‘I Always Wanted To Be The Best’ – Unbeaten MMA Phenom Shamil Gasanov Aims To Be Dagestan’s Next World Champion
Russian destroyer Shamil Gasanov appears poised to take ONE’s featherweight MMA division by storm.
On February 24 at ONE Fight Night 7: Lineker vs. Andrade II on Prime Video, the undefeated grappling specialist will battle former two-division ONE World Champion Martin Nguyen in his biggest opportunity to date.
The bout comes four months after Gasanov’s sensational promotional debut at ONE on Prime Video 3, where he made quick work of South Korean knockout artist Kim Jae Woong. That first-round submission made a massive statement and landed him in the featherweight division’s top-five rankings.
As the 27-year-old now prepares for a high-stakes showdown with Nguyen, fans are dying to know more about the rising star known as “The Cobra.”
‘You Can’t Hide In The Village’
Gasanov grew up in a remote mountain village in the Russian Republic of Dagestan, a breeding ground for a number of the world’s top combat sports athletes.
Following in the footsteps of his father, he began wrestling at an early age – a decision that would pay off over time.
“In my village, you could go to boxing or freestyle wrestling. However, at that time boxing was just developing, it was a novelty, and our fathers had practiced wrestling before, so it was the more logical choice. I liked wrestling, even though I often lost, but I always wanted to be the best and to be the winner. I had to train again and again, and so I kept on growing in this sport.”
The young wrestler’s small-town upbringing also proved to be a recipe for success, forcing him into excellence under the watchful eyes of his meddling, tight-knit community.
“As for training, you can’t hide in the village. If you missed your 5 p.m. training, everyone knew about it. I went as a matter of principle, even if I was ill, so that the neighbors would not ask me why I was absent.”
Choosing Between School And Sport
Throughout his teenage years, Gasanov continued to shine as both an athlete and a student.
At 17, he moved to the city of Rostov-on-Don to study and pursue a promising career in medicine. But before long, he again found himself involved in athletics – this time, submission grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Faced with the choice between academics and martial arts, Gasanov decided to follow his calling as a fighter, and he hasn’t looked back since:
“I got admitted to medical college in Rostov and moved there to live. There I discovered grappling and BJJ, then progressed to MMA and fell in love with the sport.
“That is when I had to make a choice – to train or to study. I talked to my dad and my brother. We decided that I can study part-time only if I definitely could make sports my career and succeed. So, instead of medicine, I transferred to study economics. You cannot study medicine part-time.”
‘We Also Need A Champion’
Eventually, the aspiring fighter dropped out of college to focus his efforts full-time on MMA, taking his first professional fight at just 18 years old.
Looking back, Gasanov knows that he was supremely motivated to represent his hometown.
He wanted to prove that a wrestler from a tiny village in the Caucasus Mountains could achieve worldwide greatness and fame, just like other Dagestani-based MMA superstars.
“We had no athletes in the village who had reached high levels of achievement. We had no World Champions, but in other neighboring villages of Dagestan, they had. And I had this idea in my head that we also need a champion. Are we worse than they are?”
The Dagestani athlete found immediate success in MMA, racking up first-round stoppages in each of his first six bouts. Clearly, he had an extraordinary gift for hand-to-hand combat.
His time on the regional circuit wasn’t without adversity, though. Those early wins were earned through hard training – often under less-than-ideal conditions.
Gasanov recalls living out of the gym and going without almost all modern comforts:
“We had to sleep in the gym – there was a separate room set up for that over there. There were no windows and no heating in the gym. Sometimes when we trained in winter, there was so much fog in the room from our breath. Sometimes, it was minus-5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) in the gym in winter.”
A Dream Achieved
“The Cobra” is now just weeks away from his clash with #4-ranked featherweight contender and former divisional king Martin Nguyen. With a win, the Russian could find himself knocking on the door of a World Title shot against Tang Kai.
In many ways, Gasanov’s arrival in ONE Championship and his rapid ascension to the featherweight top five is already a dream come true.
Fighting in the world’s largest martial arts organization has been a goal, he says, since witnessing the unforgettable performances of his Russian compatriots inside the organization:
“When I was younger, I heard about this league and dreamed of joining ONE. I remember watching the fight between Timofey Nastyukhin and Saygid Dagi Arslanaliev. From that fight on, I began following ONE more than any other promotions. I got convinced after I had seen Marat Gafurov’s and Vitaly Bigdash’s [World Title] belts.”
Now a ONE athlete alongside those fighters he once watched as a fan, Gasanov is ready to put his pristine 13-0 record on the line on February 24.
And while he’s certainly proud of his impressive unbeaten streak and plans to extend it in emphatic fashion against Nguyen, the Dagestani sensation isn’t concerned about protecting his perfect slate.
“I do not think about my record. I just get ready for my fights, I go all in. I have never run away from tough opponents to keep a clean record.”