ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS is set for the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar, on 7 Oct. Headlined by ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito defending his title against Joshua Pacio of the Philippines, the card features plenty of local talent alongside some of the hottest MMA prospects from around the world.

One of them is bantamweight MuinGafurov, who at the age of 20, holds an impressive professional record of 10­1. A strong grappler, Gafurov is matched against Kevin Belingon (13­5), a fighter eight years his senior, who hails from the famous Team Lakay in Baguio. Belingon is a wushu practitioner, with equally balanced striking and grappling skills, and is coming back from a loss to ONE Bantamweight World Champion BibianoFernandes via submission.

“I know that this opponent is too weak for me”, says Gafurov about Belingon. “I don’t see him having many strengths. I am pretty confident of winning this bout. I hope it will be a quick one, too.”

Gafurov is a well­rounded fighter with good grappling and striking skills, matched by an aggressive style and excellent cage control. His base is combat sambo, a Russian martial art which name literally translates as “self­defence without weapons”.

He is very proud of being a combat sambo world champion: “Combat sambo has international acclaim, it is an effective a self­defence system, and a fantastic base for MMA. Look at FedorEmelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, and Nick Diaz – they all practiced this martial art”.

Growing up in Tajikistan, it was an uncle who introduced the young Gafurov to combat sambo, and his immense talent quickly became obvious. He kept on winning tournament after tournament before making a transition into the world of MMA, where he didn’t fail to impress either.

Gafurov’s first MMA fight took place in 2013, and the bout didn’t even make it to the secondround as he immediately attacked the opponent with a barrage of punches and won via TKO. In his second fight, he dominated KurbanGadzhiev, who at the time had a 7­0 record and was rated as one of the best bantamweight prospects in the world. Gafurov won that bout via TKO in round two.

He confesses that winning fast Is what he likes the most: “On 7 October I hope to get a fast win again”, he says. “I can’t predict how the fight goes, but I will try to make it a quick one.”

A call from ONE Championship came in 2015 after Gafurov won the Combat Sambo World Championship in Moscow, and he immediately seized the opportunity to fight in Asia’s biggestMMA promotion. His debut was an impressive one – Gafurov stopped Casey Suire with a spinning back kick to the body, which ONE has repeatedly featured in highlight reels.

His second fight in ONE didn’t disappoint either, as the referee had to jump in and stop Gafurov as he was punching his way to victory over former ONE Bantamweight Title challenger Toni “Dynamite” Tauru, giving him the win by TKO in a tough three­round battle.

However, his ten­fight winning streak came to a screeching halt in Manila on 16 April at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS, when 24­year­old Reece McLaren took home a unanimous decision win after battling Gafurov for three rounds. He attributes some problems he was having at the time to the loss.

“I was not in a good place back then, and it stopped me from doing my job well. I want a rematch with McLaren. The fans should see that I am the best in this division”, said Gafurov, who insists his first loss has made him stronger. “I am sure that will be the first and the last loss of my career. Losing for the first time shook me up, and today I feel more determined than ever to fight until I get a title shot.”

Now filled with renewed confidence and ambition, “Tajik” makes it clear that his ultimate objective is to become the ONE Bantamweight World Champion.

“It will mean a lot for my people”, he says, referring to the nation of Tajikistan, from which his fight name is derived. “MMA is becoming more and more popular in my country, and now I am the most famous MMA fighter coming from there.
“My friends and family are really happy that I continue representing our land on the international arena. When my hand is raised in the air and I am wrapped in a national flag, I feel enormous pride and joy.”

With the stern challenge that is Belingon still standing in his way, it remains to be seen if Gafurov’s dreams will come to fruition, but all will be laid bare on 7 October in Yangon.

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