A top contender is about to emerge in the bantamweight division.
On Friday, 20 April, Filipino knockout artist Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon (17-5) will grace the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, to clash with Bali MMA’s Andrew Leone (8-3) in the main event of ONE: HEROES OF HONOR.
The stakes, however, have just been raised, as ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced at the official press conference that should Belingon win, he would become the next man to challenge ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for the divisional crown.
However, that does not mean Leone has nothing to gain – if he can take out Belingon in dominant fashion, he could very well hijack the Filipino hero’s world title shot.
The Beginnings Of Two Heroes
Belingon was raised in the small Filipino village of Kiangan, Ifuago, and grew up surrounded by nature. He was hooked on Bruce Lee films, and practiced the legendary martial artist’s moves while playing bultong, traditional Filipino wrestling, with his childhood friends.
Following a traumatic encounter between militants and local authorities in his village, however, Belingon was motivated to become a martial arts hero, and bring his countrymen closer together.
“The Silencer” picked up wushu at age 17 while attending the University Of The Cordilleras, trained under Mark Sangiao, and became one of Team Lakay’s earliest members. Then, in January 2007, he made the transition to mixed martial arts.
Leone had a very different journey.
The American grew up on the shores of Long Island, New York, and flip-flopped between his love for surfing and his passion for wrestling. He incorporated karate into the mix during his early teenage years, and then earned a wrestling scholarship to Missouri Valley College in 2008.
However, he dropped out, and relocated to Southeast Asia in 2010 to feed his appetite for the martial arts. Leone got his professional mixed martial arts start there, all while bouncing around Thailand and Singapore. He then settled in Indonesia in 2014, where he opened Bali MMA alongside his brother Anthony, as well as Don Carlo-Clauss and Jakarta Muay Thai & MMA founder Steve Suryadinata.
The Road To Manila
Following his failed title challenge to Fernandes in January 2016, in which his grappling was completely exploited, Belingon made it a point to focus on improving his wrestling and takedown defense in an effort to become more well-rounded.
Evidently, that paid dividends.
He went on a four-bout win streak, and defeated quality opposition. “The Silencer” dominated respected contender Muin Gafurov in October 2016, and then knocked out a pair of former world title challengers in Toni Tauru and Reece McLaren in 2017. Notably, both Tauru and McLaren are ground specialists, being elite submission wizards. Finally, he capped off the year with a convincing unanimous decision victory over Kevin Chung.
While Leone does not currently boast an incredible win streak like his opponent, he has had an impressive run in the promotion.
The American may have fallen in his title bid against Fernandes last August, but he was admittedly off his game. Now, against Belingon, he has an opportunity to get right back into the world title picture.
The Routes To Victory
Belingon’s strength clearly lies in his stand-up. He is a Philippine national wushu champion who loves to use his strikes. And to ensure he is able to display his immaculate striking, he has been working on one of his primary weaknesses: his grappling.
“After working on my wrestling and grappling over the past couple of years, I have really improved,” he says. “Because of this improved grappling, my striking can be showcased even more.”
His fellow Team Lakay stablemate, Eduard Folayang, previously mentioned they are working on a solid game plan, and believes “The Silencer” has what it takes to deliver another “scintillating knockout.”
Though Belingon may have the striking advantage, Leone certainly has the grappling expertise to change the complexion of this match.
Leone is a collegiate wrestler with a BJJ black belt, and plans to lean on his strengths to force a submission, or possible TKO.
“[I will be] trying to win all the moments, [and] trying to be dominant. That is the game plan: dominance,” the Bali MMA head says. “Belingon is a tough guy, [he is] knocking everybody out. I look forward to going in there, and strangling him.”
Michael Schiavello, ONE Championship Lead Commentator
“The bantamweight division is stacked, and has the very best world champion on the entire roster in Bibiano Fernandes. With Martin Nguyen also competing at bantamweight, it is a stellar division. Any match in the division is important, particularly this one as it sets up a showdown with the champion. The stakes are exceptionally high for both men.
“A win over Leone should put Belingon into title contention on the momentum of his awesome year. He is a rolling stone wrecking the division. I was surprised when he beat McLaren, as I thought McLaren would eat him up. But that was a huge win, and it really catapulted Belingon into the spotlight.
“Leone needs to win, and win in style. He did not get to show anything against Bibi last August, and you know he wants to come out, prove a point, and send a message to Bibi to say I am better than what you saw last August. Look out for a new and improved, and super hungry, version of Leone.”
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Commentator And Former ONE Athlete
“This is a huge match-up in the bantamweight division. These two have been circling each other for years, and finally, they meet in Manila. The winner of this match should get the next shot at bantamweight gold.
“Belingon is a dangerous striker. He can end your night in a matter of moments. He has great footwork combined with good boxing. His kicks come fast, and often. If he can keep this match on the feet, it could be a short night for Leone. He has been streaking through the bantamweight division, and if he can defeat Leone, he should get a shot at the belt.
“Leone had a shot at the gold, but came up short. He has a chance to get right back into the title picture with a win over Belingon. Leone will need to pressure Belingon, and get the takedown. If he can get Belingon off his feet, he can work for the submission.”