The ONE Super Series Muay Thai bantamweight division has certainly made its mark in 2020.
With a dominant World Champion, four men vying for a shot at their own greatness, and a plethora of talented athletes waiting in the shadows, any matchup in this weight class and martial arts discipline is must-see entertainment.
Now that the first chapter of ONE: A NEW BREED is closed, we take a dive into the division’s deep talent pool.
The World Champion
The current divisional king is Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, who has been invincible since making his promotional debut in April 2018. At ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, the Thai beat Fabio Pinca by unanimous decision, kick-starting a winning streak that no challenger has been able to snap.
Those challengers have included Mehdi “Diamond Heart” Zatout, Han Zi Hao – who fell to Nong-O in the inaugural ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai World Title fight – Hiroaki “Kaibutsukun” Suzuki, Brice “The Truck” Delval, and compatriot Saemapetch Fairtex.
What makes the reigning ONE World Champion almost unbeatable is his fight IQ. Nong-O is able to decipher what his opponents are trying to accomplish, and within seconds, he has a counter served up to stifle those attempts.
Take his bout with Pinca, for example. Every time Nong-O delivered his right kick, Pinca reacted by lifting his leg to defend it. After picking up on that repetitive movement, the Thai faked a right kick, waited for Pinca to block, and then dug his right leg into the Frenchman’s body as he was lowering his leg.
And in Nong-O’s last World Title defense against Saemapetch at ONE: EDGE OF GREATNESS in November, he was again too quick and too slick. The champ magnificently predicted when Saemapetch was going to launch his left kick. Just as the Fairtex representative’s toes left the ground, Nong-O had already started to counter with a cutting right low kick that sent Saemapetch flying.
However, the man below will pose a serious threat to the king’s reign.
The Next Challenger
Rodlek PK.Saenchai Muaythaigym guaranteed himself a shot at Nong-O’s gold by defeating “Left Meteorite” Kulabdam Sor. Jor. Piek Uthai in the ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai Tournament final on Friday, 28 August.
Through it all, Rodlek has proven he’s a force to be reckoned with in the bantamweight division. The man’s chin is constructed of concrete and his leg kicks can splinter telephone poles.
In his bout with Miller, for instance, he absorbed the best of what “Maddog” had to offer, marched forward, and ultimately ended the contest with a showstopping overhand right.
Knockout power aside, Rodlek is always adding to his impressive skill set.
For example, he displayed new defensive tactics in his victory over Kulabdam. While Rodlek rarely took a step backward and delivered an assortment of punches to score two knockdowns, he also defended the dangerous left hand of Kulabdam well and rarely took a clean hit.
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The Thai Talents
After the aforementioned World Champion and the next challenger, the ONE Super Series Muay Thai bantamweight division is stacked with a myriad of other great strikers in “the art of eight limbs.”
“The Million Dollar Baby” Sangmanee Klong SuanPluResort is one of them. Before entering the bantamweight tournament, Sangmanee went 2-0 in ONE, picking up wins against Azize Hlali and Kenta Yamada.
In both of those matches, Sangmanee displayed the technical flair that made him “The Million Dollar Baby.” But he shined brightest in his bout with Yamada at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW in January, delivering one precise left kick after the next into the right side of his rival until the man from Japan could barely raise his arm.
Meanwhile, it was Kulabdam who handed Sangmanee his first loss in ONE. That was also the bout that showed the world what a dangerous striker “Left Meteorite” is and propelled him to the ONE Bantamweight Muay Thai Tournament final.
Moreover, until he met Rodlek in the tournament final, Kulabdam had been on a tear, first defeating Bobo Sacko at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH in September 2019 and then stopping Sangmanee with his famous left punch in the semifinals at ONE: NO SURRENDER III.
Last, but certainly not least, is Saemapetch, who very well could’ve been in the challenger spot above had he not picked up an injury and withdrawn from the tournament. The man from Fairtex has proven to be one of the craftier strikers in the division, defeating Deividas “The Lithuanian Savage” Danyla, Ognjen Topic, Rodlek, and – at the time – future ONE Bantamweight Kickboxing World Champion Alaverdi “Babyface Killer” Ramazanov.
Saemapetch’s only loss in The Home Of Martial Arts came by the hands of Nong-O, who stopped the Fairtex representative in the fourth round of their World Title fight at ONE: EDGE OF GREATNESS.
The Future Contenders
Sacko, who has over 30 knockouts to his name, could pose a legitimate threat to any man on this list, and he showed glimpses of that potential in his bout against Kulabdam. The Frenchman forced “Left Meteorite” to fight off the back foot and proved that his left hand is nearly as dangerous.
Although he fell to Kulabdam, Sacko also raised his stock immensely in ONE.
Muangthai, meanwhile, is known as the “Elbow Zombie” for a reason. Since joining ONE in November 2018, he has gone 3-0, defeating the likes of Panicos Yusuf, Yamada, and Delval.
What makes Muangthai a difficult competitor is his walk-forward elbow attack. The man seems to fear no one inside the ring – yet everyone seems to be afraid of his elbow.
Read more: Full Card Announced For ONE: A NEW BREED II