Like any of the cards that preceded it, ONE: A New Era was ripe with moments that will be talked about, analyzed, and dissected in the days following it. ONE Championship’s 90th live event produced memories that encapsulated everything that Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) is about.
The spectacle that unfolded at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo yesterday will make fans look back for years to come: the mixed results of Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez’s respective debuts in the promotion; China’s Xiong Jing Nan overcoming insurmountable odds to retain her world title; the crowd-silencing conclusion of the bantamweight championship clash between Kevin Belingon and Bibiano Fernandes; and the tease to the super-fight between Brandon Vera and Aung La N Sang.
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Folayang loses lightweight crown to Aoki
Japanese legend Shinya Aoki continued his career resurgence in the main event, defeating Filipino superstar Eduard Folayang in their much-awaited rematch to recapture the coveted lightweight championship.
The 35-year-old native of Shizuoka, Japan wasted little time in taking the fight to the mat as he pushed Folayang up against the cage and secured a takedown, landing in a half guard position. From there, the man known as “Tobikan Judan” was able to lock up the wrenching arm-triangle, which initially Folayang did well to defend.
However, Aoki was able to pass to side control, applying pressure on the choke and then putting Folayang to sleep at the 2:34 mark of the first round before celebrating the victory in front of his hometown crowd. It was a stunning way for Aoki to seize the lightweight title that Folayang took from him in November 2016.
The victory was Aoki’s fourth first-round finish in a row, and it improved his overall record to 43-8, 1 NC. Meanwhile, Folayang dropped his MMA standing to 21-7.
Xiong’s rally spoils Lee’s quest for second gold
Chinese hard-hitter Xiong Jing Nan had to take atomweight queen Angela Lee of Singapore into deep waters and survive an utterly brutal series of submission attempts in the fourth round to keep the women’s strawweight belt.
Lee appeared to be on the verge of victory in round four when she applied what looked to be a fight-ending armbar submission, but she was unable to get the finish. The matchup was a back-and-forth battle that could have been anyone’s fight—right until Xiong finished Lee at 1:37 of the fifth frame by technical knockout.
Xiong hurt Lee with a body shot early in the round to start the final flurry. She continued to lay on the pressure with punches and kicks against the cage until referee Kemp Cheng jumped in to save the Singaporean sensation from further damage.
Controversy mars bantamweight title fight
The rubber match between Kevin Belingon and Bibiano Fernandes for the bantamweight crown ended in controversy. The Filipino was disqualified in the third round for an illegal strike to the back of the head that left the Brazilian unable to continue.
Fernandes started quickly by rocking Belingon with a looping right hand in the first round and almost securing the finish via rear-naked choke. But The Silencer was able to ride out the opening salvo. The Team Lakay spitfire shrugged off his rusty start in the second stanza, finding gaps to clip Fernandes with spinning back kicks to the solar plexus and lashing leg kicks.
While defending his Brazilian foe’s advances on the ground, Belingon landed an unintentional elbow to the back of Fernandes’ head. The referee halted the contest and gave Fernandes five minutes to recover. In a strange sight, Belingon came over to talk to Fernandes as the two appeared to argue back-and-forth for a moment before the Filipino walked away.
Shortly after that, Belingon was given a red card, meaning that he had been disqualified for an illegal strike. As a result, the victory and the world title were awarded to the Brazilian legend. When the decision was announced, Fernandes waved his hands as if to imply that it wasn’t how he wanted to win the bantamweight belt back.
During the post-event press conference, company head honcho Chatri Sityodtong announced that the two rivals would renew their rivalry again and compete toward a more satisfactory ending. “There is going to be an automatic rematch,” Sityodtong says. “Bibiano didn’t even want the belt under those sort of circumstances. He is a true World Champion in every sense of the word. It was an unfortunate back-of-the-head elbow. Bibiano was not able to continue, so we will see an automatic rematch.” Sityodtong is sure Belingon doesn’t want to lose in this manner either. “These are two warriors, two of the best martial artists in the world, so they deserve another shot to see who’s the best,” he adds.
Mixed results in former UFC stars’ ONE debuts
Former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson was successful in his promotional debut. He did so via a submission finish of Japan’s Yuya Wakamatsu at the 2:40 mark in the second round of their Flyweight World Grand Prix contest.
Wakamatsu made it a lot harder than expected for Johnson as he used his reach to give the smaller man trouble. Johnson was dropped to a knee in the opening stanza, but recovered to land a takedown and grind out to the end of the round. The second round started with Johnson taking a more active approach to his wrestling as he was able to take Wakamatsu down and fastened a tight guillotine choke to get the victory.
Johnson’s next assignment is against the winner of the quarterfinal collision between Tatsumitsu Wada and Gustavo Balart.
Although Johnson was triumphant in his first appearance on the ONE Championship stage, it was a different story for ex-UFC and Bellator lightweight titleholder Eddie Alvarez. The 35-year-old from Philly succumbed to a first-round stop against Russian knockout artist Timofey Nastyukhin in their quarterfinal showdown.
Nastyukhin finished Alvarez with 55 seconds left in the opening round, dropping him along the cage fence and following up with a vicious ground-and-pound to force the referee to step in and halt the bout. With his shocking win over Alvarez, Nastyukhin has advances to the semi-final round of the tourney, facing American wrestler Lowen Tynanes.
Danny Kingad passes acid test
Although two of his Team Lakay comrades failed, Danny Kingad was able to hoist the Philippine flag in Tokyo on their behalf.
Kingad, a 23-year-old MMA prodigy from Baguio, figured in an intense war of attrition for three whole rounds against Japanese veteran Senzo Ikeda in their Flyweight World Grand Prix quarterfinal clash. It was an incredible performance from the two amazing combatants as they both showcased their full repertoire of skills. In the end, it was Kingad who was awarded a close unanimous decision victory for his efforts.
In the semi-finals of the aforementioned tourney, Kingad will square off with former ONE flyweight titlist Kairat Akhmetov, who scored a clear-cut unanimous decision win over Filipino-Australian dynamo Reece McLaren on the same card to book a spot in the next round.
Aung La N Sang triumphs in Tokyo
Myanmar national icon Aung La N Sang made it look easy in his second meeting against Japan’s Ken Hasegawa, retaining his middleweight championship in emphatic fashion.
ONE Championship’s second two-division champion in history was never in trouble during the entire tilt as he was able to pick Hasegawa apart with punches and devastating right body kicks in the first round. The second round was much of the same as Aung La N Sang continued the onslaught, dropped Hasegawa with a straight right, and followed up with heavy ground-and-pound for the finish.
At the end of the bout, ONE heavyweight kingpin Brandon Vera entered the cage asked him for a shot at his light heavyweight belt when the organization returns to Japan in October.
Sityodtong immediately gave his stamp of approval after Vera issued a challenge to Aung La N Sang for a champion-versus-champion clash later this year.
Click on the arrows for slideshow
ONE newcomer Yoon Chang Min submits Bala Shetty via a rear-naked choke at 4:14 of Round 1.
Yoon dominated the striking exchanges with his sharp boxing skills.
Panicos Yusuf and Mohammed Bin Mahmoud engaged in a grueling Muay Thai bantamweight encounter at ONE: A New Era.
Yusuf won via unanimous decision.
With his recent win, Tonon extended his perfect record to 4-0 in ONE Championship.
It took Garry Tonon less than 20 seconds to catch a kick, swoop inside, and plant Anthony Engelen on the mat with a well-timed takedown.
Mei Yamaguchi solidified her position as one of the leading contenders in the women’s atomweight division.
Yamaguchi thrilled her hometown fans with an inspiring performance to take a third-round submission victory against Kseniya Lachkova.
Joseph Lasiri earned his first ONE Super Series win via majority decision.
Lasiri handed Hiroki Akimoto the first defeat of his professional career in the ONE Super Series kickboxing flyweight bout.
Rodtang Jitmuangnon, 21, claimed a split decision victory against Hakim Hamech.
Jitmuangnon went toe-to-toe with Hamech for three rounds in a thrilling ONE Super Series Muay Thai flyweight battle.
All three judges gave Kairat Akhmetov the nod via unanimous decision against Reece MacLaren.
Akhmetov has advanced to the next round of the tournament, and will move on to face Danny Kingad in the semi-finals of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix.
Danny Kingad beats Senzo Ikeda in an exciting three-round Flyweight war.
With his fifth win in a row, Kingad improved his record to 13-1 and advanced to the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix semi-finals.
After waiting 11 years for a rematch with Andy Souwer, Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex earned some redemption with a stunning knockout at ONE: A New Era.
Thai legend finished his Dutch rival in the second round.
Russian knockout artist Timofey Nastyukhin lived up to his reputation, as he stopped the American legend Eddie Alvarez via TKO in the first round.
Nastyukhin picked up the biggest win of his career and proved he is an elite lightweight.
Demetrious Johnson picked up a marvelous second-round submission victory on his ONE Championship debut against Yuya Wakamatsu.
”I knew I was going to battle some adversity, that’s kind of his style,” Johnson says of his opponent at the post-event conference.
The match-up of Bibiano Fernandez and Kevin Belingon came to an unsatisfactory end when Belingon committed an accidental foul in the third round.
Fernandez and Belingon will meet again for the One Bantamweight World Title.
Aung La N Sang knocked out Ken Hasegawa in the second round to cap a dominant performance.
Aung La N Sang put on a phenomenal display to defend his ONE Middleweight World Title.
Chatri Sityodtong hinted at a future rematch between Xiong Jing Nan and Angela Lee.
Xiong Jing Nan survived the near-submission finish, and then came back to score a TKO in the final stanza.
Shinya Aoki recaptured the World Title that Eduard Folayang took from him in November 2016.
Aoki’s first-round arm-triangle choke gave him the win in the main event of ONE: A New Era.
Photographs courtesy of One Championship