Sarbon Ernazarov is one of the leading sambists in Uzbekistan ©Getty Images

Uzbek sambist Sarbon Ernazarov claims the attitude towards sambo in his country has "changed a lot" as the combat sport’s popularity continues to rise.

Ernazarov is one of the leading sambists in Uzbekistan having clinched gold at last month's International Sambo Federation (FIAS) World Cup in Russian capital Moscow.

According to Ernazarov, his success on the mat is not going unnoticed in his home country due to growing television coverage.

Ernazarov said the presence of Uzbekistan's Ultimate Fighting Championship star Khabib Nurmagomedov – a two-time world champion in sambo – was also helping to shine a light on the sport.

"For the past two years, our sport has been given a lot of attention in the country thanks to Alisher Alimov (President of the Sambo Association of Uzbekistan), senior coaches and my personal trainer, Roman Shakirov," said Ernazarov.

"Recently, the attitude towards SAMBO in our republic has changed a lot.

"The mass media are actively covering the competitions, recently Khabib Nurmagomedov came to the press conference.

"Our sambists are everywhere on TV.

"Therefore, we were well prepared for the competition, not only physically, but also psychologically.

"I am sure that when we return to Uzbekistan, there will also be a lot of attention."

Ernazarov secured gold at the FIAS Sambo World Cup thanks to a bruising victory over Ramed Gukev of Russia in the 74-kilogram final which was stopped twice by the referee.

"The first time the stop happened was probably for causing pain to the Russian athlete," said Ernazarov.

"My technical action was carried out within the framework of the rules, but despite this, I apologised and told Ramed that there was no intention on my part.

Sarbon Ernazarov defeated Russian Ramed Gukev in the 74-kilogram final to win gold at the FIAS Sambo World Cup ©Getty Images
Sarbon Ernazarov defeated Russian Ramed Gukev in the 74-kilogram final to win gold at the FIAS Sambo World Cup ©Getty Images

"The second stop took place in the middle of the bout because, as a result of the struggle, I already pulled my back.

"The fight turned out to be difficult for both of us."

Ernazarov also competed in the World Sambo Championships which was held behind closed doors in Serbian city Novi Sad in November.

A total of 35 nations took part over four days of competition with the World Sambo Championships merging with the youth and junior event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was difficult not only for me, but for all athletes, for all sports," said Ernazarov when reflecting on a year severely disrupted by the global health crisis.

"Let's remember in what conditions the World Championships were held.

"Not all countries came, but all the main rivals competed.

"It is not the quantity that matters, but the quality - and the quality at the World Championships was high."

After finishing 2020 on a positive note, Ernazarov has now got high hopes for 2021 as he sets his sights on winning gold at this year’s World Championships.

"Weight categories will change after the new year, and this will need to be taken into account when preparing," added Ernazarov.

"For the last 10 years I have been fighting in the weight category up to 68 kg, only this year.

"I competed in 74 kg for the first time.

"My usual weight is 73 to 74 kg, so the category up to 71 kg is the best option for me.

"The main goal is gold at the World Championships in 2021."