After losing his ONE Featherweight World Title to Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, Marat “Cobra” Gafurov was left angry and frustrated.
The Russian had torn through the best the ONE featherweight division had to offer, finishing each and every opponent via rear-naked choke, before the Australian-Vietnamese challenger turned his world upside down with one swing of his right hand.
It was Gafurov’s first professional defeat, and ahead of his return to action against rising contender Emilio Urrutia at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, the Russian puts that loss down to one thing – his opponent’s good fortune.
“It was a lucky punch,” he told ONE Championship.
“I am coming back for my belt, but for now my goal is to eliminate Emilio. I am stronger on the ground. My mental resilience and my physical endurance are also top-notch.
“Emilio should be contemplating his chances against me. He is a decent athlete, and might even be a great guy, but he has not faced anyone of my level yet.”
The 15-1 former world champion will face Urrutia, who has stormed into title contention with wins over Edward Kelly and Bruno Pucci. He called for a bout against the biggest opponent possible, and the ONE matchmakers paired him with exactly that – Gafurov.
After suffering the sting of defeat for the very first time, it’s quite possible that Gafurov has never been more dangerous than he is now, as he prepares to face the Thailand-based American on 20 April.
While Gafurov may carry additional motivation heading into this one, he insists his approach to training has been very much a case of business as usual.
“I am training as usual,” he says.
“I am not expecting any surprises from Emilio, but I have enough experience to know that the match always has an element of unpredictability to it, so I am just doing my job — going to the gym, and eating well.”
The bout with Urrutia will be his first mixed martial arts matchup since the loss to Nguyen. Gafurov was last seen in the ONE cage when he was submitted by former ONE Lightweight Champion Shinya Aoki in a Grappling Super-Bout at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE.
“Aoki was very good in that match, but he mainly defended from my attacks,” he laughed.
“He caught me on my mistake. It was a tactical battle, and his tactics worked. [It was] just like going to the gym to do some sparring or training. I did not prepare for it much. I was upset a little bit, but [more] in a ‘on-to-the-next-one’ kind of way.”
Now fully focused on his quest to reclaim his title, Gafurov has returned to training at Eagles MMA, and plans on completing his camp ahead of the bout with a 10-day stint at AKA Thailand. He says that finishing his training in Phuket offers him the perfect stopping-off point before stepping into the cage.
“I love Thailand for its amazing weather and great food,” he said.
“I come here to get acclimatised, and to lose weight. It is easier [there] than in Dagestan.
“I usually bring my own guys with me. Occasionally, camps have absolutely amazing guys on the mats, but it is the luck of the draw whether they are there or not when I need to be getting ready for my matches.”
“Cobra” says he knows how important his bout with Urrutia is to his aim of winning back his title, but also says he knows there are other rising contenders who he’ll certainly have to face, with or without the belt, in the months to come.
“This match with Emilio is going to be my first step on the way back to the top,” he said.
“There are good guys in the division now [such as] Christian Lee and Li Kai Wen, and I am looking forward to squaring off against them soon.”