Tajikistan prospect looks to get back on track
TWENTY years old and undefeated, Muin Gafurov looked poised to vault into the fighting world’s upper echelon over the last three years – until it all came crashing down after his first loss in April.
Now, the ONE Championship bantamweight prospect out of Tajikistan looks to reverse course against the Philippines’ Kevin Belingon (13-5-0) during their ONE: State of Warriors fight on October 7 in Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.
“That first loss was hard for me,” Gafurov (10-1-0) said. “Losing my undefeated record was like losing a chink in the armor. I had to dig deep and find a way to rebuild myself, to improve and to come out of defeat with my lessons learned.”
Born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Gafurov quickly made a name for himself as one of his country’s most respected prizefighters. As he continued to pile up victories – eventually winning 10 straight – the stakes of each fight began to rise higher and higher.
But Gafurov kept rising to the occasion, dispatching opponents with both strikes and ground game. During one particularly violent eightweek stretch in late 2014/early 2015, the “Tajik” defeated four opponents in a row by submission, deploying guillotine chokes and armbars to finish each of them within the first round.
It was only a matter of time before someone knocked him down a peg, however, and promising Australian upstart Reece McLaren did just that in April, outlasting Gafurov’s usual high-energy start and winning by unanimous decision after a full three-round battle. The loss was Gafurov’s first experience seeing a cagematch go to the judges.
“I had to take a step back and see where I went wrong. It was an eye-opener for me,” said Gafurov. “I’m young though and with an incredible ceiling. I always knew I was coming back and even better than before. I’m just excited to get back inside the cage and do what I love doing.”
Next week’s fight offers a shot at redemption for the young fighter, who will look to use his speed against the 28-year-old Belingon. The Filipino is not exactly an ideal matchup for someone looking to get back in the swing of things: Training in high altitudes of La Trinidad, Philippines, with the world-class Team Lakay MMA gym has helped Belingon become one of the hardest punchers in the game.
His elite striking comes via training in the Chinese martial art of wushu sanshou, which prizes speed. Belingon will look to finish the fight as quickly as possible, potentially beating Gafurov at his own game.
But with his reputation on the line, Gafurov is actually glad for the challenge.
“I know my opponent is very strong, but that’s all I can ask for, is to face the toughest guys,” said Gafurov. “I want to fight the very best in this promotion, and Kevin [Belingon] is definitely one of the best.”
After suffering his first loss in April, Muin Gafurov of Tajikistan hopes to rebound at the ONE: State of Warriors in Yangon on October 7.