Following a successful debut in April 2015, he joined ONE Championship in August 2016 and immediately stormed his way to the ONE Jakarta Flyweight Tournament Championship Title in his first promotional appearance.
In the years that followed, Rahardian relocated to the eastern part of the country to sharpen his dazzling skills at Bali MMA, racked up more impressive victories in the Circle, and moved down a weight class with the hopes of capturing the ONE Strawweight World Title.
The 33-year-old athlete even appeared in commercials and advertisements, which only elevated his profile in “The Emerald Of The Equator.” It’s an astonishing feat, especially considering the adversities, challenges, and personal tragedies he experienced during his childhood.
Now, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt is highly regarded as one of Indonesia’s most beloved homegrown heroes and he serves an inspiration to his fellow teammates. “The Lion” talks about that, and much more, in this exclusive interview.
ONE Championship: You are now one of the most experienced Indonesian athletes on the roster. But what originally motivated you to pursue mixed martial arts?
Stefer Rahardian: My motivation is family. I initially did this for family, not for me personally. It was just a hobby, but as time went by and after experiencing the ups and downs of life, I decided to become an athlete.
I had wanted to be an athlete when I was at school, but I had no idea which sport I should do. I always thought competing while carrying the country’s flag looked cool and prideful. Then I took BJJ and thought that this was what my soul had been looking for.
After that, I began to think about gaining something because I didn’t live alone. I lived with my mother, so I had to earn [an income] to provide for me and my mother. So, the ultimate motivation was family. It has always been about family.
I might even build my own family one day, too, and I want to leave something other than money for the family. I want to leave a lasting legacy when I die because my family is a big influence in my life.
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ONE: You had offers to coach at different academies and even build your own gym. But you decided to stay put at Bali MMA and continue your career. Other than family, what drives you?
SR: I see it this way – this is the fight business, which requires action. Your action determines your values as an athlete, and your experience will be questioned when you become a trainer or a coach. It’s your experience that counts.
When the time comes for me to open a gym or become a coach, I want to give back something positive, so that none of the students will feel it was useless to have trained and learned with me.
Also, when my students ask something or when they feel demotivated, I can share my knowledge based on my experience as an athlete, and I believe that what I am doing can inspire many people.
ONE: There are many young athletes who train at Bali MMA now, like Elipitua Siregar and Fajar Macho. They said that you have been a good role model, and they even call you “Captain Indonesia.” How do you feel about that?
SR: I am grateful to hear that they have been inspired by me because I feel my hard work pays off. But I have never made it a target to become an inspiration for the guys. I am just happy with what I am doing.
When we gather together or when we train, we conduct a sharing session, and I try to answer if they have any questions. I try to support them in whatever way I can. Based on our conversations, we found out that we shared many similar challenges.
For example, when I first came to Bali MMA, I was alone. There weren’t any other Indonesian athletes except for me, so I was struggling a bit with the language barrier. So, my emphasis to them was that they needed to make sacrifices.
To get where I am right now was not easy. To struggle is part of being an athlete.
ONE: Speaking of which, what other struggles did you experience when you first trained at Bali MMA?
SR: Personally, many Indonesians – myself included – like to disregard advice from coaches. Foreign coaches normally have high expectations, and it’s no secret that they are strict and disciplined. So, what I did was obey any instruction if it was good for my training.
I believe that if we respect the coaches, God willing, it’ll be a blessing for our careers. It can improve us, but being obedient is difficult because it is human nature to argue.
If the coaches want us to do something, just do it – as long as it is acceptable. Keep your head low and also learn from your teammates, no matter whether they are above or below you. You have to listen to their input.
For example, Elipitua has a strong background in wrestling, and he often gives advice to me, and I accept that because I think that’s positive for me. We support each other and need criticism from each other. On the other hand, he also asks me about grappling.
Mixed martial arts is continuously evolving, so learn from anyone. It’s a precious experience, regardless of someone’s status as a champion or not.
ONE: Are you surprised by how far mixed martial arts has come in Indonesia?
SR: To be honest, it’s beyond my expectations.
When Bali MMA was founded, I told [my childhood friend] Fajar Sidik that I had always imagined that there would be a big gym in Indonesia like the ones in the western part of the world, where it becomes the center of martial arts training.
He shared the same dream, but we were also disheartened by the fact that support for mixed martial arts was minimal at that time. Now, many mixed martial arts gyms have emerged.