Everything seemed to be aligning for Danny “The King” Kingad.
The undefeated Filipino standout was riding an eight-bout win streak, had dominated nearly all of his opponents, and was quickly becoming one of the most popular flyweight heroes on ONE Championship’s roster.
Last November, however, his meteoric rise came to a screeching halt. He unsuccessfully challenged ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes for the coveted title at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD on home soil.
Kingad appeared a shadow of himself, lacked his trademark aggressiveness, and succumbed to a rear-naked choke late in the first round. Simply put, he collapsed under the pressure.
“Against Moraes, I had never experienced that level of competition before, so I had the jitters. It my first world title opportunity, and I did not know what to expect in that sort of situation. It caught me off guard a little bit,” the 22-year-old explains.
“I was terribly nervous. I fell away from the game plan, and my mind went completely blank. Mentally, I just was not in it. If ever I get another chance at this, I know things will be different.”
Kingad (8-1) knows it has nothing to do with the world-class training he receives at the famed Team Lakay, a Baguio City, Philippines-based camp led by Mark Sangiao. After all, the team has produced a slew of world champions including Eduard Folayang, Honorio Banario, and current ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio.
Instead, “The King” believes his issues stem from a lack of self-assurance, as he failed to carry his fearless warrior spirit into the world title match. While he has all the physical tools necessary to defeat anybody, he is starting to realize that he needs to keep sharpening his mind, too.
“There is no problem with our training; we are running fluidly like a well-oiled machine. I just really have to work on my confidence. I was beaten mentally, and that is what I have to fix. I have to be stronger in the mind,” Kingad states.
“I feel very confident and strong in training, but I need to work on transferring that confidence into my performances. The skills are there, but the confidence is not. That is what I am working on.
“The experience has been great for me and my development. I have learned so much more from this than any of my wins. I have a lot of things to improve on, and I am working very hard to make sure I am ready for my next bout.”
On Friday, 9 March, he will have the chance to display everything he has learned since the loss four months ago. He is scheduled to meet Sotir “The Trouble” Kichukov (13-7) at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY, live from the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Kichukov, a Max Fight Bantamweight Champion, is a Bulgarian martial artist who lives and trains in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The 27-year-old is a well-rounded competitor who is definitely has killer instinct. In fact, 10 of his 13 professional wins have come by stoppage.
Most recently, he competed at ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES in January opposite “The Southern Eagle” Ma Hao Bin. It was a competitive three-round affair, but the Chinese grappling superstar effectively leaned on his national wrestling championship pedigree to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Now, only four weeks removed from that defeat, Kichukov is looking for a quick rebound, and “The King” knows all about the dangers the reinvigorated warrior presents.
“I know he lost his last bout, and he is hungry to win. I know he will give his best in our bout, but I will make sure that my hand will be raised,” Kingad says.
“His strengths are is wrestling and his ground game, but I am ready. [At Team Lakay], we have been training more on our wrestling and ground game. Again, I learned a lot from my last bout.”
That seems to the attitude surrounding Kingad during the past few months of his life. The Filipino knows the mistakes he committed against the ONE Flyweight World Champion in November, and he is extremely motivated to show the entire world that he has corrected his past errors.
For “The King,” it is an obsession, and this time, his head is in the right mind space.
“I feel very comfortable and confident for this bout with Sotir, because losing in my last bout against Moraes has made me more eager, hungrier, and more determined to win.”