The #2-ranked featherweight Muay Thai contender will face #4-ranked Samy “AK47” Sana in a ONE Super Series clash at ONE: COLLISION COURSE II, a previously recorded event from Singapore that airs this Friday, 25 December.
But while Yusupov’s KO of the Thai icon elevated his name in the sport of Muay Thai, there was a time when the 37-year-old Dagestani was just another face on a small farmstead in Russia.
The Village That Raised The Fighter
Yusupov grew up in the village of Telman in Dagestan, Russia. He was the youngest of nine brothers born to Maluda and Salakhudin – loving parents and hardworking farmers. But his kinfolk extended well beyond the nucleus that raised him.
“In Telman, everyone knew each other. It felt like one big family,” he says.
“People in Telman just got on with their lives – kids went to school, while parents worked on a state farm trying to make an honest living.
“When you live in a village, everyone has a task to do. Mine was looking after the house and our livestock.”
Growing up on a homestead, Yusupov got by with just the basics, but it was the intangibles that most defined his childhood.
“We had clothes to wear, and we had food to eat,” he continues. “I could not always get stuff that I wanted, like toys or trendy sneakers, but I was part of a big family, and I was happy.”
That happiness extended away from the farm, too. Yusupov remembers his entire village as a place where everyone supported each other.
“Kids at school got along well and my childhood was fairly carefree. We used to stay outside ’til late and we played on the streets, but there were no criminal gangs and no turf wars,” he says.
“I know that in big cities like Makhachkala, kids from rival schools used to fight each other, but our village life was very different, with more respect and more peace.”
When Yusupov finished school, his options were few and far between. In fact, he had just two: continue studying, or enlist in the military. He chose the latter, but he failed the physicals and wasn’t accepted.
“I was very upset – military looked a lot better than college,” he says.
“I wasn’t interested in studies. I was not going to lie, take my parents’ money, move to a city, and pretend to study while bunking off and having my expenses paid.”
With that mindset, Yusupov remained in his village for a few more years and then moved to a nearby town called Buynaksk to look for work. It was there that he discovered the thing that set his life on a different trajectory.
A Love For Striking Arts
As Yusupov ventured into the greater world around him, he came across a boxing gym. Remembering the days when he watched boxing and K1 fights on the internet while growing up, he thought it would be a good chance to try his hand at “the sweet science.”
The coach, however, felt like the 21-year-old wasn’t worth putting his effort into.
“I went to a boxing gym but got turned down. The coach said I was too old – he didn’t want to waste his time,” Yusupov says.
Yusupov was heartbroken, but he soon found a Muay Thai gym nearby run by Yusup Patakhov. Unlike the owner of the boxing center, Patakhov took “Kherow” in and began training him. But at that point, martial arts were still just a pastime for the Dagestan native.
“I liked the sport, the team, and the coach. I trained as often as I could, sometimes daily, but I only saw it as a hobby,” Yusupov says.
Even so, it was just three months until the talented athlete made his amateur debut – although that decision wasn’t entirely his own.
“My coach forced me to go to a Dagestan national competition. He told me I was ready. I didn’t think so, but to my own surprise, I came in third [place],” Yusupov says.
Following some success in the amateur ranks, “Kherow” drew the attention of one of the country’s top Muay Thai coaches, Zeinalbek Zeinalbekov.
“Ironically, it was after an awful loss during a national selection tournament,” he recalls. “I had a bad weight cut – I had no power.”
That didn’t matter to Zeinalbekov, who had trained many champions and saw potential in the young villager. He invited Yusupov to his school in Makhachkala, where he convinced the Dagestani to turn pro.
It was a brilliant opportunity for “Kherow,” and he was grateful to Zeinalbekov for showing him the ropes, but things didn’t quite work out.
“I gave it a go, and I did my best, but I just could not afford living and training in Makhachkala,” he says.
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The Move To Moscow
Once again, Yusupov needed to find work, so he did what many young people in Russia do when looking to better their financial situation – move to Moscow.
He began working as a guard in the country’s capital, but he never lost the itch to compete.
“I could not stop because I already got the Muay Thai bug. It was stronger than me,” he admits.
Fortunately, he met Alexey Ryzhov, who turned into his coach and a mentor. Before long, Ryzhov found a way to get Yusupov back into the gym.
“Alexey organized free training for me. He then reached out to the Russian Muay Thai Federation for more help. He acted as my promoter and often topped up my prize money out of his pocket,” Yusupov says.
Thanks to his new teacher, the promising athlete was able to leave his job in security and become a coach at Fitness Mania alongside international boxing star Kostya Dzyu. He eventually impressed his coaches enough to earn an invite to join the gym’s competition team.
“I spent six years working and making good money at Fitness Mania. I got a chance to join the fight club and started competing out of it,” Yusupov says.
Once on the team, “Kherow” did exceptionally well, winning six Russian national championships in both kickboxing and Muay Thai, as well as a European kickboxing title, all while earning knockouts in nearly half of his victories.
Then in 2017, his career really took a turn for the better when an opportunity to compete in an eight-man tournament in China came up. Although he had little time to prepare, Yusupov jumped at the chance.
“I was given a week’s notice, but I agreed immediately – I really wanted to visit China,” he says.
He won the first bout, impressing the Chinese contingent at the show. With that, he was offered a permanent job as a trainer in the country, which he took without hesitation because of the opportunities China presented compared to his home nation.
“I enjoyed China,” Yusupov says. “Compared to Moscow, life was better and less hectic. I could travel back home every three months. I coached and I competed – finally, I was settled.”
A Dominant ONE Super Series Debut
Yusupov continued to make a name for himself around China as both a coach and a competitor, facing opponents such as Marouan Toutouh, Alim Nabiev, and Regian “The Immortal” Eersel before the latter became the ONE Lightweight Kickboxing World Champion.
However, he desperately wanted to fight with a larger promotion, and he set his sights on ONE. But he had no clue who to talk to about joining The Home Of Martial Arts.
In a sudden turn of events, though, ONE matchmakers were reaching out to him. Yusupov was offered a bout against Thai legend Yodsanklai at ONE: AGE OF DRAGONS in Beijing, China, in November 2019, and he jumped at the incredible opportunity.
“I knew that if I refused, I might never be given a chance to fight a star of this magnitude ever again. It did not matter if I won or lost, I wanted this fight,” Yusupov says.
The Russian underdog accepted the challenge on 10 days’ notice, while Yodsanklai boarded a plane to China in search of his 202nd career victory.
To everyone’s surprise, however, “Kherow” knocked the Thai icon out with a massive left hand, giving “The Boxing Computer” his first Muay Thai loss in 10 years and etching his name into the ONE Muay Thai rankings as the #2 featherweight contender.
“It was a very emotional debut for me,” Yusupov says. “It will always remain the most memorable win of my career.”
Now he will battle Sana – a formidable foe who also defeated Yodsanklai last year.
If he can finish the Parisian, “Kherow” might just earn the opportunity to challenge ONE Featherweight Muay Thai World Champion Petchmorakot Petchyindee Academy. And if he achieves the ultimate prize, his winding journey from a small town – and all of his sacrifices along the way – will have been well worth it.