Marat “Cobra” Gafurov (15-1) is about to restart his journey back to the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
Seven months after experiencing his first professional blemish and losing the coveted title to Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, the Dagestani grappler is preparing for a comeback of epic proportions.
The comeback trail begins on Friday, 20 April, as Gafurov is scheduled to clash with rising featherweight contender Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia (11-4) at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, which takes place at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
“It was a lucky punch,” the 33-year-old insists, as he reflects on the overhand right that cost him the featherweight world title in August 2017.
“I am coming back for my belt, but for now my goal is to eliminate Emilio. I am stronger on the ground. My mental resilience and my physical endurance are also top-notch.
“Emilio should be contemplating his chances against me. He is a decent athlete, and might even be a great guy, but he has not faced anyone of my level yet.”
Gafurov may be right. He is a highly decorated athlete who has held numerous titles, including a Dagestan BJJ Championship, a Russian ADCC Grappling Championship, and a pair of World FILA Titles in grappling and pankration.
Also, “Cobra” was the longest reigning ONE Featherweight World Champion to date, and has victories over elite competitors such as Nguyen, former titleholder Narantungalag Jadambaa, two-division DEEP Champion Kazunori Yokota, and ex-lightweight world title challenger Ev Ting.
The Dagestani will undoubtedly be the toughest opposition Urrutia has faced in his career, but while Gafurov is supremely confident in his abilities, he is not taking “The Honey Badger” lightly.
“I am training as usual,” he says.
“I am not expecting any surprises from Emilio, but I have enough experience to know that the match always has an element of unpredictability to it, so I am just doing my job — going to the gym, and eating well.”
The last time Gafurov was seen in the ONE Championship cage was back in January, when he squared off against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki in the promotion’s second-ever Grappling Super-Match at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE.
It was his first contest since dropping the featherweight world title to Nguyen in their August rematch, and although he wanted to bounce back, it was the Japanese martial arts legend who won the submission contest at the 12:22 mark of the single 15-minute round.
“Aoki was very good in that match, but he mainly defended from my attacks,” he says with a laugh.
“He caught me on my mistake. It was a tactical battle, and his tactics worked. [It was] just like going to the gym to do some sparring or training. I did not prepare for it much. I was upset a little bit, but [more] in a ‘on-to-the-next-one’ kind of way.”
To prepare for his next bout, Gafurov is working out of his longtime gym home of Eagles MMA. Then, just 10 days before the contest with Urrutia, he will return to Phuket, Thailand, where he will finish the rest of his camp at AKA Thailand.
“I love Thailand for its amazing weather and great food. I come here to get acclimatized, and to lose weight. It is easier [there] than in Dagestan,” Gafurov confesses, while also admitting he will bring some training partners with him.
“I usually bring my own guys with me. Occasionally, camps have absolutely amazing guys on the mats, but it is a draw of luck if they are there or not when I need to be getting ready for my matches.”
Gafurov understands the importance of this upcoming tilt. For him, it is another step back to his world title. He also knows more challenging warriors lie in his future, as the division continues to get more and more filled with top talent.
“This match with Emilio is going to be my first step on the way back to the top,” he says.