Being young and undefeated is an amazing feeling for a fighter competing in one of the hottest weight divisions of Asia’s largest mixed martial arts promotion. A loss however, can completely change the trajectory of one’s career.
On the heels of a riveting unanimous decision loss in his last bout, ONE Championship bantamweight prospect Muin Gafurov (10-1-0) of Dushanbe, Tajikistan warns that an epic comeback is in order, and that he’ll start his run with a victory over Filipino stalwart Kevin Belingon (13-5-0) this October in Myanmar.
Gafurov, 20, is scheduled to take on Belingon, 28, in a three-round bantamweight contest in the undercard of ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS which takes place 7 October at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon. The card is headlined by a ONE Strawweight World Championship bout between reigning champion Yoshitaka Naito and challenger Joshua Pacio.
Gafurov feels it’s time to remind fans just where he was before he was upset by promising Australian Reece McLaren.
“That first loss was hard for me,” said Gafurov. “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.”
“The Tajik” is one of his country’s most highly-regarded prizefighters and is a burgeoning star in his own right. Prior to the first loss of his career, Gafurov seemed unstoppable, winning 10 straight — all by spectacular finish. To be defeated so thoroughly at the hands of an unheralded opponent really struck a chord and urged Gafurov to reevaluate what’s important to him at this stage.
“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.”
Whatever Gafurov has discovered remains to be seen, if at all it manifests itself inside the ONE Championship cage. He’ll have to prove himself again, despite having done so already many times previously. And he’ll have to do so against one of the most dynamic offensive forces in his division.
Kevin Belingon is no pushover. The Filipino warrior who trains in the high altitudes of La Trinidad alongside world-class teammates at the famous Team Lakay MMA gym is one of the hardest punchers in the game.
Featuring elite level striking via Wushu Sanshou, Belingon is incredibly fast and intense. His approach to fights is to finish as quickly as possible, in the most exciting manner as possible.
Gafurov will have to dig deep in his bag of tricks to be able to overcome such a potent offensive attack.
“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.”
A lot is riding on this fight for both men. Whoever comes out on top will send a shockwave of a message to the rest of the division, and will firmly position himself as a top-tier competitor. If Gafurov is able to outlast Belingon, he could set up a rematch against his Australian tormentor.