ONE Championship’s inaugural event in Japan will see the organization land in Tokyo’s iconic Ryogoku Kokugikan this Sunday, March 31.
ONE: A New Era features the most stacked lineup of matchups in the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion’s nearly eight-year existence. With an unprecedented four world title contests, this is an event that you shouldn’t miss. With only a few days to go before fans around the globe witness the action-packed live affair, ANCX shares some facts that you need to know before fight night.
Long road to the Land of the Rising Sun
It’s been a long time coming for ONE to set foot on Japanese soil. Three years ago, there have been talks of holding an event called “The Land Of The Rising Sun,” but it didn’t develop further. Japan was listed as one of the organization’s target markets for an overseas show on numerous occasions and has seen visits by several of the sport’s top stars.
Japanese fighters already form an integral part of ONE’s roster, with exciting combatants such as Koji Ando, Kotetsu Boku, current strawweight titleholder Yosuke Saruta, and the legendary Shinya Aoki. Also part of the company’s locker room are Yoshitaka Naito, Mei Yamaguchi, Hayato Suzuki, Riku Shibuya, Tetsuya Yamada, Yuki Kondo, Kazunori Yokota, Ken Hasegawa, and Masakazu Imanari.
In line with ONE’s strategy of developing promising prospects in the sport, the promotion has entered an exclusive partnership with Japan’s well-regarded leagues. The likes of Pancrase and Shooto will provide homegrown Japanese athletes a global platform to showcase their talents and develop their skills.
On Sunday, the Singaporean company will finally arrive in one of the traditional powerhouse nations of the sport. This, its 90th live event, will contain a total of 15 fights.
The 11,000-seater Ryogoku Kokugikan will be the venue for this maiden foray into Japan. The indoor stadium is not new in showcasing combat sports spectacles as it has been mainly used for sumo wrestling tournaments.
Ryogoku Kokugikan is likewise closely associated with professional wrestling as it hosted the finals of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual G1 Climax tournament. This is apart from hosting G1’s “Invasion Attack” and “King of Pro-Wrestling” events, as well as World Wrestling Entertainment’s “The Beast in the East” show in 2015. A New Era marks the first time that a major international MMA organization will stage a talent-filled card at the venue.
More on ONE: A New Era:
Folayang versus Aoki II
Perhaps the most heated rivalry in ONE’s lightweight history, Eduard Folayang goes up against his arch nemesis Shinya Aoki in a highly-anticipated rematch. When both men met in November 2016, the Filipino came in as the underdog. But he shocked the world by authoring a third-round technical knockout to end the Japanese legend’s long tenure at the top. On March 31, the roles will be reversed, with Folayang trying to hold on to lightweight gold.
Ever since succumbing to a second-round knockout loss to featherweight kingpin Martin Nguyen in November 2017, Folayang rebounded in style with three wins in a row last year. This includes a dominant performance versus Singapore’s Amir Khan to recapture the ONE lightweight championship.
Like Folayang, Aoki is also riding high on a three-fight winning streak, finishing his opponents in the first round by either knockout or submission. Aoki’s 57-second submission victory over former world title contender Ev Ting last October gave him a shot against Folayang in the New Era main event.
Three more world titles at stake
Apart from Folayang versus Aoki, there will be a trio of other world title fights on Sunday.
Atomweight queen Angela Lee of Singapore looks to make history as ONE’s first female two-division world champion. She challenges Chinese hard-hitter Xiong Jing Nan for the women’s strawweight title.
In addition, Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang defends his middleweight strap against Japan’s Ken Hasegawa Fight Of The Year-candidate tussle in June 2018. Lastly, Filipino spitfire Kevin Belingon locks horns with Brazilian rival Bibiano Fernandes for the third time to determine once and for all who the best bantamweight in ONE really is.
A New Era will likewise witness the much-awaited debuts of MMA megastars Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson, who are competing in the Lightweight and Flyweight World Grand Prix tournaments respectively.
Alvarez, a former UFC and Bellator lightweight titleholder, made headlines when he inked a multi-bout contract with ONE late last year. Hailed as the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world today, Johnson followed suit a few weeks later as part of a historic trade with the UFC. The deal sent former ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren to the Las Vegas-based MMA promotion.
Alvarez is penciled to duke it out with Russian knockout artist Timofey Nastyukhin in the final ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix quarter-final bout. Johnson, on the other hand, battles Japanese Yuya Wakamatsu in one of the three Flyweight World Grand Prix quarter-final matches at A New Era.
While Johnson is set to play a starring role on the main card of A New Era, his bout is not the only Flyweight World Grand Prix matchup on deck. In another tournament clash on the event’s preliminary portion, Team Lakay’s Danny Kingad faces reigning Pancrase flyweight titlist Senzo Ikeda for a spot in the semi-final round.
Another contest in the eight-man single elimination tourney will see familiar faces go to war as ex- flyweight titleholder Kairat Akhmetov takes on Filipino-Australian dynamo Reece McLaren.
ONE Super Series’ Muay Thai and kickboxing bouts have brought an added dimension to the organization’s live events since April 2018. A New Era will highlight a strong lineup of these bouts.
Andy Souwer of the Netherlands is slated to slug it out with Thai Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex. This encounter pits one of the world’s greatest kickboxers against one of the planet’s best Muay Thai exponents.
Meanwhile, Japan’s own Hiroki Akimoto aims to get his second-straight win by squaring off with Joseph Lasiri in a three-round kickboxing clash. Thailand’s crowd-pleasing striker Rodtang Jitmuangnon returns to action in an effort to put on another showstopper against Hakim Hamech of France in a Muay Thai match. The Super Series lineup completes with bantamweight Muay Thai bout between Cypriot standout Panicos Yusuf and Malaysia’s Mohammed “Jordan Boy” Bin Mahmoud.
The roster for ONE: A New Era will brandish 30 athletes from 19 different countries, including the United States, Brazil, China, Singapore, and the Philippines.
The event also gives its host country the opportunity for its athletes to compete in the ONE cage for the first time. This includes former world title contender Mei Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is fired up to put on a signature performance in front of her compatriots against the likes of Kseniya Lachkova. The Russian hunts for another shot at Angela Lee’s atomweight title.
A New Era has received a tremendous amount of media attention since its announcement. As the event’s hype and anticipation continue to build up, ONE has made an effort to accommodate its fans worldwide.
The card will be aired internationally through the promotion’s ONE Super App, which is available for download on both Android and iOS platforms for free.
In North America, the event will be widely available for viewers to watch through Turner Broadcasting System’s streaming service Bleacher Report Live. Some of the matches will be aired later on its flagship channel TNT.
In the Philippines, ONE: A New Era will have a live broadcast on ABS-CBN S+A channel 23 and ABS-CBN S+A HD channel 166. It will likewise be streamed on ABS-CBN Sports’ Facebook page and official website. The event will also have a simulcast on the digital platform iWant.
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Xiao Jing Nan faces off with Angela Lee for the ONE Strawweight World Title.
Brazil's Bruno Pucci
Two-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi World Champion Bruco Pucci faced Japanese knockout artist Kotetsu Boku in the ONE Championship cage last January in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Japanese lightweight Koji Ando prevailed over Russia's Rasul Yakhyaev at ONE: Eternal Glory last January.
Mei Yamaguchi squares off with Xiao Jing Nan.
Rasul Yakhyaev launched a straight right hand at Koji "The Commander" Ando.
Yosuke Saruta vs Joshua Pacio.
Yosuke Saruta prevailed over Joshua Pacio and claimed the ONE Strawweight World Title last January.
Photographs courtesy of One Championship