MANILA, Philippines -- Veteran fighter Kevin "The Silencer" Belingon knows that reputations don't mean much at ONE Championship, as nothing can quite prepare a fighter for the experience.
"One of the biggest adjustments new fighters are going to face when they are entering ONE would be the feeling of settling in as they would be coming into a bigger stage and to a bigger promotion with more diverse and stronger opponents," he explained.
This is the advice that Belingon will share to Jeremy "The Juggernaut" Pacatiw, the 25-year-old prodigy who now joins his seniors in the promotion.
It's a word of caution from Belingon, a former ONE bantamweight world champion who had to find his way in the company before experiencing success.
"I had a shaky start at the beginning of my career with ONE," Belingon recalled.
The Filipino bantamweight was a promising prospect and had an immaculate record of 9-0 when he first joined ONE Championship in 2012. But he was given a rude awakening in his debut at ONE: War of Lions, tapping out to Masakazu Imanari of Japan via a reverse heel hook in the very first round.
It was a wake-up call for Belingon who realized the need to refine his game plan if he hoped to succeed in ONE.
"As I have tested the waters and experienced first-hand how different the breed of sharks is in the promotion, it prompted me to become hungrier like those in the top of the division until I became one of them," he said.
Six years later, Belingon proved himself worthy to be at the top of the mountain as he scored a split decision win over Bibiano Fernandes at ONE: Heart of the Lion in November 2018 to capture the ONE bantamweight world championship.
It took time, but the valuable lessons from that grueling journey is what Belingon wants to impart to Pacatiw -- one that they have already started even before he makes his promotional debut.
"With Jeremy, I believe he has already started to adjust with the ONE arena as he had been accompanying his kuyas that are with ONE when we have fights. I believe that he already knows what's coming and he is ready for it," he said.
Pacatiw holds a 10-4 record and is presenting himself as one of the few Team Lakay's new bloods who are aching to prove that the Baguio-based stable is ready to usher in the next generation of Filipino warriors.
Even now, Belingon is already impressed with Pacatiw, calling him a "complete fighter."
"What I like most is his confidence, his speed, and his power. I think that these are his assets to climb up the rank in ONE Championship. And I think for now, he just needs to focus on his training and his game plan for his upcoming fight," he said.
But as high as his confidence is on Pacatiw, Belingon warned the upstart never to fall to the traps of complacency.
"Jeremy is now stepping on a bigger stage and I think the biggest challenge for him is on how he's going to deal with his mindset going into this fight, especially that this is his debut. He has the skills to compete with high level fighters, so he just needs to focus on his game plan to win the game," he said.
He further warned that ONE's bantamweight division is stacked with talents, with Fernandes at the top of the list. Belingon remains a contender, as is John "Hands of Stone" Lineker. Thus, thriving in the division won't be a cakewalk.
"The difference of this division with the other promotions is that all the fighters in ONE Championship are high-level and skilled athletes. Everyone here is elite, so you really have to step up your game," said Belingon.
Nonetheless, Belingon couldn't help but smile seeing this infusion of youth to Team Lakay in ONE Championship, believing truly that the future is now.
"I'm happy and excited for him and the rest of the guys from the team that have joined ONE recently. I can't wait to see them compete inside the Circle and show the world what the new breed of Team Lakay fighters can bring to the table," he said.
As for Jeremy, his Kuya Kevin has only one piece of advice: "Never stop learning, stay humble, stay motivated, and be confident."
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