Stefer Rahardian is on a meteoric rise to superstardom.
In just seven years, the Jakarta, Indonesia native has gone from a poor office worker with his dreams of martial arts glory dashed by a serious injury, to a top contender in ONE Championship’s growing strawweight division.
However, to overcome the obstacles life threw at him, and set himself up to earn his place as a superstar in the world’s largest martial arts organization, he had to show great courage.
Fortunately, there was someone in his household who taught him all about that sacred value.
“My whole life has been about having courage, and having to summon courage,” the 31-year-old explains.
“My childhood was tough. My brother died just after my father walked out. I saw my mother having to be brave to raise me and my sister on her own. That sets a high bar.
“She is my role model when it comes to courage. When I need to dig deep and face a challenge, I think of what my mom did.”
After his parents divorced when he was 10, his mother, Margaretha, single-handedly took care of Rahardian and her two other children.
She waited tables at a Japanese restaurant in Jakarta’s business district, and saved up enough money to buy a small house in East Jakarta. She also stretched her salary to send her son to a Catholic school, because it offered a better education than public institutions.
As a small Muslim boy in a school of mostly Christian students, however, he was a target of bullying.
Rahardian has talked about stuffing his lunch money in his sock to prevent it from being stolen, but eventually, he summoned up the courage to stand up to his tormentors. He resisted one of the bigger bullies in a short scuffle, and he was never bothered again.
The hits kept coming in other areas of his life, though.
When he was still a child, Rahardian’s older brother Erwin, who was a father figure for him, died suddenly, and the family struggled to pay the outstanding hospital bills. From then on, the future mixed martial artist felt obligated to take care of his mom and his sister.
“As a man, I feel extra pressure to be even more courageous,” he states.
“I am the head of my family. I cannot run away. It is my responsibility, as a man, to have courage. If my mother can do it, then I should be able to do it, too.”
Later, he stumbled upon Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and he was among the first to get involved in the growing mixed martial arts scene that was taking shape in Jakarta. That was at a time in his life when he was making little more than US$100 per month working in an office.
In 2011, however, his budding athletic career came to a resounding stop. During a training session, a sparring partner fell on Rahardian’s leg, which tore the ACL in his right knee.
He was forced to borrow US$3700 to have surgery to repair the damage, but a year later, he discovered the procedure was botched. He had to borrow even more money for a second operation. He was robbed of priceless training time as a developing competitor, and spent months rehabilitating his injuries.
Even though Rahardian has faced a tremendous amount of adversity in his life, he has always persevered. Though his rise in the cage was put on hold, he stayed focused on his duty to look after his loved ones, and work tirelessly to become one of the brightest talents on the combat sports scene. After everything else he has faced, he has no fear of any opponent.
“God put me in some tough situations when I was growing up,” he acknowledges.
“I came from nothing, but because I got through all of that, I can face my opponents every single time. I expect my opponents to be the best.”
This Friday, 27 July, he meets Wushu World Champion and surging contender Rene “The Challenger” Catalan at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS, which broadcasts live from the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
Rahardian knows it will be tough to beat Catalan and improve his undefeated record to 10-0, but having already powered through life’s most difficult battles, he feels prepared for anything.
The Indonesian martial arts hero will enter the cage with his trademark courage and determination to succeed, and on Friday night, he hopes to take another step forward on his road to the gold.