Earlier in July, ONE Championship made a triumphant return to Guangzhou, China, with ONE: BATTLE FOR THE HEAVENS.
The spectacular event was highlighted by the crowning of the inaugural ONE Super Series Kickboxing Atomweight World Champion. Also, a pair of mixed martial artists re-emerged as top contenders in their weight class, and a slew of Chinese warriors made names for themselves.
Now, just a few weeks removed from the action-filled show, let’s take a look at what could be next for some of the biggest winners from ONE: BATTLE FOR THE HEAVENS.
Since moving down to the flyweight division, former ONE Bantamweight World Title challenger Reece “Lightning” McLaren has been on an absolute tear.
The 26-year-old from Australia’s Gold Coast has defeated three contenders in consecutive bouts. His latest victory came over two-time DEEP Flyweight Champion Tatsumitsu “The Sweeper” Wada, whom he defeated via split decision.
Up next for the Filipino-Australian dynamo could be a showdown with reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, whose wushu striking and terrific takedown defense could pose some challenges for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
If Eustaquio is not immediately available, McLaren says he does not want to hang around. If his next challenge is not for the gold, he could face former World Champions Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov and Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes. Both athletes have different areas of grappling expertise, which would make for fascinating ground battles.
Fu Chang Xin
Fu Chang Xin made his ONE debut a successful one, as he defeated Kazakhstan’s Rustem “The Actor” Yensebayev via TKO in the first round.
It was an impressive victory for the promotional newcomer, who now finds himself among a sea of talent at bantamweight.
The Chinese athlete still needs to be tested, however, to gauge his position in the weight class. A stellar match-up for Fu would be against Kevin “Oldboy” Chung. The Korean-American standout went three rounds with new ONE Interim Bantamweight World Champion Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon last November, so he has high-profile experience on his side.
Former ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title Challenger Istela Nunes turned in a tremendous performance against the Philippines’ Gina “Conviction” Iniong.
The Brazilian dazzled with high-flying kicks, sharp combinations, and solid takedown defense, which helped her earn a unanimous decision victory.
Nunes could now take a rematch with former World Title challenger Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi. They collided at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD in August 2016, when the Brazilian narrowly edged out the Japanese powerhouse via split decision to earn a shot at Angela Lee’s coveted belt.
Nunes and Yamaguchi are undoubtedly the atomweight division’s top contenders, and it would be interesting to see them face-off two years later with their refined skill sets.
Another enthralling option for Nunes could be a showdown with inaugural ONE Super Series Kickboxing Atomweight World Champion Kai Ting Chuang. Nunes is a two-time Muay Thai World Champion, and an encounter with “Killer Bee” in a striking-only tilt could produce fireworks.
DEEP Future King Tournament Champion Shuya “Stealth” Kamikubo made a statement in his promotional debut.
Not only did the Japanese athlete snap “The Terminator” Sunoto’s four-bout win streak, he finished him with a volley of punches in the second round of their bantamweight tilt. The 25-year-old talent was dominant in his victory, and he could be one of the future stars of the division.
Kamikubo could test his skills against a top contender next, like former ONE Bantamweight World Title challenger “Ottogi” Dae Hwan Kim. The South Korean has the explosive striking, high-level grappling, and granite chin to test “Stealth’s” credentials.
Also, three-time DEEP Champion Masakazu “Ashikan Judan” Imanari would present a tantalizing match-up. Kamikubo’s compatriot is known as a leg lock legend, and the veteran could be a serious test for the young dynamo’s grappling prowess.
Zhao Zhi Kang
China’s Zhao Zhi Kang masterfully utilized his wide-ranging arsenal to overwhelm fellow countryman Ma Xu Dong, and he put his rival to sleep with a guillotine choke in the final round of their catch weight affair.
The 23-year-old Chinese star will be looking for his 25th professional win in his next contest, which could be back in his familiar environment of the featherweight division.
That could come against a young, talented grappler such as Pakistan’s Ahmed “Wolverine” Mujtaba, or even a veteran like Eric “The Natural” Kelly. The Filipino is a former ONE Featherweight World Title challenger who has clashed with some of the stiffest competition in ONE, like Ev Ting, Narantungalag Jadambaa, and Tetsuya Yamada.
Kelly is equipped with the fierce striking and submission game that could push Zhao to the limit. If the Chinese star were to defeat any of these athletes, he would elevate his career to the next level.