A lot is at stake whenever the heroes of ONE Championship take the stage, but this coming Friday, 23 February, eight athletes in particular have a golden opportunity to make a definitive statement in their respective weight divisions.
The organization is preparing to host ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, its first event in Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in 2018, and world title contenders, as well as a new world champion, will emerge.
Let’s take a look at the incredibly high stakes surrounding some of our athletes heading into the big show.
The ONE Light Heavyweight World Title
Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang (21-10, 1 NC) is already a huge success in his native Myanmar. He is the ONE Middleweight World Champion, and Myanmar’s first-ever world champion in sporting history. But now, he has the opportunity to be immortalized as a rare two-division world champion in front of his hometown fans.
If Aung La N Sang can defeat Brazil’s Alexandre “Bebezao” Machado (8-2) to capture the vacant ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship, Aung La N Sang will join Martin Nguyen as only the second-ever multi-division ONE World Champion.
While the Myanmar sports icon is capable of such a feat, do not sleep on Machado.
Machado offers a stern challenge for the hometown hero, and is equally capable of winning the world title on his terms.
The Rio De Janeiro native is a BJJ black belt, a highly accomplished grappler, and has won heavyweight championships in other promotions. He is also a strong finisher, having secured seven of his eight victories by spectacular finish.
For him, winning the ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship will be a culmination of a martial arts journey that started three decades ago. “Bebezao” first studied under his dad as a 5-year-old kid, trained with him regularly until his tragic passing. By claiming the world title belt, it would bring all his dreams to life.
A Place At The Top Of The Lightweight Division
There is currently no clear-cut challenger for ONE Featherweight & Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen‘s lightweight belt, but a few could emerge this Friday.
Although Ting (14-4) failed in his first world championship bid, falling to then-ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang by unanimous decision last April, he has seen a remarkable run inside the ONE cage.
The 28-year-old Malaysian won eight of his last ten bouts in the promotion, and rebounded from the title challenge to stop former ONE Welterweight World Champion Nobutatsu Suzuki in the first round of their August 2017 match. He appeared as a reenergized martial artist, and hungrier than ever.
As for Sexton (11-3), he has not seen action inside the ONE cage since July 2016 due to a spate of injuries. But his body has healed, and he has been polishing his skills in New York under the legendary Renzo Gracie.
The 36-year-old BJJ black belt is riding a three-bout win streak, which includes victories over top lightweights Eddie Ng and Roger Huerta, and now he returns just in time to claim his spot as one of the world’s best.
Both Ting and Sexton want a crack at Nguyen, and a finish in spectacular fashion will go a long way in convincing the matchmakers to grant the winner a much-desired world title shot.
That is not the only top lightweight battle on the card, however. Singapore’s Amir Khan will collide with Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin, in what will be a bout between the lightweight division’s premier knockout artists.
Khan (9-2) has looked absolutely spectacular. The 23-year-old is riding a six-bout win streak, and owns the records for most knockouts (7) and finishes (8) in ONE history. He continues to improve at Evolve MMA, expand upon his growing skill set, and masterfully incorporates the new techniques into his bouts, as demonstrated against Adrian Pang last November.
The Singaporean has been very vocal about his desire to challenge for the ONE Lightweight World Title, but he will need to get past Nastyukhin (11-3) to keep that ambition alive.
A first-round submission loss to Herbert Burns in 2015 derailed his epic rise through the ranks somewhat, and he broke his shin in the middle of the ONE cage during his bout with Kotetsu “No Face” Boku in November 2016.
The 28-year-old Russian, however, proved to be healthy, and even more versatile with his martial arts talent in his illustrious return last August. He displayed his wide-ranging skills to defeat Koji Ando via unanimous decision. Now, he promises to make a statement against Khan, and clear a path to the ONE Lightweight World Title.
A Claim To ONE Bantamweight Gold
Much of the attention has been given to the world title main event, the lightweight contenders, and the local Myanmar talent competing at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD. But on the main card is crucial match between two of the world’s most talented bantamweights, as South Korea’s “Ottogi” Dae Hwan Kim (12-2-1) meets promotional debutant and Shooto Featherweight Champion Daichi Takenaka (10-0-1).
Kim, a former ONE Bantamweight World Title challenger, made his return to the ONE cage after a two-year hiatus in November 2017. He met Leandro Issa, and though he put forth a formidable challenge, he fell to the Brazilian via unanimous decision.
The South Korean admits he slipped in his bout with Issa, but still feels he is the best in the division. He is certainly talented, as he is a master of several martial arts disciplines and has the ability to exploit any hole in his opponent’s skill set.
“Ottogi” will try to find a hole in Takenaka’s game, but that will not be easy.
Takenaka has been perfect in competition. Ever since his debut in 2012, the Japanese athlete has displayed an array of skills, as he has submission victories, knockout victories, and the stamina to go the distance. He has been deemed as one of Japan’s best talents, and now he has a chance to shine under the bright lights in ONE.