In the mixed martial arts world, sambo is all anyone can talk about. With Khabib Nurmagomedov as the UFC’s lightweight champion, and a bonafide superstar, it’s time for westerners to get familiar with the sport. The sport stands for “samozashchita bez oruzhiya” which translates to self defense without weapons. It is the official sport of Russia and we see why. It is dominated almost completely by them. So we went out and found some sambo players to talk to about it.
Andrei Kubarkov is one of those players. He took gold in the 2019 Tatarstan President’s Tournament at 52 kilograms. Kubarkov ran through to the gold medal, winning his finals match against Akzhol Baltabaev 6-0.
Who is Andrei Kubarkov?
How did it start? As we have discussed in interviews in the past, everyone begins somewhere. Some start older, some transfer from other sports.
“I got into sambo at the age of nine. My first coach Dmitry Sergeyevich Rogov came to our school and invited me to the sambo section.” Kubarkov was hooked from there on. “From this moment on, my whole life has been connected with this wonderful sport,” he said. Now he’s won gold in multiple tournaments in one of the most competitive sport in the world.
Andrei Kubarkov won gold at the 2018 World Sambo Championships. He does not consider that his most important accomplishment. “The most important achievement, I believe, is that I got into sambo.” That makes sense, though. He doesn’t step into that gym and he doesn’t achieve anything. Kubarkov continues, “The hall became my second home, all the guys rallied so much that we became not just friends, but as one big friendly family. Of course, this is primarily the merit of our coach, personally for me he became not only a mentor in sambo, but also in life.”
Sambo and the Olympics
Sambo is often over shadowed by wrestling and mixed martial arts in Russia. With all the gold medalist out of Russia and the insane popularity of Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov, people often forget where the superstars all come from. One fix to that is to have sambo recognized at the Olympic Games. That would increase popularity of the sport and bring in better and top talent from countries across the world who would otherwise never have thought to compete in sambo.
“I think that any sambo wrestler’s dream is to see our sport at the Olympic Games. Now a lot is being done for this, and there are successes. Sambo received temporary recognition of the ‘International Olympic Committee.’”
What about MMA?
Sambo has flirted with the Olympics several times in the past. In 1980, sambo was appropriately a demonstration sport in the Moscow Games. Unfortunately demonstration sports were removed by the Olympics in 1992. With there being changes to judo in 2013 and the possibility of freestyle wrestling being removed from the Olympic Games, the door is wide open for sambo to become an Olympic sport. The International Olympic committee recognized sambo on a temporary basis, making the future bright for all sambo players around the world. While the sport will not be a part of the 2020 Olympics in Tokoyo, it will be considered in the future going forward.
If you haven’t seen it, there is also combat sambo as well which is literally sambo with striking. It’s part of the reason sambo players transition over to MMA so easily; it’s ingrained in their sport. Andrei Kubarkov shares that interest as well.
“I am interested in combat sambo, as well as mixed martial arts. I especially like to watch fights when natives of our sambo participate in them.”
And as mentioned earlier, it’s the hey day of sambo in MMA. With Khabib Nurmagomedov’s domination of Conor McGregor, he was thrust into superstardom that few have achieved. But Khabib isn’t the only one. Alexey Oleynik competes as well as Zabit Magomedsharipov, Islam Makhachev, and even Petr Yan has done sambo in the past. With all these names, they contribute massively to the popularity of sambo.
It’s not all grind, grind, grind. Your body can break down if not listened to and pushed too hard. “At the 2018 World Cup in Romania, Bucharest, I took first place. After this result, I did not relax, but began to prepare hard for the next sports season. Unfortunately I got injured and missed the Russian Championship. Now I am fully recovered from the injury. There are many competitions ahead, but the main start of this season is the Russian Championship 2020 which is the selection for the European and World Championships. I will be diligently preparing to qualify with dignity and get a ticket to international competitions.”
With the success that Andrei Kubarkov has in 2018, he will be a name to watch out for at 52 kilograms. After winning at Tatarstan, it is full steam ahead for the Sambo World Championships.
Andrei Kubarkov isn’t all sambo, even though it’s such a major part of his life. Kubarkov is a husband and father as well and when he’s not competing and training, he spends time with his family.
“Of course, I have hobbies, but in such a busy training schedule, I devote all my free time to my wife Anna and daughter Eve. We actively spend time together, trying to instill a daughter in love for sports. I hope that in the future she will follow in my footsteps and choose a sport, and which one is up to her to decide, because any sport is good in its own way.”
Any sport is good in its own way. That’s such a great statement. Often times we get tribal and defend “our sport.” Kubarkov provides us a little insight as a competitor in one of the most competitive sports in the world.
Be sure to follow Andrei Kubarkov on Instagram to follow his journey through sambo and his transition to combat sambo and mixed martial arts.
Watch Andrei Kubarkov win his gold medal in Tatarstan below: