On Friday, ONE Fighting Championship returns with its 21st installment titled ‘Roar of Tigers’. Headlining the event will be “Ruthless” Rob Lisita (14-6) who will square off to face unbeaten Russian phenom, Marat Gafurov (9-0). While there’s no doubt the duo will put on a quite a show, for Lisita, this will possibly be another title eliminator for the popular fighter from Australia.
Lisita is coming off a tough setback against the Philippines’ Eric Kelly, in a fight he really should have won comfortably. Prior to that outing, the 31-year-old had won four straight with four stoppages, including a first round decimation of Yusuke Kawanago in his ONE FC debut.
Lisita has been a fixture in Asian MMA for what feels like forever, but it’s only been less than six years. He has managed to stay consistently relevant in the region mainly because he’s exciting, willing to fight more or less anyone, and doesn’t lose too many in a row.
The Phuket Top Team disciple has been outspoken since the start about wanting to fight for the ONE FC Featherweight title. But often times, one loss can be all it takes for a fighter to slump all the way to the bottom. That’s precisely what happened to Lisita in his second stint in the ONE FC cage, when a brilliant come-from-behind submission triumph from Kelly sent the Aussie veteran onto his knees, with tears trickling down his cheeks. Lisita was back at the bottom of the pecking order, with the likes of Herbert Burns ascending to the top.
If you thought ONE FC wouldn’t be so cold as to give Lisita an easier opponent after that loss, think again. He’s set to fight Marat Gafurov who really is a strange case to a great extent.
Gafurov isn’t known at all in this part of the world, and I mean Asia. I can’t say the same for the folks in North America but what I do know about the Russian is that he has quietly amassed a huge name and record fighting on his own turf, beating the likes of UFC veteran Mairbek Taisumov and even gaining the M-1 title belt in the process.
Some fighters have slightly padded records, but Gafurov is more substance than just plain stuffing. Of his nine conquests, six have ended within the distance.
Watching Gafurov fight, he’s something of a specimen when it comes to strength and the grinding nature of Mixed Martial Arts. As you would expect from most Russians, grappling is his bread and butter, and he’s more than capable of getting fights to the mat through takedowns and slams. Once on the ground, his abilities to transition between submission attempts and keep top control is menacing. His striking might be a point of worry from the footwork front but the fact that he loads up his right hand consistently somewhat nullifies that risk at times.
Whether Lisita will be the man to take advantage of those gaps in Gafurov’s skill-set remains to be seen but don’t expect this to be an easy fight for the Australian. The 31-year-old is known for his heavy hands and aggression, but his recklessness could feed Gafurov the opportunities to land takedowns, and having a guy like Gafurov on top would be the last thing on Lisita’s mind. Either that, or there might just be another Cinderella story waiting to be written, as in the case of Eric Kelly.
In general, Lisita’s level of competition has been solid, if not always exceptional. He has no problem racking up a bunch of wins against guys who are of a similar caliber. With that said, however, fighting one of Russia’s top 145-pounders and one who supposedly wiped out the mats at the esteemed Tiger Muay Thai Gym in Thailand will be no easy task by any standards. I think you see where this is going. He might be in for his toughest test yet.
While I find it odd that there isn’t a lot of hype and chatter behind this main event as there usually would be, Lisita still enters this bout as perhaps a surprising favorite. Maybe it has got to do with the fact that Gafurov remains an unknown commodity among most faithfuls. But even so, it’s hard to see how Lisita is not in a lose-lose situation here.
Here’s something to ponder: If Lisita wins, he just defeated someone whom hardly anybody has heard of. On the opposite end of the scale though, if he loses, especially by stoppage again, it will be hazardous to his title aspirations.
Russia’s Marat Gafurov locks horns with Rob Lisita in the main event of ONE FC 21: Roar of Tigers, which takes place October 17 at the Putra Indoor Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
Catch all the action LIVE on pay-per-view. Viewers in Asia, meanwhile, can catch the main card LIVE on FOX Sports 2.
*Click here to check out the full fight card for ONE FC 21: Roar of Tigers