ONE Championship is starting off 2018 at a blistering pace.
After holding the epic calendar opener ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE last weekend in Jakarta, Indonesia, which produced the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion, the promotion returns with its next action-packed event.
This coming Friday, 26 January, the premier martial arts organization will stage ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES from the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. The card will be headlined by several international superstars, including Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio and former flyweight world champion Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov, who will collide for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title.
Although every martial artist entering the cage will leave with the respect and adoration of the Filipino fans, here are four that have the potential to shine the brightest, and join a growing pantheon of heroes.
“The Southern Eagle” Ma Hao Bin
With a 9-1 record overall, and an unblemished 5-0 slate inside the ONE cage, China’s Ma Hao Bin is heralded as one of the country’s leading lights in the martial arts world. With 80 percent of his promotional victories coming by way of submission, “The Southern Eagle” has seamlessly added a fluid submission game to his world-class wrestling ability.
As he prepares for Bulgaria’s Sotir Kichukov, he knows a victory would no doubt propel him into the ONE Flyweight World Title picture — something he already claimed he was ready for after defeating Hexigetu at ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI.
Ma followed that impressive win by defeating Filipino knockout artist Eugene Toquero with an armbar at ONE: HERO’S DREAM, again confirming his ability to take on, and defeat, elite opposition.
He will look to fellow compatriot Xiong Jing Nan for inspiration, as she picked up the inaugural ONE Strawweight World Championship in Jakarta, and China’s first world championship in the cage, last weekend. It could be the start of a new surge in dominance for China within the martial arts arena should Ma do the same.
Rafael “Indio” Nunes
Undeterred by an absence from the cage due to injury and personal tragedy, Brazilian sensation Rafael Nunes (10-1) is eager to return to action. His only career defeat came to Koji “The Commander” Ando in his promotional debut at ONE: WAR OF DRAGONS, and although he has had some downtime, he has also used the prolonged hiatus to round out his game.
“Indio” began in BJJ and is a high-level competitor. But since that crushing defeat, he has honed his skills on the feet, becoming a national champion in Muay Thai and getting some boxing matches under his belt.
Now returning as a more complete martial artist, he possesses the skill set to cause problems for anybody in the featherweight division. He starts his return with local favorite Eric “The Natural” Kelly in Manila, and a win over the inaugural ONE Featherweight World Title challenger would be a huge feather in his cap, and win him legions of new fans.
Bruno Pucci is one of the promotion’s longest-serving athletes. He made a successful debut in 2013, but injuries have derailed him from breaking out as a full-scale superstar. Now free from the injuries that have plagued his career in recent years, “Puccibull” is determined to become a force in the organization.
A two-time BJJ No-Gi World Champion, the 27-year-old Singapore-based Brazilian possesses elite grappling skills, but has also added a formidable striking dimension to his game. Pucci demonstrated his improved striking last June, as he picked up his first victory via strikes against Jimmy Yabo in his last cage outing at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION.
Constantly honing his skills with an entire roster of world champion martial artists at Evolve MMA, he simply needs a good run to reach the top. At ONE: GLOBAL SUPERSTARS, he hopes a victory over Emilio Urrutia will kickstart a successful world championship campaign.
Emilio “The Honey Badger” Urrutia
Urrutia (10-4) faces a similar situation against Pucci.
“The Honey Badger” is a solid wrestler with an extensive background in BJJ, so it goes without saying he is more than capable of engaging in a ground battle with the world’s best. He also started his combat sports endeavors in Muay Thai, and he showed himself to be a complete martial artist in his ONE debut victory over Edward Kelly last August.
The American moved to Asia to continue chasing his martial arts dream years ago, and settled in at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand. He regularly works alongside top ONE athletes like Shannon Wiratchai, Rika Ishige and the card’s headliner Akhmetov, and seeing their rise to prominence will have undoubtedly enthused “The Honey Badger.”
In order to reach the next level of his career, Urrutia will need to defeat Pucci in what promises to be an explosive featherweight affair, and “The Honey Badger” promises he will achieve that with a finish in Manila.