ONE: Century is the biggest event in the eight-year existence of ONE Championship, filled with non-stop action and two stacked cards being hosted on the same day.
The highly-anticipated spectacle will take place inside the legendary Ryogoku Kokugikan, a fitting setting for the promotion’s 100th blockbuster. There will be world championship action, three World Grand Prix final bouts, ONE Super Series battles, and 44 athletes in the promotion's second visit to Tokyo.
Before the fighters step under the bright lights, here are some narratives to look out for to get you ready for Sunday's event.
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Clash of the titans
Filipino-American superstar Brandon Vera has defeated every opponent that ONE Championship has thrown his way since he inked a contract with them in 2014. He became the organization’s first and only heavyweight champion when he knocked out Paul Cheng in 26 seconds in December 2015.
On a mission to find a challenge that would give him a tough test inside the cage, the 42-year-old from Norfolk, Virginia will trim down to challenge Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang for the light heavyweight strap. A two-division world champion, Aung La N Sang has finished his last five fights via stoppage, including the win that earned him the light heavyweight crown. It was a 56-second head-kick knockout of Alexandre Machado February of last year.
Vera may be entering the championship clash with the size and length advantage, but it does not mean that he is the favorite to win. The heavyweight kingpin has only competed once a year since 2014, winning easily in all those matches.
Meanwhile, his opponent, nicknamed “The Burmese Python,” is more battle-tested. He has been active since 2014, and he is known for his great endurance and durability in matches that allow him to grind his foes down. Simply put, Aung La N Sang is going to be Vera’s first real test since his arrival in the Singaporean-based promotion.
Revenge or repeat
The stakes are higher than ever for Singaporean sensation Angela Lee when she returns to the cage on Sunday. The 23-year-old phenom aims to defend her atomweight belt and avenge the first loss of her professional career when she squares off again with Chinese powerhouse Xiong Jing Nan.
Back in March, Lee moved up a division to take a shot at the women’s strawweight title, and though she came close to a submission win, she eventually fell to a fifth-round technical knockout. Things didn't bode well for her a couple of months later in her second strawweight match in July; she suffered the same fate, yielding to ex-Evolve MMA teammate Michelle Nicolini in a unanimous decision.
These losses make Lee hell-bent in keeping her atomweight title. She is expected to fight with hunger in her eyes when she takes on Xiong in Tokyo.
Ending the feud
The rivalry between Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon started off as just as a simple competition between outstanding combatants. But after a couple of fights, it became a lot more personal. In Japan, both men will have the chance to put a definitive closure to their feud.
Belingon has faced the Brazilian legend three times for the bantamweight title, losing twice. The last time they met, the Filipino was disqualifid due to an accidental foul.
Up until that point, there was a healthy respect between the two. But Belingon felt Fernandes was play-acting. The Brazilian, meanwhile, accused the Filipino of having deliberately hit him with illegal blows in the third fight. Like Belingon, he is seeking to put a stamp on the most compelling rivalry in the organization’s eight-year history and leave no doubt about the division’s true king.
The two kings
Demetrious Johnson, who has reigned as the pound-for-pound king of the sport in the last five years, brought a lot of hype when he joined ONE Championship late last year. Many fans perceived that he would just run through the competition in his new home, but that has not been the case for the 33-year-old American superstar.
It has been a tough road to the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix finals for him. In the quarterfinals, Yuya Wakamatsu showed off slick striking in quick blitzes to deal unexpected damage on the fighter from Kentucky. Fortunately, Johnson made up for it by displaying fantastic defensive grappling, which kept him out of trouble a lot longer than many expected.
In the semifinals, Johnson had his hands full against Tatsumitsu Wada. Their first round was dominated by the skillful Japanese stalwart who took Johnson’s back, controlling him on the ground. This was one of the rare instances that Mighty Mouse has ever looked to be in trouble in the grappling stakes. Luckily for the American, the fight ended decisively in his favor.
On Sunday, Johnson may face his greatest test yet in the form of Danny Kingad, who also had to battle tooth and nail to make it through his side of the bracket. The Team Lakay fighter is known to be a slow starter but a strong finisher. It would be interesting to see how things unfold in their five-round encounter.
Eddie Alvarez has been forced to withdraw from the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix finals against Saygid Arslanaliev due to an injury. Instead, the man from Istanbul will now face lightweight titleholder Christian Lee, who took over the spot a little over two weeks to the start of the event.
Lee has mainly competed in the featherweight division of the promotion, but he shocked many by moving up in weight to defeat Shinya Aoki for the belt last May. The 21-year-old Singaporean also boasts a 100 percent finishing rate, which includes eight wins by knockout and four by submission.
In the other corner, Arslanaliev has also never been to the judges’ scorecards and has only gone beyond the first round once in his career. He has six knockouts and a pair of submission finishes on his record, and his only professional defeat came by disqualification due to an accidental foul.
Given both men’s outstanding repertoire in mixed martial arts, it will be a big surprise if someone does not go down before the final bell.
Long time coming
Since 2013, Honorio Banario has dreamed about sharing the cage with Shinya Aoki, touted by some as the greatest lightweight in Asian mixed martial arts history. He finally gets to tangle with the Japanese legend six years later.
Aoki's strengths are no secret. Tobikan Judan, his nickname, is notorious for shooting takedowns and imposing his will on his opponents from the get-go. But besides preparing for Aoki's dreaded Jiu-Jitsu, Banario’s striking arsenal and mental preparation will be just as important as his grappling defense against the submission specialist.
Though Banario has been in a slump lately, there is no better way to redeem himself than to defeat Aoki in front of the future hall-of-famer’s hometown crowd.
After a successful run in Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series (OWS), Lito Adiwang is now ready to open the next chapter of his promising career. The 26-year-old from Baguio is set to battle with Senzo Ikeda on the undercard of the morning show. He was offered a six-figure ONE Championship main roster contract after beating Anthony Do of Vietnam by unanimous decision in last August's OWS 7.
After conquering OWS, Adiwang looks to carry over his momentum as he takes on Ikeda, a battle-hardened, all-action flyweight competitor who gained prominence under the Pancrase banner. Thanks to a unique style that comes from his boxing background, Ikeda is a thrilling athlete to watch. It will make for a great match on Sunday.
In the Philippines, both cards of ONE: Century 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. The event will also be simulcast on iWant.