Marat Gafurov makes his lightweight debut on Friday. The former featherweight champion is looking to put together a second title run, starting at ONE: ‘Warrior’s Code’.

Gafurov, who faces Iuri Lapicus in Jakarta, says that he will not be returning to the division where he made his name,

“I am done fighting at featherweight. It has never been pleasant to make weight but it is getting harder and harder to do it. I have been in this game for a long time and the body can only take so much. I am comfortable at lightweight. I feel strong and healthy.”

The reigning lightweight champion is Christian Lee. Gafurov, who fought just once in 2019, wants to fight regularly this year and work his way into contention for a title shot,

“The division is good. There is a lot of talent in it. The only thing I want is more fights (and) I am ready to climb back to the top of ONE rankings.”

Marat Gafurov 3

Very confident

On Friday he faces Iuri Lapicus who has a perfect professional record. The Russian is very confident that he will be the man to end it,

“I’ve only seen his previous fight and I think this guy is a decent striker but I probably will be done with him rather quickly. I hope I can win in the first round and move on.”

Gafurov won his first six ONE Championship fights by rear naked choke and has beaten the likes of Jadambaa Narantungalag and Martin Nguyen. He does not see any opponents of this calibre on his opponent’s resume,

“He has not faced anyone serious in his career yet so it is time! I have more experience in the cage (and) I have significantly better grappling.  Having said that, I see that he is a talented guy and he is hungry for success, so I will be careful.”

Marat Gafurov ground and pound

Lessons learned

Gafurov has only lost two fights in his career but on both occasions he was knocked out, once by Nguyen and once by Koyomi Matsushima. But the BJJ black belt believes his stand up game has evolved,

“Iuri is good on his feet but my striking is good now (and) I have improved a lot over the years in ONE. If he wants to trade punches with me I won’t shy away.

However Gafurov has learned from these losses and is determined not to make a similar mistake against Lapicus.

“I have learned one important lesson, though – never underestimate your opponent. Being overconfident and careless is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in this sport, so I am getting ready for him by training hard.”

Having been on the ONE Championship roster since 2014 Gafurov has an astute idea of who the big names are in the lightweight division. He has already faced a couple of them and is eyeing up some rematches,

“It is a very deep division with some amazing fighters like Timofey Nastyukhin and Ev Ting. I would be happy to fight against anyone in ONE, but I guess a rematch with Shinya (Aoki) is at the top of my wish list.”

They have never faced off in an MMA fight but a 2018 submission loss in a grappling match still rankles Gafurov,

“Shinya and I met back in January 2018 (and ) I lost via a rear-naked choke, my signature move. I would love to square off against him again, test myself and hopefully avenge my defeat.”

Koyomi Matsushima kicks Marat Gafurov

Something to prove

While Aoki is one of the most seasoned lightweights on the ONE Championship roster Lapicus is comparatively inexperienced. The Romanian has been a professional since 2014 but has been competing on small shows in Italy.

Lapicus made short work of Shannon Wiratchai at ONE: ‘Enter the Dragon’ last year but Gafurov sill regards his upcoming opponent as a newcomer,

“He is a newcomer in ONE. He is young and hungry (and) he wants to get to the top so he will be throwing some bombs (but) I am an ex-champ, I want to get back to the top (and) I have something to prove to my fans.”

Pieter Buist is surging up ONE Championship’s lightweight rankings while Nastyukhin and Lowen Tynanes will both be hoping to return from their respective injuries in 2020.  Lee has yet to defend his title while Aoki will be looking to capture the belt for a third time.

It looks set to be a busy year for ONE Championship’s lightweight division and Gafurov is hoping to thrust himself into the title mix with an emphatic win on Friday.