The term “prospect” is bandied about far too frequently, but there really is no other way to describe Muin Gafurov. The 19-year-old from Tajikstan is a Combat Sambo world champion who is undefeated in MMA and already holds a win over one of Russia’s top bantamweights.
In only his second fight as a professional, the teenager took on Kurban Gadzhiev, rated as one of Russia’s best 135-pound fighters at the time, and dominated him from start to finish before securing the stoppage late in the second round.
Tajikstan is bordered by Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the East. With a population of just eight million, the country is not known for sporting achievement and Gafurov’s decision to sign with ONE Championship was headline news.
He makes his promotional debut at ONE: Odyssey of Champions this Sunday night and will be looking to build on the success he enjoyed during a decorated Combat Sambo career.
“When I was a kid, I used to play football, but in 2011, my uncle brought me to Combat Sambo. In 2013, I won the Combat Sambo World Championships in Moscow in the under 62-kilogram category, and in 2014, I became Professional Combat Sambo World Champion,” Gafurov said.
His MMA record is currently 7-0. The name that really stands out from Garufov’s resume is that of Gadzhiev. It’s unusual to see two of a country’s top prospects thrown together at such an early stage of their careers. He admits that he didn’t realize the significance of the win until afterwards.
“The fight with Kurban was my second fight, before him I had debuted in November 2013. To tell the truth, I did not know much about him before fight, so I was confident, but this fight was very important no doubt.”
With seven stoppage wins in his seven fights, Gafurov is endorsing the effectiveness of Combat Sambo in the most emphatic manner. Five of those victories have come courtesy of a submission with the other two opponents put away by a barrage of ground and pound, as the teenager has effortlessly made the transition into professional MMA.
“Combat Sambo is excellent background for MMA, it’s the most universal martial art. So if you have enough experience in Combat Sambo you are ready for MMA professional career.”
Gafurov might have reached the pinnacle of the sport of Combat Sambo by training in his native Tajikstan, but he has broadened his horizons in search of MMA success. The 19-year-old has spent time at some of the top camps in the U.S. and Thailand and has worked with some of the biggest names in the sport.
“I train in Taj-Fighter team, but often come to different training camps like AKA Thailand, where I train with UFC fighter Mike Swick, and in USA, I trained with UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman.”
Russians have been making their mark on MMA promotions all over the world lately, and Ukraine’s Igor Svirid currently holds the ONE 185-pound belt, but no fighter from Tajikstan has ever scaled to these heights. Gafurov aims to be the first and he is acutely aware of his status as the country’s first ever star in the sport.
“It was my dream to get in a world-class promotion like ONE Championship and I was very happy to get contract from ONE Championship. Moreover, I am the first Tajik fighter in world-class MMA promotion.”
On Sunday night, Gafurov is facing Suire, who already holds two wins for ONE, but saw his undefeated record spoiled by a loss to Mark Striegl last time out. No one in the organization’s bantamweight division will relish the prospect of facing the 19-year-old and he is planning on making an instant impression in Jakarta.
“I impatiently wait for my debut. This is biggest fight in my career and I feel I will finish this fight in first round, no doubt.”
Given that Gafurov already holds a win over a top fighter, he would be within his rights to feel that he’s ready to face opponents from the upper echelons of the division. Reigning champion Bibiano Fernandes hasn’t lost a fight in five years and doesn’t look like he’ll be losing anytime soon, but the teenager is 16 years his junior and believes his time will come.
“This is my dream and goal, to bring the belt back to my country.”
He says his favorite fighters are Anthony Pettis and TJ Dillashaw, but Gafurov isn’t known for his fast footwork or flying strikes. He simply smothers opponents with takedowns, submissions, and ground and pound, and this teenage prospect looks set to make his mark with Asia’s biggest MMA organization.
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