It may not be the main event, but the enticing match-up between Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon and Reece “Lightning” McLaren at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS has the potential to steal the show. These two former title challengers have always brought the action, and deliver absolute fireworks whenever they are locked inside the cage. But now, there is even more at stake.
Both Belingon and McLaren have separated themselves from the bantamweight pack, and although each has previously fallen to ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in 2016, they’ve spent their time since then correcting their mistakes and restocking their arsenal. As a result, this match could very well lead the victor to a title rematch.
Aside from some childhood games of bultong — traditional Filipino wrestling — on the playground, Belingon did not participate in martial arts until he reached the age of 17. There, he was introduced to wushu, and competed for the University Of The Cordilleras under the leadership of head coach Mark Sangiao.
When Sangiao officially opened the Baguio City-based Team Lakay in 2006, “The Silencer” was among the first members. Since following his coach and making his professional debut in martial arts competition back in 2007, he has compiled a 15-5 record.
Belingon has long been known for his knockout power, winning six of his matches via TKO. Despite showing a weakness for submissions in the past, the Filipino bantamweight has extensively worked on improving that area. Now, at 29 years old and riding a two-bout win streak, the combatant is approaching his prime.
Although McLaren is only 25, he has quite a lot of world-class experience when it comes to martial arts competition. The Filipino-Australian is a BJJ black belt and XFC Bantamweight Champion who holds a professional record of 9-4. That black belt has been put to good use, because five of those victories have come via submission.
“Lightning” may be known for his jiu-jitsu savvy, but the product out of the Gold Coast’s Potential Unlimited Mixed Martial Arts has demonstrated some quality stand-up in the past. In fact, he used his striking to give Fernandes his toughest ONE bout ever in their last encounter.
Never content, McLaren has spent the past eight months working specifically on his striking, in an effort to become even more of a threat in the bantamweight world.
Their Quests For Greatness
Belingon earned a title shot at Fernandes’ bantamweight crown in January 2016, but aside from catching a leg kick and throwing a punch, he was not able to display his striking expertise. The Brazilian immediately took Belingon down and worked his way towards a tapout via kimura with only 56 seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
The Filipino admitted he was “not prepared to face him (Belingon) on the ground,” but Team Lakay head coach Mark Sangiao has worked with him and his teammates specifically on the ground game.
Later that October, nine months removed from the title loss, Belingon returned to the cage and scored a unanimous decision victory over Tajikistan prospect Muin Gafurov, and then battered former title challenger Toni “Dynamite” Tauru into verbal submission this past April. In both bouts, he showed markedly improved grappling.
McLaren’s road is surprisingly similar. A self-professed lifelong underdog, he was on a tear upon entering ONE Championship in late 2015. He made a successful debut that December by toppling the highly-regarded Mark Striegl and submitting him in the third round via rear-naked choke. He followed that up with a unanimous decision victory over Gafurov, becoming only the second man to defeat him after Belingon.
That earned him his title shot against Fernandes at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION last December, and he came the closest person in six years to defeating the Brazilian champion. The Aussie broke the champion’s nose in the third round and taunted him throughout the match, but eventually lost via split decision.
A title rematch was not immediately granted, so he is doing the next best thing: competing against a top contender in Belingon.
The Game Plans
“The Silencer” has always been a man of few words, but like others in his camp, he is very respectful towards his opponent. He acknowledges that his Australian foe is a “tough and complete martial artist” and, even though he would love to get the first round victory, he is prepared, and ready for what could be an inevitable three-round chess match.
McLaren is returning the respect. He says his Filipino rival has “good balance and good takedown defense,” and that his stand-up is “obviously phenomenal.” From the sounds of it, he is resigned to the fact that it may take a full 15 minutes to get the victory, but make no mistake, “Lightning” has all the tools necessary to secure victory in a variety of ways.
Rich Franklin, Martial Arts Legend And Former Middleweight World Champion
“Judging during commentary on television does not weigh into the official decision, but I thought Fernandes controlled the major scoring categories against McLaren. Though McLaren looked more comfortable than any other competitor against Fernandes, it looked like he was too relaxed, and just did not do enough to punctuate a victory.
“It looks like Belingon has spent some time tightening up his stand-up game, particularly with the speed and accuracy of his strikes. It definitely makes him much more dangerous in the cage. He can be as active as someone like Fernandes.
“McLaren needs to make sure he does not get relaxed too much like he did against Fernandes, and like I said, punctuate this match. Belingon needs to make sure his cardio is in check. I would bet McLaren will have made some adjustments in the game plan from his title match, and I would expect him to push a fast pace this time.”
Mitch Chilson, Former ONE Athlete And Broadcast Analyst
“McLaren brought the match to Fernandes when they competed back in December 2016. He hurt Fernandes early in the contest, but seemed to lose focus towards the end. It looked like he was taunting the champion, and if only he would have pushed a bit harder, he could have ended the match or swung the decision in his direction.
However, I believe he learned a lot about himself as an athlete during those five hard rounds against one of the world’s pound-for-pound best. In this bout, McLaren should have a clear advantage on the ground. After all, Belingon’s only losses have come from problems on the mat, either being submitted or out-classed in the grappling department.
However, the Filipino is still dynamite wrapped in Team Lakay’s signature red shorts, has one-punch knockout power, and has the speed advantage against almost anyone in the division. This match will come down to either McLaren controlling the grappling, or Belingon keeping this bout standing.”