He has a last name that is hard to pronounce and difficult to spell, but if Ozzy Dugulubgov has his way, many more people will soon know all about him.
Dugulubgov will find himself in the most significant fight of his MMA career on Friday, when he collides with unbeaten World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje in the WSOF 33 main event at the Municipal Auditorium Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. While the mixed martial arts community has become enamored with Gaethje’s talents, Dugulubgov has chosen to approach him like any other test.
“It’s a great fight,” he told Sherdog.com. “He’s a challenging opponent, but he’s nothing special to me. It’s the same training camp, the same cage, the same fight. We’ll see what happens.”
Dugulubgov understands the dangers Gaethje poses and knows any mistake he makes could prove disastrous, lest anyone think the Russian has overlooked the champion.
“I’m actually concerned about everything, every aspect of this fight,” Dugulubgov said. “I never want to look at my opponent and try to be concerned with just one or two areas of what he does well or what he does poorly. I just want to be prepared for everything, so whichever path this fight takes, I’ll be ready for it.”
Gaethje’s potent standup skills -- he has stopped 13 of his 16 opponents with strikes, six of them in the first round -- have Dugulubgov’s attention. However, he thinks he can offset the Grudge Training Center rep’s abilities with what he brings to the table.
“We have very different styles,” Dugulubgov said, “but I believe, from my point of view, that I have never faced anybody with his particular style and he has never faced anyone like me with my particular style. I think it’s going to be a great show. We’ll see who has the better style and who uses the advantages against the other in this fight.”
Gaethje has gone 9-0 under the World Series of Fighting banner and emerged as a cornerstone for the promotion. The 27-year-old Safford, Arizona, native owns victories over Brian Foster, Luis Palomino (twice), Melvin Guillard, Nick Newell, Dan Lauzon and Gesias Cavalcante. Despite his reputation as a striker and his penchant for the knockout, Gaethje wrestled collegiately at the University of Northern Colorado, where he earned All-America honors in 2006.
Dugulubgov remains focused on the considerable task in front of him but expects to have his hand raised when the smoke clears and the dust settles. He claims to feel no added pressure from Gaethje’s resume or the high stakes involved. Dugulubgov likes the direction his life has taken and feels he has put in the hard work required to reach his goals.
“I don’t ever concern myself with the titles or the position of his ranking or how much hype the media gives him or any of that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been competing in different martial arts all of my life, and it became very simple to me. I do my job, come home and see my family. For me, it’s all about preparation. I try to stay healthy, not get injured and have the strongest training camp possible with the best training partners. I try not to look into the future and play that guessing game.”
Operating out of the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, Dugulubgov will enter the cage on the strength of a three-fight winning streak. He moved to the United States at age 18 to pursue a career as a professional athlete. Dugulubgov weathered a difficult upbringing in his native Russia, where he endured bitter cold and largely oppressive social conditions. However, those hurdles made him the man we see today, and his commitment to the martial arts aided in his transition from one culture to another.
“I started training with grappling and then I started competing in tournaments,” Dugulubgov said. “After I started winning and doing well in those tournaments, I began focusing on MMA, which helped bring me to the United States. When I was going through my childhood, I didn’t realize how tough it was. It was a lot of hard work, but all that shaped me.”
Dugulubgov credits his father for much of his success.
“It actually wasn’t too big of a culture shock for me because of my dad,” he said. “He would always take me all over Europe for martial arts and to compete, and I had been doing that since I was 12. I was always on the road and meeting different types of people. My father sacrificed so much for me to help me be better and to adapt quicker. Because of what he did for me all those years, it wasn’t so hard to move from Russia to the United States.”