MANILA, Philippines — Filipino-American heavyweight champion Brandon Vera will make his first title defense Friday evening when he takes on a dangerous Japanese grappler in Hideki Sekine in the main event of ONE: Age of Domination mixed martial arts event at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Vera expects a difficult match against the unbeaten, wide-bodied Sekine, who specializes in judo and jiu-jitsu.
"Mahirap, matindi 'yung g****g 'yun," the former UFC fighter said. "Malaki 'yung katawan, malaki 'yung ulo."
(It's going to be tough. He's strong. He's got a big body and huge head.)
"He's been undefeated for seven years in jiu-jitsu, and he's been undefeated in his MMA career."
Vera, now settled in the Philippines, said he'll do whatever it takes to give his countrymen a favorable result.
"It's like my house. Matatalo ka ba sa bahay mo? Hindi pwede. Mamamatay muna ako before I lose in the ring," said the six-foot-two heavyweight.
(Do you want to lose at home? That's not going to happen. I'll die first before I lose in the ring.)
Sekine sports a 7-0 record, while Vera is a veteran with a record of 14-7-1.
In the other championship card, Filipino-Australian Reece McLaren will challenge Bibiano Fernandes of Brazil for the bantamweight crown.
McLaren wants to be the fourth Filipino to win an MMA world title after Honorio Banario, Eduard Folayang and Vera, but he'll have to work extra hard against Fernandes, who has not tasted defeat in six years.
"My opponent Bibiano Fernandes is an absolute beast," McLaren said on ONE Championship’s website.
"Bibiano's strengths are his ground game. He was the 2003, 2004, and 2005 [Brazilian jiu-jitsu] world champion. He is definitely bringing in a world champion jiu-jitsu game.”
What keeps McLaren's hopes up is his propensity to pull off surprises. Since joining ONE Championship, McLaren has already tallied two upsets.
In his debut against highly touted Mark Streigl, he did the unthinkable by forcing the Filipino-American fighter to submission. He followed this up with a decision win against erstwhile unbeaten combat sambo world champion Muin Gafurov.
"Everyone loves the underdog story and they love it when he wins, so give me that label and I will run with it," McLaren said.
Other Filipinos fighting on Friday include come-backing fighter Striegl and Team Lakay stalwarts Geje Eustaquio, Honorio Banario, Edward Kelly, Danny Kingad and April Osenio.
Streigl will square off against Bulgarian grappler Sotir Kichukov for a chance to take on the winner between McLaren and Fernandes.
Estaquiao faces Toni Tauru of Finland, while Banario takes on Rajinder Singh Meena of India. Kelly is lined up to square off against Indonesia’s Su Noto, Osenio battles Jenny Huang, while Kingad tackles fellow Filipino fighter Eugene Toquero.
Folayang, who was recently crowned as ONE lightweight champion following his stunning victory over Shinya Aoki, is expected to grace the event to cheer for his team mates.
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