As the lights go down in the Istora Senayan Stadium in Jakarta after a historic night of action in the ONE Championship cage, two 19-year old stars announced their arrival on the global stage. In Tajikstan’s Muin Gafurov and Singapore’s Angela Lee, Asian mixed martial arts may have found their cornerstone stars for the next decade.
For both Gafurov and Lee, ONE: ODYSSEY OF CHAMPIONS was supposed to be a stern test of their mixed martial arts skills. It proved to be anything but, as both of them made it look easy in their respective victories.
Muin ‘Tajik’ Gafurov hails from Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikstan. The country has made global headlines more for its human rights issues rather than its sporting endeavors, but Gafurov might change all that.
Since making his professional mixed martial arts debut in 2013 at the age of 17, Gafurov has been unstoppable. He decimated his opponents hailing from France, Belarus, Russia and Tajikstan in the Eastern European fight circuit, which is widely considered the most competitive areas for combat sports. Armed with an arsenal of flashy strikes coupled with a sambo background, Gafurov caught the eyes of the ONE Championship scouts who penned him to an exclusive contract.
Gafurov met Casey Suire to kick off the main card portion of the evening’s proceedings, and he lived up to expectations. Suire, an American who had the Indonesian crowd support having lived in the country for several years, was a grizzled veteran who has taken on some of the best mixed martial artists in the region. Gafurov however, made it look all too easy.
The moment the bell rang, he bombarded Suire with a furry of rapid strikes. Suire had no answer to his speed, and when Gafurov landed a spinning back kick to his midsection, he crumpled in a heap. With such an impressive debut, many observers are touting big things for the Tajik bantamweight.
Before Gafurov stunned the crowd with his performance, it was female mixed martial artist Angela Lee who captivated the audience. The Hawaiian of Singapore and Korean descent burst onto the scene when she made her professional debut last May, submitting her opponent in less than two minutes.
She had an equally impressive performance this time against Mona Samir, and if it wasn’t for the gutsiness of her Egyptian opponent, Lee may have finished her second fight just as quickly. Samir tried to stave off the assault with defense and even had a takedown of her own, but Lee was simply too proficient in the grappling arts and made it look easy by submitting Samir with a rear naked choke.
After the fight, Angela stated her desire to add to her winning streak, saying, “It feels amazing to come out of this fight victorious and I hope to fight again as soon as possible.”
With such an impressive performance, comparisons between Lee and UFC Bantamweight World Champion Ronda Rousey is inevitable. Rousey was an Olympic medallist in Judo who transitioned to mixed martial arts with ease. She burst onto the scene of the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion and has looked unstoppable since. Her world-class skills and her charm have won over the mainstream, and she is now a household name while taking time to star in Hollywood movies.
At just 19 years old, Lee may be Asia’s equivalent. Her girl-next-door looks and bubbly personality will put her in good stead, and with performances like the one she had last weekend, it may not be long before the entertainment industry starts calling.