Japanese knockout artist Koyomi Matsushima has taken ONE Championship’s talent-filled featherweight division by storm. He won two important matches in astounding fashion that quickly elevated his status into world title contender.
It might have taken the Kanagawa native two matches and nearly a year before he got the title shot he deserves, but it is finally happening on August 2 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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At ONE: Dawn Of Heroes, he is set to square off with Vietnamese-Australian sensation Martin Nguyen in the main event for the featherweight title.
Although challenging Nguyen this early in his run in ONE is an achievement in itself, Matsushima cannot help but think of his last match on Philippine soil. It was in front of a passionate crowd in April 2016, and he was up against hometown favorite Rolando Gabriel Dy at Pacific Xtreme Combat’s 16th live event.
That bout was the co-feature attraction of the evening at Solaire Resort and Casino’s luxurious Grand Ballroom. It attracted a tremendous amount of attention and buzz because of both men’s all-out style and explosive striking. At that time, Matsushima was an undefeated competitor with five knockout wins under his belt. Momentum and hype were all with the Japanese.
But Dy had other plans. The son of former boxing world champion Rolando Navarrete, Dy got the job done in just 23 seconds by delivering a counter left hook then following it up with a series of hammer-fists to compel the referee to halt the contest. “I let everyone down with my performance. It has haunted me ever since," the 26-year-old recalls. "I lost badly in that fight."
It was Matsushima's first loss on record. But the knockout defeat could have swallowed him whole, but it only freed him from the burden of maintaining an unblemished record in the sport. “After that, I felt relief. I didn’t have to worry about my win-loss record. It’s all about fighting and doing my best,” he admits.
Using his heartbreaking loss to Dy as a defining moment to learn, Matsushima offered his services to the Japanese promotion Pancrase, where he aced four of his six outings. This included a unanimous decision over former PXC bantamweight titleholder Kyle Aguon in December 2017.
His 17-month stint in Pancrase got the attention of ONE Championship, and he had his debut at the promotion against ex-featherweight kingpin Marat Gafurov last September. He did not disappoint in his maiden appearance, knocking out the Russian combatant in the first round with a stunning right cross. “I mixed lots of movement, such as feints, and I kept my distance," he recalls. "I was able to get the knockout because everything went as planned.”
As a follow-up, he dominated South Korea’s Kwon Won Il in three rounds to notch a clear-cut and unanimous win. Those two victories earned him that Friday date with Nguyen. “I am here for the title. But I am also here to erase that memory," he declares. "Come this fight, I am coming back for redemption. I am going to war and win it."
Nguyen’s track record in ONE Championship is exemplary, authoring some of the most spectacular finishes in the organization’s history. It seems that he is getting better all the time. Because of that, he has been Matsushima’s number one target since the day he signed an exclusive contract with the Singapore-based MMA company.
“He has dominated two weight classes. He’s an all-rounder with not many weaknesses," he discloses. “He’s really strong, but that’s exactly why I’m happy to have him as my opponent. I’d like to go to the bitter end, no matter how tired we both get. I’ve been training with that in mind."
When asked if he has a message for Nguyen, he confidently replies: “Please get the belt ready, so you can hand it over to me in Manila.”