Fans watching ONE 162 last Friday were treated to a martial arts spectacle that continuously upped the ante. Bout by bout, the action got better and better until it reached a fever pitch in the main event.
In that headline affair, young striking stars Zhang Peimian and Jonathan Di Bella staged a grueling five-round battle for the vacant ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Championship – and the most dramatic moment came in the final 60 seconds.
Here, we recap that epic World Title showdown and three other highlights from a fantastic night of combat sports in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Di Bella Ushers In New Era With Perfect Debut
Jonathan Di Bella stepped into the ONE Championship Circle for the first time with the weight of a headline fight and a World Title opportunity resting on his shoulders. That might have fazed some competitors – but not him.
For the better part of four rounds, Di Bella and teenage sensation “Fighting Rooster” Zhang Peimian went back and forth in a tightly contested tactical battle. For every piece of offense scored, the other man answered right back.
It meant everything was up for grabs in the final frame. And with just under a minute remaining, Di Bella connected with a cracking left high kick that sent Zhang falling to the canvas.
To the Chinese athlete’s credit, he managed to meet the referee’s count and continue the bout. However, that powerful strike had undoubtedly sealed a career-defining victory for the Italian-Canadian.
Di Bella’s win improved his perfect professional kickboxing record to 11-0 and delivered him the ONE Strawweight Kickboxing World Title.
It also signaled the start of a new era in the strawweight kickboxing division, with the 26-year-old upstart claiming the belt that was left vacant by Thai legend Sam-A Gaiyanghadao.
McLaren Showcases New And Improved Striking
BJJ black belt Reece McLaren has long been one of the most exciting athletes in the flyweight MMA division, finding the majority of his success with elite grappling skills.
But now under the tutelage of Muay Thai legend John Wayne Parr at Boonchu Gym in Australia, “Lightning” is starting to bring the thunder in the stand-up department, too.
Against Windson Ramos on Friday, the division’s #5-ranked contender displayed his evolution on the feet. McLaren’s jab set the tone from the opening bell, and when he put the straight right behind it, he eventually scored a knockdown.
In the second round, “Lightning” began going to the body. Hooks and a right kick damaged Ramos – ultimately leaving the Brazilian unable to answer the third-round bell.
McLaren would certainly love to earn a ONE Flyweight World Title shot, and he knew it would require a more well-rounded MMA game. Training under Parr is already paying dividends, and rivals must worry about the Aussie’s arsenal on both the feet and the ground.
Balart Is No Longer An Underdog
While Cuban athlete Gustavo Balart is a former Olympic wrestler, he’s always been seen as an underdog in MMA due to his size. That can no longer be the case after the 4-foot-11 dynamo defeated a former ONE Strawweight World Champion for the second straight time.
After beating Yosuke Saruta last time out, Balart edged out Alex Silva on the scorecards to take another big step in the strawweight division. By now, the #4-ranked contender has firmly put himself among the elite.
Balart did it with defense and power. Although Silva got him to the canvas on multiple occasions, the Cuban’s wrestling allowed him to defend positions and quickly get back to his feet. Once standing, he fired heavy shots that resonated with the judges.
“El Gladiador” is an inspiration. The 35-year-old has overcome tough obstacles throughout his martial arts journey, and he can finally battle any top strawweight opponent with plenty of confidence.
Saputra Continues Historic First-Round Finishing Streak
Seven consecutive victories for Eko Roni Saputra are made even more impressive by the fact that all seven have come in the very first frame.
It’s the longest first-round finishing streak in ONE Championship history – and the Indonesian is showing no signs of slowing down.
The wrestling standout held his own on the feet against Muay Thai stylist Yodkaikaew “Y2K” Fairtex. And before long, he seized a takedown opportunity, grabbed a heel hook, and locked it in to force the tap.
The flyweight’s evolution as a mixed martial artist continues to amaze fans. He has steadily taken his wrestling acumen and added in each element of the sport to accentuate what he does best. The proof is in the pudding after yet another lightning-fast win.
After Friday’s win, the 31-year-old called for a top-five ranked flyweight, which will be hard to deny amid an absolutely incredible run of form.