WSOF 9’s Rising Ronin Azamat “Ozzy” Dugulubgov Embraces “A Warrior’s Way of Life”
The Task at Hand
World Series of Fighting lightweight Azamat “Ozzy” Dugulubgov (5-1) answers the phone at precisely 3 p.m. By the time I call, the New York, NY transplant (he emigrated from the Northern Caucasus of Russia in 2008) has likely endured hours of rigorous training, rolling at both Renzo Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy and Jamal Patterson’s Allstar Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and cross training with some of Ricardo Almeida’s pupils. Despite the fact that fight night’s looming presence is growing closer by the minute, he couldn’t sound calmer if you switched him with Ben Stein.
I begin our interview running some facts by Ozzy, for accuracy’s sake. He made his pro debut at Cage Fury Fighting Championship’s CFFC 8: Seek and Destroy in 2011, winning by second round technical knockout. He lost his following fight, losing by rear-naked choke at CFFC 10, but has since gone undefeated, stringing together four victories, all by different means (one choke, one TKO, one unanimous decision and one leglock). His last two fights were under the World Series of Fighting banner, and this Saturday he’ll welcome newcomer Jonathan Nunez (4-0) to the promotion at WSOF 9: Carl vs. Palhares.
I ask him to describe himself or, more accurate, his style. Looking over his record and the aggressive offensive variance it suggests, I ask how well-rounded he believes he is. And sure, I’m aware it’s a leading question of sorts, but he treats it with humble consideration.
“I always have a hard time answering that question,” he says, thoughtfully. “I believe, from my point of view, I’m a pretty well-rounded fighter. I’m not that straightened on one thing because it doesn’t fit my attitude, which is to go into the cage being prepared for almost any situation that the fight takes me to. As much as I can, I try to focus on every aspect of the game, to keep up my striking, good footwork, my ground game – my jiu-jitsu, my wrestling – and, as much as I can, I’m trying to tie everything together. I’m not sure if there’s any type of secret in this sport. I think one of the big things in my life and in my career that I’m doing is I’m trying to be faithful, to believe in my God, and he gives me strength to push through and achieve my goals. Hard work pays off, I believe. If you have good intentions, something good will happen.”
A Novel Way of Learning
I take note of his English, which is impressive in its fluidity. His moderate accent notwithstanding, he speaks fluently. Did he speak the language before moving to the States?
“No, I knew zero English when I came here and had to learn all by myself,” he says, sounding just a little flattered. “I didn’t go to any school – I didn’t have time – so I mostly learned by teaching kids, doing the little kids classes – the karate classes – and, through the kids, I learned a lot. They tried to correct me – ‘Ozzy, you said this wrong!’ – this and that. So it was kind of a fun experience, and I learned pretty fast. After six months, I believe I was already understanding things very well. I was expressing myself, and after a year I was reading and writing. Everything got to a pretty decent level.”
Learning the language from kids! What a novel idea. Because of how unfiltered they are it’s almost assured that they’d cut through the bull and not pussyfoot around letting you know you were saying something wrong.
“Yes, yes… it was way easier,” he says. I hear his broad smile through the receiver. “Sometimes, I had moments where I’d be teaching, and after the class was done the parents would come up and start talking to me, but I wouldn’t understand anything they would say. I was so used to being in the gym and talking to the kids, communicating with them, that when I would try to have a regular conversation, it was so hard for me. It was a fun experience.”
Ozzy continues to teach at all age levels, running his own team, Rising Ronin, in a martial arts studio he shares with another martial artist.
“I love to teach; it’s my passion. I’m really into it. My dad, he’s a coach, himself. He’s the one who raised me into this sport and I think I took that from him. I like to teach people, to be a coach, to try to be an example and to lead people to better ways.”
Dugulubgov is of Circassian descent. A North Caucasian ethic group displaced during the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 1800s (most notably during the Russian-Circassian War of 1862, throughout which time the prevalently Muslim region was repeatedly attacked with bombs and chemical weaponry in an attempted ethnical cleansing), the Circassians history appears similar to that of our own Native Americans, and the warrior spirit that was borne of such protracted hardship has bred some of the fiercest fighters to come from that region, including the UFC’s Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rustam Khabilov. That MMA has taken root in the province is unsurprising considering all of this and, according to Ozzy, it was almost a certainty that he was going to learn how to fight, one way or another.
“You know, we have a lot of traditions and, in my family, I was taught to keep up the old ways,” he says. “Actually, I’ve never said this before any other time I’ve been asked about it. People are always curious whenever they hear about [my heritage]. They say, ‘Wait, you’re from Russia, but you’re not Russian. How does that work?’ So I always had to start with a long story, and most of the people wouldn’t even understand then, because it’s pretty lengthy, actually.
“The attitude, in our ways of life, was mostly like warrior ways of life, and if you look throughout the history, the name ‘Circassian’ was given to us from the outsiders. We call ourselves ‘Adiga.’ ‘Circassian’ has a couple meanings. It means the one who cuts your way and the one who cuts the head, [and we were given that name] because so many empires stopped by our area because of the small number of our warriors. Our history is a big story of how powerful our warriors used to be. Our traditions are very similar, in comparison, to the samurai – the way they used to carry themselves, the respect to their elders, the women, parents and the honor of battle… There is so much similarity in that.”
Hence, then, why he chose to name his team “Rising Ronin.”
“Yes,” he agrees. “I was big on Asian history. I loved watching these battles with samurai. It really attracted me, and when I was studying – one thing about samurai that I didn’t like was – I saw how, even though they were among the greatest warriors in history, they didn’t hold their lives in their own hands; they gave up their life choices to their lord. As I continued to learn the history, I learned this word, ‘ronin,’ and I found out some things about them. First of all, to be called ‘ronin’ used to be shameful, but after one small group of ronin killed a lord who was very bad – he killed a lot of people – the word became very respected. A lot of stories are written about them, and I watch a lot of documentaries. I like the attitude of the word, ‘ronin,’ what it has behind it, and I use that in the name of my school.”
Teaching, as it turns out, is in his blood. Ozzy’s first martial arts instructor was his father, a member of the Russian special forces, and from a very young age he began to learn how to string together different disciplines into a unified form of combat. Among those were Tae Kwon Do (his father currently serves as the president of the Tae Kwon Do Federation in their republic and, for two years, was the head coach of the Russian national team of Tae Kwon Do) and Russian Army Combat Training, which included hand-to-hand combat as well as weapon training. He recalls having difficulty explaining to his friends, who only considered Sambo and freestyle wrestling to be sports, that to him, all of these endeavors were sport.
“I used to struggle with that,” he says. “My dad, he took me into these sports, and he was one of the people who took the veil off and let me look outside the box – not at just wrestling and Sambo – and use all of these things. I competed in Tae Kwon Do a lot, but I was also training Combat Sambo and wrestling – he was also a national champion in wrestling. I’m one of those lucky people who had access to so much knowledge just by having my dad by me as a friend, as a father and as a hard coach.”
The Hard Eye
Dugulubgov’s opponent this Saturday, Jonathan Nunez, brings a spotless record with him into the decagon and a finishing rate comparable to his opponent’s. I ask Ozzy whether a fighter as well rounded as he is trains for his opponent or whether he trains to be the best version of himself on fight night. The answer, he tells me, is a bit of both.
“Absolutely, every time I get a new opponent I always try to take a look at him,” he says. “In Russia, there is a saying – I don’t know if I’ll be able to translate it correctly – the ‘hard eye.’ My eye is already trained to tell what the guy has behind him and what his skill level is. Approximately, I can tell what’s going on over there. I always try to take that first look and estimate what’s going on and who I’m fighting against, but after that I’m leaving all other studying to my coaches. I don’t like to watch my opponents too much, because yes – as you say – every fight, I’m preparing myself to be in the best possible state ever, physically, mentally and spiritually, and it doesn’t matter the opponent. I believe if you have enough tools that you will be able to perform well wherever the fight takes you, and that’s my goal – to have enough tools when I go in there.”
Azamat “Ozzy” Dugulubgov (5-1) will fight Jonathan “Johnny Boy” Nunez (4-0) in the headlining preliminary fight at WSOF 9: Carl vs. Palhares on March 29th at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV. The main card will air on NBC Sports at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. The prelims, which begin at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT, will stream live from the WSOF website.
For more information on Ozzy, follow him on Twitter.