Nearly seven years since it held its first-ever live event on Philippine soil, ONE Championship has been a regular staple in our nation's sports calendar. The promotion is set to return to our bustling metropolis to host another evening of world-class mixed martial arts (MMA) action at the Mall of Asia Arena on August 2.
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Dubbed “Dawn Of Heroes,” the event features more high-stakes match-ups than the passionate Filipino crowd has ever seen on one night. It will pit a series of homegrown talents against worthy opposition on fight night. Aside from the featherweight championship being on the line in the main event, finalists for the ONE Flyweight and Lightweight World Grand Prix tournaments will be decided.
Here are four stories to follow before these athletes step under the bright lights:
Battle of lightweight division’s best
The organization’s 18th event in the country will stage one of the most intriguing matches in its talent-filled lightweight division. Filipino superstar Eduard Folayang will take on American hard-hitter Eddie Alvarez.
Both men are coming off disappointing defeats in their most recent bouts. Folayang lost his lightweight crown to arch-nemesis Shinya Aoki in a rematch last March. On the same card where the renowned Team Lakay captain faltered, Alvarez succumbed to a first-round technical knockout loss at the hands of Russian dynamo Timofey Nastyukhin.
Alvarez, who became a world champion in every major promotion he competed in around the globe, will restart his quest to the one belt that has eluded him in his entire professional career—the ONE Championship lightweight title. In order to take a step closer to the intricately-crafted hardware, Alvarez will need to defeat Folayang, who is hungry to reclaim the belt and begin an unprecedented third world title reign.
The bout was promoted to a semi-final bout of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix; Nastyukhin pulled out of his match against Folayang’s teammate Honorio Banario due to a knee injury. Whoever wins between Folayang and Alvarez will advance to the tournament finals against Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev in ONE Championship’s second trip to Tokyo on October 13
Final four of ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix
In addition to the highly-anticipated lightweight encounter between Folayang and Alvarez, the final two competitors for the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix will also be determined on August 2. Former UFC flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson battles Japan’s Tatsumitsu Wada, while in the other bracket, Team Lakay’s Danny Kingad squares off with ex-bantamweight title challenger Reece McLaren.
Johnson is recognized around the world as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport of MMA. He will attempt to maintain that claim to fame and move on to the finals. However, Wada seeks to spoil the American’s party and raise his stock at his opponent’s expense.
Meanwhile, Kingad looks to build on a five-bout win streak in his home country against McLaren, who was supposed to take on Japanese power-hitter Yuya Wakamatsu at the same event. The Filipino-Australian dynamo replaced former flyweight kingpin Kairat Akhmetov after an injury forced the latter to withdraw from the match.
McLaren yielded to Akhmetov via unanimous decision in the opening round of the tourney last March. Now, the 27-year-old native of Queensland, Australia has the opportunity to erase the memory of his bad start in the Grand Prix by advancing to the final stage of the competition. The two victors of the tournament's semi-final round will meet in October in Tokyo.
Nguyen tries to extend championship reign
The coveted ONE Championship featherweight belt will be up for grabs as Vietnamese-Australian sensation Martin Nguyen is slated to share the cage with dangerous Japanese stalwart Koyomi Matsushima in the night’s main event.
Nguyen was last seen in action in April when he obliterated former featherweight titlist Narantungalag Jadambaa with an incredible walk-off flying knee in the second round. That fight was his first cage outing after nine months, but he showed no signs of rust as he rounded off a dominant performance with that stunning strike.
Now, just four months removed from his last appearance, Nguyen should be even sharper and more finely-tuned to face his next challenger. Matsushima became an instant contender in his promotional debut in September of last year when he knocked out one-time featherweight champion Marat Gafurov within a round.
Although the next several months were plagued by injury, Matsushima returned with a dominant performance against South Korea’s Kwon Won Il, which earned him a win by unanimous decision. Operating behind his heavy hands that produce highlight-reel knockout finishes, the Japanese contender should pose a big threat to Nguyen.
The co-headliner of the evening is a five-round Muay Thai contest as United Kingdom’s Jonathan Haggerty is set to defend his gold-plated strap for the first time versus Thailand’s Rodtang Jitmuangnon
Three more Team Lakay fighters
The Manila faithful is sure to be on their feet on August 2 as Eustaquio, Banario and Edward Kelly will join Folayang and Kingad in donning Team Lakay’s signature bright red color at ONE: Dawn Of Heroes.
A former ONE Championship flyweight titleholder, Eustaquio will take McLaren’s spot to lock horns with Wakamatsu. The 30-year-old Baguio resident has eight wins over top competition in his weight class. He is fresh from a dominant victory over South Korea’s Kim Kyu Sung.
Eustaquio aims to keep himself a strong candidate to vie for his division‘s top prize, but his next assignment is no easy task as Wakamatsu is driven to get back on the winning track after losing two-straight fights in ONE Championship. The winner of the match will replace any ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix finalist who cannot compete due to injury.
Meanwhile, Banario will duke it out against Dae Sung Park in a three-round lightweight clash. The South Korean brute has won two consecutive bouts since graduating from Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series. He looks to add a prominent name to his list of victims by defeating Banario, who initially bowed out of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix against Lowen Tynanes last January.
On the other hand, a tough test awaits Kelly in his upcoming bout. Coming off a thrilling stoppage win in the same building against Sung Jong Lee last April, he will welcome Xie Bin to the featherweight division. The Chinese prospect has torn through the bantamweight ranks in the past two and a half years with six consecutive wins. He will now aim to make it six finishes in a row.
For more information, visit ONEFC.com.