When Iuri Lapicus was going through the toughest experience of his life as a teenage immigrant in Italy, martial arts helped him to find his way in the world.
Now, almost a decade later, the Moldovan is thriving in Milan with one of the most respected teams in the world and he is one of the hottest undefeated prospects in ONE Championship.
Ahead of the biggest bout of his career against former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE this Friday, 7 February, the 24-year-old reveals how he turned his passion into his profession and reached the global stage.
From Moldova To Italy
Lapicus was born Gura Bicului in the Republic of Moldova, where he lived with his parents, Iuri and Valentina, alongside his older brother Marcin.
The Eastern European country was formerly part of the Soviet Union, but is now better known for its wine production, and Lapicus had a happy childhood 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.”
It was in Moldova that he got his first taste of martial arts when he began judo at the age of 9. However, 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 Lapicus was 15, his parents decided to move the family to Italy in search of a better life.
A Passion For Mixed Martial Arts
Though Lapicus arrived in a new land of opportunity to see out his teenage years, it was a difficult time for him. Luckily, he soon discovered a way to fit into his new home.
“The toughest hardship I faced was integration. Being a teenager in a new country, not speaking the local language, is really difficult,” he explains.
“In this process, sports, 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, it 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,” he 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 great foundation for his skill set. After a few years of dedicating countless hours to improving his abilities, it was no surprise to see him earn a win in his professional debut in 2014 via first-round submission.
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As the Moldovan continued to develop his skills, he gained two mentors at the top of the striking game – Giorgio “The Doctor” Petrosyan and his brother Armen.
“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,” says Lapicus.
“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 the two kickboxing World Champions passed on to their protégé at Team Petrosyan helped him to evolve into a well-rounded competitor who is dangerous no matter where a bout goes.
In the first four years of his pro career, Lapicus built an incredible record on the Italian circuit as he won all 12 of his bouts via first-round stoppage – 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
Though he was up a formidable knockout artist and one of the most experienced lightweights in The Home Of Martial Arts, the man from Milan dominated the bout and maintained his 100-percent finishing record with a victory via third-round rear-naked choke.
That instantly made him a player in the weight class, but just stepping under the lights in the world’s largest martial arts organization meant everything to Lapicus, and has fired him up for his future.
“As for now, my biggest achievement was entering ONE Championship, getting on the roster, and competing on a global stage,” he says.
“I am young and hungry, so there is no way I am going to stop here.”
With a glossy record and confirmation of his skills, Lapicus seems destined to lead a bright future in ONE against the best of the best, and while he is hesitant to look too far ahead as he prepares for a huge test in Jakarta, he makes no secret about his ultimate goal.
“I do not like to talk about the future that much so close to a big event. I prefer to stay 100-percent focused on my next bout,” he adds.
“Obviously, my target is to establish myself as a top-level athlete in The Home Of Martial Arts. I feel ready and confident for all of my next challenges and that includes an opportunity at the ONE Lightweight World Championship.”