MMA: Pinay fighter eyeing shot at ONE atomweight belt


Posted at Feb 26 2020 04:09 PM

Denice Zamboanga is eyeing an upset of Mei Yamaguchi. Handout photo

MANILA, Philippines – Denice Zamboanga may be a relative newcomer to ONE Championship, but she already knows who she wants to face next if she wins on February 28.

Zamboanga will take on longstanding top contender Mei Yamaguchi at ONE: King of the Jungle on Friday at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

If she is triumphant, Zamboanga said she will immediately ask for a shot at the ONE women's atomweight world championship – the belt held by top star Angela Lee.

The Fairtex Gym-trained Zamboanga took the bout with Yamaguchi on short notice, after she realized the huge opportunity that awaits her should she emerge victorious.

"I was in the Philippines when Fairtex called me about it, and told me that I had a day to think about it," she recalled. "I said, 'okay,' and took it."

"It was the offseason for me, spending time with my family after being away for quite a while, and it was the holidays," she added. "A few days later, I was on the plane back to get ready for training again."

For the young fighter, she is in a win-win situation.

"I believe this match could be a stepping stone to get me closer to a world title shot," Zamboanga said. "If I lost, it would be against a huge contender, and if I win, the rewards could be enormous."

"I have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and I'm not planning to lose in any way," she added. "If I can beat Mei, I will call out Angela Lee."

Yamaguchi has twice faced off against Lee for the atomweight belt, and came close to capturing the golden strap on both occasions. Since her last encounter with Lee, Yamaguchi has won four consecutive matches.

Though she will be the underdog in their bout, Zamboanga is brimming with confidence – especially as she has studied Yamaguchi's style diligently.

"I've watched Mei's matches. She's fought Jenny (Huang) twice, and I spar with Jenny a lot now," she revealed. "I feel like I can go toe-to-toe with her."

"She's really good on the ground, and her wrestling is superb," she added. "I need to maintain my distance and really assert my striking, so that I can show a different side of my skills to everyone."

"I wasn't really satisfied with my last performance, so I want to make up for it this time around."

Zamboanga made a triumphant debut in ONE Championship, pulling off an upset of Malaysian sensation Jihin Radzuan. 

"The Menace" is planning a similar result in Singapore, in the hopes of catching Lee's attention and setting up a world title opportunity for herself.

Before she can think of the gold, however, Zamboanga knows she has to get past Yamaguchi.

"I think I have the advantage in striking, and my takedown defense is good," she said. "I think my reach will be an advantage, and I think I can also take her down."

"I think I will be able to defend her grappling and maintain control on top if we're on the ground, just like what I did against Jihin."

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).