SINGAPORE – Filipino Kevin Belingon silenced his critics by scoring a first round stoppage of Russian Yusup Saadulaev in the ONE Fighting Championship: Rise of Kings Saturday night at the packed Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Coming off back-to-back defeats that cast doubts on his ability to challenge for the crown, Belingon toppled a taller, bigger foe with powerful combinations three minutes, 18 seconds into the first round as he nailed his first win in three fights inside the ONE FC cage.
It was Belingon’s 10th overall win in 12 mixed martial arts fights, erasing the stigma of his losses to Japan’s Masakazu Imanari in the ONE FC: War of the Lions in Singapore last March 31 and Korea’s Soo Chul Kim in the ONE FC: Pride of a Nation in Manila last Aug. 31.
“I know if I lose this one I will have a difficult time to get back on track and earn a chance to fight for a title,” said the 25-year-old Belingon, who grew up in an Ifugao town Kiangan before falling in love with their tribe’s martial arts called “Bultong,” in Filipino.
“So I really trained hard for this and really focused on winning,” added the Team Lakay mainstay.
Belingon did it by coming prepared against his Russian foe known mainly for his superb takedowns and freakishly efficient grappling skills because of his long history of training in wrestling and jiu-jitsu back home in Russia and in the United States where he plunged into the MMA scene there before eventually ending up with PRIDE.
The former URCC champion, who improved to 9-2, never really gave Saadulaev a chance to take the bout to the ground by keeping the fight in a striking battle. But when the Russian did manage to pull the Filipino down, it backfired as Belingon fought back with a side mount.
Belingon then attempted a paintbrush submission, or a tactic similar to arm-locking, but when he couldn’t get it done, the Filipino assaulted the Russian with elbows and knees to the face, knees to side and punishing flurries to the stomach.
The end came when Belingon landed a couple of vicious punches that turned Saadulaev glassy-eyed, forcing the referee to stop the fight.
The Russian, noted for his superb takedowns and efficient grappling skills because of his long history of training in wrestling and jiu-jitsu back home in Russia and in the United States where he plunged into the MMA scene there before eventually ending up with PRIDE, fell to his second loss against nine wins.
He tried to protest the referee’s decision, claiming the stoppage was premature but replays on the big video screens at the stadium clearly showed the verdict was correct.
“When I hit him hard, I knew he was out so the referee made the right decision to stop it otherwise I may have given him more damage,” said Belingon.
The Filipino fighter thus moved up the Bantamweight Grand Prix ladder where he hopes to win a couple of more fights to get a crack at facing off with old tormentor Soo Chul Kim, who surprised everyone by coming up with a sensational second round stoppage of a highly favored Leandro Issa of Brazil for the bantamweight title.
“I’m focused to becoming the champion,” said Belingon, who came here with his Team Lakay coach Marq Sanguiao.
Along the way though, he might run into some of ONE FC’s top bantamweights like American Jens “Lil Evil” Pulver, the UFC’s first lightweight champion, and Japanese Masakatsu Ueda.
The 37-year-old Pulver survived kung fu master Zhao Ya Fei after officials stopped the fight early in the third and last round following the Chinese’s illegal kick to the former’s privates, sending the American to the canvas grimacing in pain for several minutes.
Pulver, who got knocked out by Filipino Eric Kelly in the ONE FC’s visit to Manila, eventually won it in the scorecards via unanimous decision.
Ueda, for his part, also won via unanimous decision over Korean Min Jung Song.
Belingon and Soo’s upsets were one of the many surprises in the blockbuster fight card, including one by Japanese Shooto champion Kotetsu Boku, who dethroned Brazilian Zorobabel Moreira to snatch the lightweight crown.
Japan’s Shinya Aoki, meanwhile, proved he’s the best armbar submission specialist in the world after he made shortwork of Frenchman Arnaud Lepont, whom he dispatched in just a minute, 25 seconds to improve to 31-6-1 in his ONE FC debut.
In a non-title middleweight bout, Dutch-Surinamese Melvin Manhoef sent Japan’s Ryo Kawamura with a powerful right 20 seconds left in the first round to likewise debut in ONE FC on a bright note.