Former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat Gafurov returns to action at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR looking to move back into contention, and win back his title.
Gafurov takes on fellow contender Emilio Urrutia in Manila on 20 April, in a battle between two of the best featherweights in ONE Championship.
While the Russian has a well-earned reputation as one of the most intimidating presences in the ONE featherweight division, the Dagestan native was once on the receiving end, when he suffered at the hands of bullies as a youngster.
“I had a lot of experience, because as a boy, I fought a lot on the streets,” he explained.
“All kids did, but I was a scrapper from the start. My mom and dad left me in custody of grandparents — maybe I was upset they were not around, maybe older folks could not control me. Whatever it was, I was very feisty.
“Where I come from, the general opinion is that a man must be strong physically, and mentally, and he always should be able to protect himself, and his family.”
By the time he’d turned 15 years of age, Gafurov had moved to Makhachkala and joined his parents. But the move also meant he was the new boy at a new school, and with his country background, Gafurov found himself the target of the bullies at the school.
“The kids at my new school started picking on me,” he said.
“They thought they were superior to me, and tried putting me down. But they chose the wrong guy. I had to prove myself, and I did it using the most effective method I knew — my fists.”
Gafurov had been training martial arts at the local Amanat Fight Club gym, and had a clear respect for martial arts, and how you should use them for defence, not attack. So rather than attacking the bullies, he used his skills to help others.
“The bullies backed off, and left me alone, but that was only a start. Soon, I had an authority to protect other classmates. I enjoyed getting satisfaction from both standing up for myself, and protecting others,” he said.
“There were several oddballs, and groups of boys would pick on them. After I sorted out my own situation, I helped them to get some peace, too. I think those who are strong should help and protect the weaker ones, if they are being harassed.
“Maybe I felt that they were outsiders like me. The city kids did not want to consider me as their equal at first. But unlike me, those other kids could not stand up for themselves.”
Gafurov has gone on to have a stellar career inside the cage, earning a world title, but he is also determined to give back to society. He constantly visits schools, orphanages, and universities to share his experiences, and his own life advice.
“I am often asked to meet students, and I do it with great pleasure,” he said.
“I tell them about my life and the hard work I had to do, about problems I faced, and about choices I made. My message is that you have to be strong, and using power for your own gain is not right. One for all sounds a lot better than to each his own.”