Continuing our Russian Sambo Cup coverage, Stepan Kobenov, won gold in combat sambo at 71 kilograms in the Russian Sambo Cup. Winning gold is nothing new for Kobenov. In 2019, he took home gold in the Sambo World Championships, defeating the UFC’s Merab Dvalishvili in the finals. Kobenov spoke with us after his win and talked his career beginnings, the past tournaments, and his future.
Stepan Kobenov was very active as a child. He competed in many sports but when he discovered sambo, he knew the sport was for him. He has found himself and a craft where he could express it.
“As a child, I tried myself in many types of circles, in many sports, sections. I was looking for my own, I was looking for myself. When I came to sambo, I liked everything from the first training session. And with every workout, I fell in love more and more. I began to practice sambo from the 6th grade. And even now, I still love sambo.”
Kobenov decided to compete in combat sambo instead. He stumbled upon it and found he did well naturally.
“Somehow I accidentally found out that combat sambo competitions were being held,” he said. “There were good prizes. I decided to try myself. And in the first competition I took 3rd place and I liked it.”
Stepan Kobenov says he wasn’t sold on specializing in combat sambo and continues to compete in both combat and sport sambo until later on.
“Since then, I began to think about switching to combat. But I continued to engage in sports sambo and also participate in combat sambo. The final transition happened in 2015, when we took 2nd place at the World Cup. Since then I have been in the combat sambo section.”
While many combat sport athletes study more than one sport, Kobenov concentrates on sambo alone. While he still leads the active life from his childhood, Stepan Kobenov uses his leisure time as active rest.
“I do no other sports than sambo. There are active rest kinds of sports like volleyball, football, swimming, etcetera. But there is no time to study yet another sport.”
Stepan Kobenov Defeats Merab Dvalishvili
The biggest moment in Stepan Kobenov’s career thus far is his gold medal in the 2019 Sambo World Championships. The pot was sweetened when it was none other than UFC bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili was across the mat from him, standing in between Kobenov and gold.
“In Korea, before the World Championships, the entire Internet was buzzing about the fact that an athlete from the UFC would appear in my weight class. I saw it. Before weighing, we even saw him when we looked at the weight before weighing and we even talked. He asked me: ‘Russia?’”
Stepan Kobenov knew how tough the fight was going to be, Merab Dvalishvili is a well known fighter and a great wrestler who now holds the most takedowns in a single UFC match.
Kobenov continues, “I answered yes and he said okay. I understood that it would not be an easy championship for me. It motivated me even more. It was always interesting for me to compete with the best. After all, the weak are not taken to the UFC. In the final, I didn’t think of him as a UFC guy. For me he is just a sparring partner in the final. Having won it, I was very happy with my victory. And this victory was even more enjoyable when you defeat famous people. Then, after some time, I watched his fights in the UFC.”
With the success against such a hot contender in the UFC’s bantamweight division, Kobenov has been asked many, many times about transitioning to MMA. While Kobenov has thought about it, he has not yet made the leap. But, never say never, he says.
“I haven’t planned for MMA yet. But everyone talks about it. Everyone wants to see me in the UFC. Even American promoters reached out to me. So far, it is just at a conversational level, it hasn’t come to the papers yet. Life will show. I do not rule out anything in this life.”
As mentioned in the past, sambo has got much attention in the world with athletes like Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov achieving so much success in mixed martial arts. Their achievements shed so much light on sambo and popularity has exploded worldwide. Kobenov says their inspiration has shown both him and everyone else how practical sambo can be.
“I consider them inspiration for the younger generation and for me. They showed by their example how sambo helps in MMA and shows the level of sambo in the world. After all, competition is the development of an athlete.”
Stephan Kobenov looks to repeat and win a second gold in the next Sambo World Championships. While it will be hard to top beating Merab Dvalishvili for the gold in 2019, a second win would be more than Kobenov could ever hope for.
Follow Stepan Kobenov on Instagram to follow his sambo journey.