Eduard Folayang is with two other Team Lakay fighters for A New Era. Photograph courtesy of ONE Championship
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ONE Championship attempts a Japanese MMA rebirth with A New Era

Once considered the epicenter of the sport, the Land of the Rising Sun has taken a backseat in the last few years with the fall of its top promotion. The biggest martial arts organization in the world is set on changing that, starting with its March 31 event, which features Filipinos in marquee matchups.
Nissi Icasiano | Mar 27 2019

After nearly eight years of conquering the biggest markets in Asia, ONE Championship will be making its highly-anticipated debut in Japan with what is likely the most stacked card in its history.

The prominent ONE Championship cage is heading to Tokyo to host ONE: A New Era. It will take place at the iconic Ryogoku Kokugikan in the Japanese capital this Sunday, March 31. “Japan has a rich martial arts culture and history, and we have been planning for a long time to bring our authentic martial arts experience right here, deep in the heart of Asia,” says company head honcho Chatri Sityodtong.


Restoring Japan’s vigor

Several traditional forms of martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, and Aikido traces its origins in Japan, but many people tend to forget that the country likewise served as one of the starting points of mixed martial arts (MMA). In the early 1990s, MMA was growing all over the world as several locations across the globe were beginning to lay the foundation. With Brazil and the United States indoctrinating the beauty of style versus style in the west, the sport’s old stomping ground in the eastern hemisphere was in Japan.

ONE Championship wants to bring back Japan’s stature in global MMA.

Japan has a strong history of MMA as the nation has given birth to a lot of renowned promotions such as Pancrase, Shooto, ZST, Deep, DREAM, and the fabled Pride Fighting Championships. From fearless strikers to elite submission grapplers, the country also provided the sport with a long list of extraordinary athletes like Caol Uno, Hayato Sakurai, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, Takanori “Fireball Kid” Gomi, and Kazushi Sakuraba.

The country was once considered the apex of modern-day MMA, but it has largely fallen back over the past decade with the demise of Pride in 2007. Nobuyuki Sakakibara has pieced together the rubbles from the fallen empire of Pride to form Rizin Fighting Federation in 2015. But it is yet to be seen if his new company could emulate his previous MMA organization’s legacy.

A promotion that was established in Singapore almost eight years ago, ONE Championship seeks to reinstate the nation’s former glory in the sport. “Japan has been waiting for a long time for a top global martial arts organization to revive the scene,” says Sityodtong. “I’m going to make sure that ONE Championship’s goal to redevelop Japan into a powerhouse is realized in 2019.”

Since its inaugural card in September 2011, ONE Championship has taken the sport in Asia to greater heights, holding over 90 events in 11 countries such as United Arab Emirates, China, Chinese Taipei, Myanmar, Cambodia, and the Philippines. In line with ONE Championship’s strategy of developing MMA prospects, the organization ventured and scouted talents in new markets like Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, India, and Vietnam, as well as untapped areas of the Middle East, China, and Russia.


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With ONE Championship’s first show in Tokyo on Sunday, Sityodtong believes that Japan is poised to reclaim its position among the top MMA countries in Asia and the world. “Japan has the right history of martial arts of Aikido, Kendo, Judo, Karate,” he claims. “So we want to showcase the best martial arts in Japan. We want to do it in the bushido way, with honor, with respect, with humility.”

He adds, “Not the way our western counterparts do it. We want to show real Asian values, real Japanese values.”

Japanese Shinya Aoki will take on Eduard Folayang in A New Era.

Furthermore, ONE Championship has entered an exclusive partnership with staple promotions such as Pancrase and Shooto to provide Japanese homegrown athletes a global platform to showcase their talents and develop their skills. Sityodtong is confident that ONE Championship possesses the perfect blueprint in catapulting Japan back into the international MMA limelight.

“We have the right partners in Japan to succeed and make it even bigger than Pride was, and take martial arts back to the mainstream, where it belongs in Japan,” he guarantees.


Loaded lineup for a monumental event

ONE Championship ushers in a new era of MMA in Japan with its maiden event in Tokyo this coming Sunday. The organization has prepared a stellar lineup of bouts that conveys big-time ramifications for the overall landscape of the sport in the Asian region.

At the top of the blockbuster card, Filipino superstar Eduard Folayang is set to defend his lightweight title in a much-awaited rematch with Japanese legend Shinya Aoki. “Of course, it’s a great honor to be in the main event of a card this big. I vow not to disappoint,” Folayang promises. “It’s normal to feel pressure, but rest assured, we have prepared 100 percent to get the results that we want.”

In one of three co-main events, Singapore’s Angela Lee moves up in weight in a quest to become a two-division MMA world champion. The reigning atomweight queen is slated to square off with Chinese hard-hitter Xiong Jing Nan for the women’s strawweight championship.

In addition, Burmese icon Aung La N Sang puts his middleweight strap on the line against Japanese rival Ken Hasegawa. It will be an epic rematch of their first encounter last year, only this time on the challenger’s home turf.

Lastly, Filipino spitfire Kevin Belingon locks horns with Brazilian arch-nemesis Bibiano Fernandes for the third time for the bantamweight crown. “It’s humbling to be part of this big event. I’m excited to show my best in Japan and to fight for the Philippines,” Belingon shares.

Team Lakay’s Kevin Belingon clashes with  Bibiano Fernandes on March 31.

Three out of the four ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix quarter-final matches will also take place at ONE: A New Era, featuring six of the best competitors from the organization's 61.2-kilogram weight class. Among them is former UFC flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson, who will make his ONE Championship debut against Japanese knockout artist Yuya Wakamatsu.

The featured preliminary bout sees Team Lakay’s Danny Kingad meet Senzo Ikeda. The Japanese filled in for American contender Andrew Leone and faces the Pinoy standout in the tournament’s quarter-final round. “This is a dream for us to compete in Japan. My teammates and I will make sure not to disappoint,” Kingad says of Folayang and Belingon. “It would mean a lot to us if we can perform to the best of our abilities.”

Finally, ex-ONE flyweight titleholder Kairat Akhmetov will begin his campaign to challenge for the belt again when he battles Filipino-Australian dynamo Reece McLaren.

Moreover, the one remaining semi-final spot in the ONE Lightweight Grand Prix will be decided at the same event. Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin welcomes former UFC and Bellator lightweight titlist Eddie Alvarez to ONE Championship.

The aforementioned lightweight tourney has delivered some exceptional action already, with American wrestler Lowen Tynanes, Costa Rican grappler Ariel Sexton and Turkey’s Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev all punching their tickets to the next phase. Whoever wins in the three-round clash between Alvarez and Nastyukhin will go on to take on Tynanes in the coming months for a place in the finals.

As ONE Championship plans to further extend its reach across Asia, the promotion’s big boss promises that their first-ever show on Japanese soil will be a night to remember.

“March 31st is our biggest event, hands down. It’s stacked from top to bottom. I guarantee that you are going to see some fireworks. We will make a mark in martial arts history this Sunday,” Sityodtong declares.


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Photographs courtesy of ONE Championship