There are few heroes on the ONE Championship roster who are hotter than Team Lakay’s Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon (18-5) right now.
Belingon is riding an impressive five-bout win streak, and has finished three of his last four adversaries in emphatic fashion. His latest song of triumph came against Bali-based American grappler Andrew Leone (8-4) last Friday, 20 April, in the main event of ONE: HEROES OF HONOR.
It was perhaps his most devastating showcase of fury and power yet.
In front of a capacity crowd at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, the local favorite jumped on Leone from the opening bell. He swarmed the American with a never-ending barrage of haymakers, and even out-grappled the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt collegiate wrestler on the ground.
“I just got to a point where I am really confident in my takedown and submission defense,” said the 30-year-old Belingon, who spoke to ONE from inside his hotel room in Manila’s City Of Dreams just hours following his victory.
“We have worked very hard on improving these weak areas of my skill set over the past few years. Right now, my confidence is sky high.”
Belingon’s improved grappling has allowed him to strike without fear, and subsequently led him to punishing Leone with his trademark aggression.
“The Silencer” finished the former bantamweight world title challenger early in the second frame, as he sent Leone flying across the five-rope ring with a spinning back kick, and followed it up with a melee of punches, elbows, and knee strikes to force a TKO.
“That is my style. I will take it right to my opponents, and force them to make decisions in the split seconds they have between punches,” Belingon explained.
“Do they punch back, or do they try to take it to the ground? Every second they spend thinking of what to do next, I am hitting them with the hardest punch I have ever thrown.”
Over the last two years, Belingon has shown tremendous improvements to his overall game.
After suffering a heartbreaking submission loss to ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in his first world title challenge back in January 2016, Belingon carefully analyzed the video to figure out what went wrong.
“The Silencer” then realized his glaring weaknesses, and knew he had to work on his grappling if he ever wanted to get back into world title contention.
That loss served as the ultimate motivation, and he thanks the World Champion for the lesson.
“I have improved a lot since that first bout, and I cannot wait to show him (Fernandes) what I have become,” the Filipino said.
“He inspired me to become the fighter I am today. Because of Fernandes, I realized what I was severely lacking. I knew in order to have a chance, I had to take care of my takedown defense and grappling. With the help of my teammates and my coach, I am here now.”
Prior to last Friday’s main event tilt, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong revealed that he had already offered Belingon a rematch with Fernandes. All he had to do was wait for the Brazilian to get back to full health, and the title shot was his.
Instead, Belingon opted to put it all at risk. He took on a dangerous opponent in Leone, and emerged victorious. It just goes to show that true warriors never turn their backs on any foe, regardless if it is for a title or not.
“I just welcome all challenges, whoever it may be,” he says.
“It is not my place to call out champions. I am a martial artist. I just want to test myself against the best.”
Right now, the best is Fernandes, and Belingon has punched his ticket to a high-profile world title rematch later this year. As fans await eagerly for the official announcement, it is already shaping up to be one of the most anticipated showdowns of 2018.
After his masterpiece at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR, Belingon sat on the bed in his hotel room, and contemplated what could be next for his career.
When asked if he was excited to finally face the legendary ONE Bantamweight World Champion, Belingon flashed a bright smile.
“Of course,” he said. “I am as ready as I will ever be. It is time.”