Just six days after its first martial arts spectacle of the year, ONE Championship brought another thriller to Manila, Philippines.
As Eustaquio hoisted the glistening world title belt above his head in celebration, a chorus of roaring cheers from his fellow countrymen reverberated throughout the state-of-the-art arena.
There is plenty in store for the Filipino hero, as well as for the other winners of the night. Let’s take a look at what could be in store for them.
Eustaquio had his most brilliant performance to date.
For five whole rounds, the perennial contender dominated former world champion Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov with his crisp striking. The Kazakhstani frantically tried to bring the action to the mat, but Eustaquio showcased tremendously improved takedown defense, and was elusive throughout the contest.
In the end, all three judges saw the bout unanimously in favor of Eustaquio, who was crowned the new ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion.
Up next for “Gravity” could be a title unification bout against ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes. The two shared a nice moment in the ONE cage following Eustaquio’s victory, and the Brazilian appeared genuinely excited for a second encounter.
Joshua Pacio recalled two losses he suffered via rear-naked choke that made him want to focus specifically on enhancing this area of his game. Against China’s Lan Ming Qiang, the former strawweight world title challenger unveiled his newly-improved grappling prowess, making quick work of his Chinese foe to win by a rear-naked choke of his own.
The 22-year-old Pacio is well-built, highly-skilled, and very strong. Also, he has shown tremendous promise early in his career. With incredible poise shown at such a young age, the Filipino continues to improve each time out.
Strawweight is one of the promotion’s most stacked divisions, and there is no shortage of opponents for Pacio. Filipino compatriot Rene Catalan is on the rise, and would offer an exciting match-up between wushu-based practitioners. Another interesting challenge would be Japan’s Riku Shibuya, who sports a unique mashup of skills and experience to test the youngster even more.
Brazil’s Rafael “Indio” Nunes returned to ONE after a three and a half year break, and made a statement against the Philippines’ Eric “The Natural” Kelly. Nunes used his world-class grappling skills to submit Kelly via D’arce choke quickly in round two.
“Indio” looked absolutely phenomenal in his win, and does not appear to have missed a beat at all. A terrific addition to the featherweight division, Nunes could become a mainstay in the weight class for years to come.
There are several intriguing possibilities for the Brazilian, such as Eric’s younger brother Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly, who also won earlier in the evening, and set the division’s record for fastest knockout and finish at 21 seconds. Another possibility is former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu Boku, who poses a potent mix of striking and grappling.
“The Southern Eagle” Ma Hao Bin turned in a fantastic performance against Bulgaria’s Sotir Kichukov, showcasing his fluid striking and top-notch wrestling. The Chinese flyweight stood up well against a striking specialist in Kichukov, and when action hit the mat, the China national wrestling champion remained in control.
Ma shined on the big stage, and has really come a long way in his young career. His win over Kichukov signals his emergence among the top flyweights in his division, and he should be able to challenge the top tier of talent.
A few big names come to mind when thinking of Ma’s possible next opponents. Malaysia’s Gianni Subba is the perfect test at the next level, as is the Philippines’ Danny Kingad and Thai stalwart Anatpong Bunrad. All three are talented young martial artists who should provide Ma a tough welcome to the upper echelons of flyweight.
Though a relative newcomer to the promotion, Hayato Suzuki has appeared three times in the ONE cage over the past six months alone. In his latest appearance, he grounded former world title challenger Yago Bryan and finished him with a decisive rear-naked choke in the first round.
The Japanese grappler is an athlete with unbelievable promise, just like Joshua Pacio, whom he defeated in his promotional debut. Naturally, the two share a similar career trajectory, and both find Catalan and Shibuya as viable opponents.
If all four keep winning, then at some point they will have to meet inside the ONE cage, and any bouts between them would certainly be compelling.
“The Honey Badger” Emilio Urrutia made some bold statements to start the year, saying he would dominate everyone he faced in the next 12 months. The Thai-based American is certainly a confident individual, and for good reason. He has defeated two big names at featherweight in Edward Kelly, two-time BJJ no-gi world champion Bruno Pucci.
Against Pucci, Urrutia showcased a formidable offensive repertoire. He defended the Brazilian’s takedown attempts, and utilized a well-polished striking finesse to knock out Pucci in the first round.
Next up for Urrutia could be Christian “The Warrior” Lee, who is Pucci’s Evolve MMA teammate and soon-to-be brother-in-law. Pucci is engaged to Angela Lee, the reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion, and Christian would most likely love the chance to avenge the Brazilian’s loss.
Team Lakay’s Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly continued his rise through the ranks with another sensational performance. With the exception of a loss to Urrutia last August, Kelly has dominated four of his last five bouts, finishing high-profile opponents dramatically with his powerful fists.
Against Meas Meul, Kelly needed just 21 seconds to knock the Cambodian out with a high knee. By doing so, he set ONE Championship featherweight records for the fastest knockout and finish in the history of the division.
Featherweight is one of the deepest divisions in ONE, and there are a multitude of options for him moving forward. While the aforementioned Nunes remains a viable option given his brother’s loss to the Brazilian, “The Ferocious” could also face talented young stars such as Ahmed Mujtaba and Ma Jia Wen, both of whom should provide captivating angles in possible bouts.
Catalan Fighting Systems product Jomary Torres continues to impress as she makes her way up the women’s atomweight ladder. She has taken care of business against Thailand’s Rika Ishige and Indonesia’s Nita Dea in her first two outings inside the ONE cage. Last Friday, she made quick work of another opponent.
Torres needed just 40 seconds to author her most impressive victory to date, an emphatic knockout finish of Team Lakay’s highly-regarded April Osenio. She slammed Osenio to the mat and finished her off with punches, and set the record for fastest knockout and finish in ONE women’s history.
Now approaching her third year in professional competition, seeing what Torres has accomplished in such a short amount of time is phenomenal. Perhaps this signifies a step up in competition. She could end up facing Osenio’s teammate and senior, Gina “Conviction” Iniong next, or even former world title challenger Istela Nunes. Torres could test her skills in a fun match against Indian striker Jeet Toshi, too.