When Iuri Lapicus was going through the toughest experience of his life as a teenage immigrant in Italy, martial arts helped him find his way in the world.
Almost a decade later, the Moldovan is thriving in Milan with one of the most respected teams on the planet – and he is one of the fastest-rising stars in ONE Championship’s lightweight division.
Next, the 25-year-old will attempt to notch the biggest victory of his mixed martial arts career when he faces American legend Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez in the co-main event of “ONE on TNT I,” which airs live on Wednesday, 7 April, in U.S. prime time.
Before that colossal showdown, we revisit those difficult years in Italy, how Lapicus stumbled into combat sports, and the journey that led him to the world’s largest martial arts organization.
From Moldova To Italy
Lapicus was born in Gura Bicului in the Republic of Moldova, where he lived with his parents and his older brother, Marcin.
The Eastern European country was formerly part of the Soviet Union and is now well-known for its wine production. For his part, Lapicus enjoyed growing up in the countryside.
“I have sweet memories about my childhood living in contact with nature and animals,” he says.
“Life in Moldova was easy and fun. In the summer, we used to play all day by the river, sometimes forgetting to eat. In autumn, we used to help our father with the grape harvest that we used to produce wine. In winter, there was snow on the ground, and we used to play all day, no matter how cold.”
Moldova was also where Lapicus got his first taste of martial arts, as he began judo at the age of 9. But a lack of money for the proper equipment meant his class had to practice on a hard wooden floor.
In fact, money was scarce all over the country – Moldova has the lowest GDP per capita in Europe – so when the young athlete was 15, his parents moved the family to Italy in search of a better life.
A Passion For MMA
Though Lapicus arrived in a new land of opportunity, the early years were difficult. Fortunately, the teenager soon discovered a way to fit in.
“The toughest hardship I faced was integration. Being a teenager in a new country, not speaking the local language, is really difficult,” he says.
“In this process, sport, and martial arts, in particular, helped me a lot. Contact sports, in general, are such an effective way to let off steam in the proper way, and it also helped me a lot with my self-discipline and self-esteem.”
The arrival in Italy did not just renew his interest in martial arts, but it also opened his eyes to a whole new world of competition that would shape his life.
“At the time, a classmate introduced me to mixed martial arts,” Lapicus adds.
“He invited me to go with him to his gym and it was love at first sight. I became more curious about other disciplines, and decided that I wanted to be an all-around martial artist.”
Lapicus began his new sport with a good idea about the grappling game, which gave him a solid foundation for his all-around skill set.
And after dedicating countless hours to developing his abilities, it was no surprise to see the talented fighter earn a win in his professional debut in 2014 via first-round submission.
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“They are two great champions, but also really special human beings. They helped me a lot both in the ring and outside of it. They became family to me,” Lapicus says.
“The biggest lesson they taught me is that no matter what goal or professional success you have obtained, you have to stay humble. Without sacrifice and grit, there is no chance you are going to succeed in any field.”
The knowledge passed from those two Kickboxing World Champions to their protege at Team Petrosyan helped Lapicus to evolve into a well-rounded competitor who is dangerous no matter where a fight goes.
In the first four years of his pro career, Lapicus built an incredible record on the Italian circuit, winning all 12 of his bouts via first-round stoppage, with four knockouts and eight submissions.
As the brightest rising star in the country, he booked his ticket to the highest level.
A Future On The Global Stage
Lapicus carried that success to the global stage.
Though he was up against a formidable knockout artist and one of the promotion’s most experienced lightweights, the Moldovan dominated the bout and maintained his 100 percent finishing rate with a victory via third-round rear-naked choke.
The win instantly made him a player in the weight class, and Lapicus was even more impressive in his next bout. He defeated former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in 67 seconds while becoming the first person to ever submit him.
That led Lapicus to a ONE Lightweight World Championship opportunity against the division’s reigning king, Christian “The Warrior” Lee. Although he stunned the Singaporean-American in the opening moments of the contest, Lapicus couldn’t lift the belt from his rival that night.
The Moldovan was clearly disappointed, but it only intensified his fire.
“Of course, it has been hard because I was expecting to win the title, but that’s life,” Lapicus says. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Now I have to take one step at a time, and I am focused on my next match in order to get ready.”
That next match will come against Alvarez on the first installment of the “ONE on TNT” event series.
The American is an icon of the sport, having competed all over the world capturing the Lightweight World Championship in North America’s two biggest organizations.
Lapicus followed Alvarez’s career while he was developing his own skills as a youngster in Italy, but that doesn’t mean the Team Petrosyan-trained athlete will be starstruck.
Instead, the Moldovan plans to make a huge statement on the grandest stage.
“Eddie is one of the biggest names, a legend. I grew up watching his fights,” Lapicus said. “But I’m sure that this time, I’m gonna be the man to end his career, and I will finish him on 7 April.”