Fighters from Dagestan are making their mark with all the world’s biggest MMA organisations and Marat Gafurov thinks this is no co-incidence.

The 30-year-old challenges for ONE Championship’s featherweight title this weekend and says his upbringing helped to toughen him up.

“Young people in Dagestan are very tough, you have to survive and establish yourself and you have to be tough when you are young, it’s fashionable to be brutally strong. We are a small nation in the mountains that was often mistreated, that’s how we became what we are.”

Dagestan has been a scene of low-level Islamic insurgency, occasional outbreaks of separatism, ethnic tensions and terrorism since the 1990s. Gafurov, who faces Naruntungalag Jadambaa at ONE: ‘Odyssey of Champions’ on Sunday, thinks these conditions creates a perfect breeding ground to forge future champions.

Marat Gafurov

YOUNG PEOPLE IN DAGESTAN ARE VERY TOUGH. IT’S FASHIONABLE TO BE BRUTALLY STRONG.

“If you are weak you won’t survive, they will destroy you. Once a bunch of people beat up my friend, I had to go back and fight those guys to avenge my friend. I don’t like injustice, if someone is mistreating a physically weaker person than why not stop that?”

Gafurov has won every single fight so far in his MMA career. In 2012 he captured the M-1 145 lbs title and successfully defended it twice before signing with ONE in 2014. Since then he has stopped two top contenders in the opening round to set up a title shot which will take place at the Istora Senayan in Jakarta.

Gafurov brings an 11-0 record into what will be the fourth title fight of his career. He’s already gone the full five rounds once but the Russian has never faced anyone like Jadambaa. He’s up against an opponent who is a former Legend FC 155 lbs champion and has a background in Karate, Judo, kickboxing and BJJ.

Jadambaa beat the likes of Akihiro Gono, Kazunori Yokota, Adrian Pang and Yui Chul Nam as a lightweight and seems to have lost now of his strength or power since dropping to 145 lbs. In his last two outings the Mongolian has claimed clear cut decision wins over Honorio Banario and Koji Oishi, in fact his only defeat in the last nine years was due to an injury.

It’s also worth noting that Jadambaa has been in with elite stand up fighters like Albert Kraus, Buakaw Pramuk and Masato during his K-1 career. On paper he looks to be the best opponent Gafurov has ever faced and the Russian has plenty of respect for the reigning ONE 145 lbs title holder.

“In his fight he delivers very good knees to the body, he is a strong opponent and a great striker.”

However Jadambaa has not been fighting regularly in recent years. He has barely averaged a fight every 12 months and has not tasted action since claiming the ONE title with a win over Oishi in August, 2014. The Mongolian has never suffered from ring rust in the past but his is approaching his 40th birthday and Gafurov feels it could be a factor when they fight.

“He is getting older now and hasn’t fought in a year so I am confident.”

Gafurov’s impact on ONE Championship has been very similar to that of another undefeated fighter, Ben Askren. Both men won their first two fights for the organization emphatically with first round stoppages and the Russian will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the American wrestling standout by winning a belt.

Gafurov doesn’t quite have Askren’s wrestling credentials but he is a BJJ black belt and has submitted seven of his 11 opponents. He’s also got some dangerous ground and pound and the Russian predicts he will need less than five minutes to finish Jadambaa.

“I came to ONE Championship to take the belt, I am the best. It will be a KO in the first round.”