Little guys with big hearts – that’s what often comes to mind when fans think of athletes in the flyweight Muay Thai division.
And on Friday, 20 May, eight of the best strikers in the weight class will showcase those attributes when they compete in the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Grand Prix quarterfinals at ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot.
However, this prestigious Grand Prix will work a little differently than previous tournaments in ONE Championship.
Instead of awaiting the winner, the division’s reigning World Champion – Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon – will participate in the bracket and look to claim the coveted silver belt. And if Rodtang is eliminated, the Grand Prix Champion will challenge him for World Title gold next.
Before the action kicks off at the Singapore Indoor Stadium later this month, let’s take a look at all four quarterfinal matchups.
Rodtang Jitmuangnon vs. Jacob Smith
This clash pits the biggest Muay Thai star on the planet against a relatively green – yet equally determined – rising phenom.
ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang Jitmuangnon is 267-42-10 as a professional, while British Muay Thai Champion Jacob Smith comes into their battle with a 14-5-1 striking record.
But while Rodtang has yet to lose under Muay Thai or kickboxing rules in ONE Championship, he’s been close on a few occasions.
In fact, “The Iron Man” has recorded four split-decision wins inside the Circle, with the narrowest result coming against fellow Grand Prix participant Walter Goncalves. For five rounds, the Brazilian traded shots with Rodtang, never once shying away.
Expect that same forward style from Smith, who resembles a younger Liam “Hitman” Harrison with his leg-chomping low kicks. The 29-year-old Brit can also turn it up with elbows and jumping knees, capping off his aggressive style with some flare.
If Rodtang gets into the Englishman’s head early, he could cruise to an easy victory. But if Smith can keep his emotions out of this fight, his aggressive skill set could carry him to a massive first-round upset.
Jonathan Haggerty vs. Walter Goncalves
Former ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion and current #1 contender Jonathan “The General” Haggerty meets #3-ranked flyweight kickboxer Walter Goncalves in a clash that could move either striker toward a rematch with Rodtang.
Moreover, this battle will see two of the most exciting flyweight Muay Thai strikers on the planet go toe-to-toe.
Haggerty has been a force in the weight class for years, with his only losses in ONE coming against Rodtang in a pair of famous World Title contests. Aside from that, he’s beaten four top-ranked opponents with his offensive push kicks and downward elbows.
Goncalves, although owning an 0-2 record in ONE, is always a dangerous competitor. The man with a 65-7 career record loves himself a good ol’ fashioned scrap, and he’ll undoubtedly get that against “The General.”
If Haggerty can keep Goncalves on the outside with his push kicks and then hop into range for his downward elbows, the Brazilian could be in for a long night. But should Goncalves find the range for his punches, he could send a shockwave through the former divisional king.
Superlek Kiatmoo9 vs. Taiki Naito
If any quarterfinal bout promises a contrast of styles, it has to be the matchup between #2-ranked flyweight Muay Thai and kickboxing contender “The Kicking Machine” Superlek Kiatmoo9 and #4-ranked flyweight kickboxing contender Taiki “Silent Sniper” Naito.
As his nickname suggests, Superlek is feared for the accuracy and power in his lower limbs. He’s used those kicks to rack up a 127-29-4 striking record and a 4-1 slate in the Circle, defeating the likes of #3-ranked flyweight Muay Thai contender “The Angel Warrior” Panpayak Jitmuangnon.
“The Kicking Machine’s” only setback in ONE came in his World Title challenge of reigning flyweight kickboxing king Ilias Ennahachi. Now back on the hunt for Muay Thai gold, expect the 26-year-old Thai to ignite the Singapore Indoor Stadium with his explosiveness.
On the other side, Naito takes a completely different approach to Muay Thai – but he’s just as dangerous.
The Japanese athlete employs a jumpy kickboxing style that could cause problems for Superlek, as we saw when the Thai challenged Ennahachi.
“Silent Sniper” has also gone 5-1 in ONE Championship so far, with his only loss coming against Haggerty.
Savvas Michael vs. Amir Naseri
Savvas Michael will look to rebound from back-to-back losses against Taiki Naito and Lerdsila Phuket Top team – but he’ll face a tough quarterfinal task in promotional newcomer Amir Naseri.
Michael has endured a tough start to life in ONE, but he owns a 41-4 career record and multiple Muay Thai World Titles. Plus, the 23-year-old Cyprus native has spent the past couple of years soaking up valuable knowledge from the elite trainers and fighters at Petchyindee Academy.
Some of that development should include an improved kick and knee game, which he’ll undoubtedly utilize against the Iranian-Malaysian.
For his part, Naseri is the least-known man in the quarterfinals, but nobody should look past this dangerous debutant.
The 30-year-old’s well-rounded skills earned him the 140-pound Omnoi Stadium Championship, which made him only the third non-Thai in history to accomplish the feat.
If Michael can find a way to get past the reach of Naseri and work his knees, he could soften up his foe and make him easier to finish off with kicks in the later rounds.
But if the ONE newcomer showcases the form that bolstered his name in Thailand’s Muay Thai scene, he could find his way to the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Grand Prix semifinals.