Six years ago, Stefer Rahardian got a glimpse into his future.
After years of intense training and competing in underground martial arts bouts, the Indonesian severely damaged his knee. He desperately needed surgery, but he was a part-time office boy from a poor family, and he could not afford the operation necessary to heal his injury.
However, on the night of 11 February 2012, Rahardian found himself seated cageside at ONE: BATTLE OF HEROES, which served as ONE Championship’s inaugural event in Jakarta, Indonesia. He was given a free VIP ticket from his hero Rolles Gracie, who defeated the legendary Bob Sapp to open the main card.
As if witnessing that up close was not enough, when the Brazilian heavyweight won, he threw his gi into the crowd, and Rahardian was there to catch it.
Along with the gi, the Indonesian seized his destiny.
“When I got the gi that night,” the 31-year-old flyweight begins, “I decided right then and there I would find the money, and do whatever it takes to fix my knee. If I waste my time and wait, it will not happen, so that was my mission.”
The story starts in Blok M, a dilapidated entertainment quarter in South Jakarta. It was also the location of Rahardian’s then-gym. With few options back then, Rolles and Renzo Gracie ended up training at the facility ahead of Rolles’ big clash with Sapp.
Upon their arrival, the gym’s manager tapped Rahardian to be their guide, thanks in part to his proficiency in English.
“I was so happy,” the flyweight recalls. “This is the Gracie family. I could not believe it. They are superstars, and I am nothing.”
Rahardian took the Gracies to eat at local restaurants, and also brought them to traditional markets in the area to pick up some gifts. The family requested his help the following day, and the young Indonesian happily brought them all around the city.
For his troubles, Rolles handed the young man a VIP ticket to the big show at the BritAma Arena in Kelapa Gading. In the run up to that night, he even managed to take a selfie with future ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang.
The flyweight hopeful attended the show, saw his hero win, and even caught his gi. Later that night, the Gracie family ushered the young man past security backstage so he could get it autographed.
“He was like, ’Bro, it’s okay, come on in,’” Rahardian recollects. “I got signatures from Rolles, Hugo, Gregor, and also Renzo. Man, his gi was so big!”
The Gracies must have known they made Rahardian feel extra special that night, but what they did not know was he had been nursing a torn ACL for nearly a year.
Evidently, getting it fixed would not be an easy feat. He sold all of his earthly possessions, and borrowed from his gym to pay for the surgery. A year later, he needed a second operation to correct the mistakes of the first procedure.
“Luckily, everyone trusts me. I promised I would repay them, and I did,” the Indonesian says. That trust paid off.
Rahardian finally got healthy, and linked up with Andrew Leone to train at Bali MMA, as well as Jakarta Muay Thai & MMA. He made his professional cage debut in April 2015, and has since become a top contender for the ONE Flyweight World Championship.
The unbeaten grappling juggernaut proved that once again this past January, when he met Pakistan’s Muhammad “The Spider” Imran in the co-main event of ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE. The Indonesian rose to the occasion in perfect fashion.
While Imran stayed in the contest for all three rounds, the outcome was never in doubt. Rahardian, dominant throughout the bout, won by unanimous decision subjecting the Pakistani to withering ground and pound.
Even with the victory, Rahardian’s trademark humility is never far away.
“He is a really good guy. He came up to me in the hotel lobby afterwards and said, ‘Congratulations on the win, you are going to be the next world champion,’ and I just said, ‘Inshallah,’” the flyweight recalls, using the Arabic term for “God willing.”
Still, there is no escaping the significance of Rahardian’s success so far.
Just six years ago, both his knee and his martial arts career were in shambles. But now, he has turned into Indonesia’s leading martial arts talent, and is on the cusp of a flyweight world title opportunity.
Rahardian is making the most of his time in the spotlight, and he is not taking it for granted.
“This is Indonesia. This isn’t a rich country like America. There are no second chances here,” Rahardian says. “To be honest, this is a dream. I never thought I would get this far. I feel blessed.”