Indonesian contender Stefer Rahardian is becoming one of the nation’s most exciting stars in ONE Championship, and his success in the cage has been mirrored by the growth of the sport in his home country.
Rahardian takes on India’s Himanshu Kaushik at ONE: GRIT AND GLORY on Saturday, 12 May, in Jakarta. It marks Rahardian’s first bout at strawweight after making the decision to drop a weight class in search of a world title shot later this year.
Speaking to ONE Championship ahead of that bout, the Indonesian star said he was excited to see how the sport has grown in his home country over the last few years.
Rahardian, who splits his training between Bali MMA and Jakarta Muay Thai and MMA, said he’s already looking ahead to life after competing, and that the growth in popularity of the sport now makes a post-retirement career in the sport a viable option.
“Yeah, especially when [I think about] not fighting anymore,” he explained.
“You want to open a place like Bali MMA. It is on my mind. I am really surprised at how popular it has become. From the bottom of my heart, I am happy.
“In 2008, or 2009, when I was starting, there might be a grappling tournament, and you would win maybe Rp200,000 (USD$15), or something like that. If you lost, then you got nothing.”
Rahardian said he’s often dreamed of opening his own gym, but what was once a pipe-dream may now be a viable option in the years ahead.
“When I was really tired from training, sometimes I would daydream that someday, someone would set up something great for Jakarta, or Indonesia [as a whole],” he explained.
“Maybe some big organisation would come in here and give the talent some opportunities. Maybe some American guy would come in here, and build a big gym like this.”
Those plans will remain on the back burner for now, however, with Rahardian still very much in the prime of his career. Undefeated at 8-0, and looking for a new challenge after dropping from flyweight to strawweight, the Indonesian has become something of a star in his home nation, though he admits he hasn’t quite come to terms with his new-found fame.
“I am a little embarrassed,” he said.
“But I am proud of it. It is great to have my team in it. People are starting to recognise me now.
“As long as everyone talks to me nicely, then I am happy. If the internet writes that I am a nice person, then I am happy. I do not make trouble, so I do not have any trolls.”
It’s hard to imagine the politely-spoken Rahardian having too many online detractors, especially as his attitude is one of reciprocal respect. When asked how he deals with random people recognising him, he said: “When that happens, you always have to be nice.
“Not because I have a profile now, but I remember when I had nothing. I had to be nice when I had nothing, so I have to be nice now.”
Being nice is a constant in Rahardian’s life and career. He surrounds himself with respectful people in his training camp at Bali MMA, where he says he’s treated “like family”.
“We are like brothers,” he said.
“When anyone has a fight, we support each other. No matter where you come from, when you step into Bali MMA, you are part of a family.”
That family atmosphere helped Rahardian prepare for his most recent bout, a decision victory over Muhammad Imran in January. It was a bout the Indonesian said he took many positives from.
“I learned a lot,” he admitted.
“I need to be prepared for everything. I won by decision, but I do not want that to happen again.
“I decided, next time, I want to finish. Every time I finish a fight, I think about what happened in the fight. I always think that I have to go back to the drawing board.”
His latest challenge sees him dropping down to strawweight for the first time. On the face of it, the move may seem a little strange, given his unblemished record at flyweight. But he says the move should suit his size and offer new opportunities to progress.
“My weight is already going down,” he said.
“I cannot eat any more. You need to maintain your condition and your weight. I try to maintain my weight, but it wants to go down. I am small, so my coach asked me [if I wanted to move down], and now we are looking for good opportunities in strawweight.”
The first opportunity comes on 12 May when he faces India’s Himanshu Kaushik – a seven-time national wushu champion. Rahardian says he’s done his homework on his upcoming opponent sand says he’ll be ready for all eventualities when he steps into the cage.
“He is a good striker. I know about him,” he said.
“He has had something like 70 wins [in wushu competition], but this is mixed martial arts. You have to focus on everything. I am relying on my team to suggest good strategies.”
Dropping a weight class opens up a plethora of exciting bout opportunities for Rahardian, with ONE’s strawweight division arguably the most exciting in the entire organisation.
Rahardian plans on making his mark in the talent-stacked strawweight class, as he looks to make his way towards a shot at the title currently held by Brazil’s Alex Silva, who will be defending his belt on the same night in Jakarta.
“All the fighters [at strawweight] are really good,” he said.
“Before I stepped into ONE Championship, I was watching [Silva]. I thought, this man was good. His jiu-jitsu is legit. [Yoshitaka] Naito is good, but I am amazed with Silva, because he can do submissions in almost any way.”
Rahardian ultimately wants to challenge for that title further down the line, but knows he has more improving to do before he can compete for the belt. It’s a work-in-progress for the Indonesian star, and he’s prepared to put in the work to achieve his goals.
“For the world title, it is about getting better in all aspects,” he explained.
“I am trying to get better in every way. We are still waiting for good fights, so for now, I just want to get better and better.”