Home of one of the best MMA fighters of all times, Russia holds the Bellator heavyweight belt with Vitaly Minakov and is close to getting the UFC lightweight gold with Khabib Nurmagomedov. On the other side of the world, Timofey Nastyukhin and Marat Gafurov want to take over ONE Championship.
Nastyukhin and Gafurov are scheduled to compete at Friday’s ONE 27 in Kallang, Singapore, against Robert Lisita and Ev Ting, respectively, and have the same goal on their minds.
"I am working towards it," Nastyukhin said of being the first Russian to win a title at ONE Championship, "and I want to someday be champion. I am very proud to represent my country, my region and my city in a top league such as ONE. There are not a lot of Russian fighters in the best leagues and I’m happy to be part of the Russian invasion into the MMA world.
"I will win this fight against Ev Ting and then I would like a shot at the ONE featherweight world championship belt. I think I have what it takes to challenge the current champion." Gafurov said. "I think me and my fellow teammates from Russia have proven to the world that we are tough fighters with world-class skills. Russians go out there to put out a tough fight and I am glad to be able to showcase this to all the fans of ONE Championship."
"I am born ready and I want to show the world that I am the best featherweight in MMA," Gafurov said, making the case for a shot at the gold.
Winner of eight in a row with eight finishes, Nastyukhin says he’s "a difficult matchup for anybody," and also said he’d beat Narantungalag.
Fighting for the same country in the same weight division, Gafurov and Nastyukhin had nice words for each other.
"He is very talented and he will continue to excel in whichever division he wants to fight in," Gafurov said. "(He is) one of the toughest guys I know."
"I have a lot of respect for Marat Gafurov," Nastyukhin replied. "He is a world-class martial artist and has proven to the world that he is a serious contender that is not to be messed with. His impressive debut has put him on a fast track towards a shot at the world title."
The first of the two to enter the cage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium is Nastyukhin, who stopped lightweight Eduard Folayang in the first round in his ONE Championship debut last December.
"(Folayang) is tough but I knew I was ready because I trained hard for the fight and was very excited to come out strong in my debut. It all went well and I am very happy," said Nastyukhin, explaining his decision to cut down to 145 pounds. "The opportunity came about and it is a fight that I wanted, so I decided to do it. I have been working very hard for the fight and I am excited to be back in the ONE cage."
Ahead of his bout with Lisita, Nastyukhin expects a tough challenge.
"I have watched his videos and he is definitely tough and ruthless, but I think I am ready for him and will finish him off," he said. "I am prepared to fight all three rounds, but yes, I will look for a finish."
Gafurov only needed 68 seconds to choke out Lisita in October, showing Nastyukhin a few ways to get it done on Friday.
"Marat showed us why in MMA, you can't just go in there guns blazing," he said. "You have to fight smart and that's what he did and that's why he got the victory."
Unbeaten in 10 professional MMA fights with seven finishes, Gafurov meets Ev Ting, who is 3-0 under the ONE banner with three stoppages. Like Nastyukhin, Gafurov isn’t expecting an easy win.
"Ev is a tough opponent and I am very excited to meet him in the cage," he said. "I know he is a very smart fighter who is good with both striking and grappling. He will bring his best into the cage and I am looking forward to a great fight.
"His record is great, no doubt, and he's done well so far -- but I have trained very hard for this fight and I believe my skills will shine. I don't really worry about my opponents when I fight, I try to focus on myself and what I bring to the table, make sure that I am 100 percent ready to showcase my skills."
ONE Championship 27 takes place Friday in Kallang, Singapore, and features two title bouts. Lightweight champion Shinya Aoki will look to defend his belt in the main event versus Koji Ando, while Roy Doliguez battles Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke for the inaugural strawweight championship in the co-main event.