew them,” he admits.
As sad as the start of his life sounds, Gafurov sees the positives.
“It made me who I am now; a person who is responsible for his own words and actions, a person who relies on himself. It made me stronger inside.”
That also happened to be when he first started training in martial arts. His father took him to the Amanat Fight Club, the closest dojo to their house, and where embarked on a remarkable martial arts journey.
It’s one that brought him to the Dagestan BJJ Championship, dual World FILA Titles in Grappling and Pankration, a Russian ADCC Grappling Title, and eventually the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
Today, Gafurov is a husband to a loving wife and a father to a three-year old boy.
As a professional athlete competing at the highest level of martial arts, he has to make many sacrifices, such as spending long grueling hours at the gym, and at times, several weeks away from home during training camp.
Even so, he has no intentions of becoming a distant father, nor leave his own child behind.
“I would never be able to leave my son for long. I can last for about a month, when I am away. After that, it becomes unbearable,” he says, softly.
The Dagestani spends a lot of time with his son, and as a caring and loving father, he wants nothing but the best for him.
His goals are to “keep him away from bad company, and give him a good start in life,” and he is already succeeding in that mission.
In fact, similar to how Gafurov’s father did with him during his teenage years, “Cobra” has brought his son to the dojo to begin his own martial arts journey, wherever that may take him.
“My boy can walk, therefore he is good enough to start training. Dagestan is well-known for its wrestling, but we started with judo. He seems to like it a lot,” Gafurov says.
“I am training him for life. Sport taught me to be hardworking and focused. These are good qualities to have in any profession. My son will choose to be whatever he wants to be.”
With the love of his family by his side, the Dagestani is more motivated than ever to win, and move one step closer to regaining his beloved world title.