The spotlight may be on ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang , as he prepares to become a two-division world champion by challenging Alexandre “Bebezao” Machado for the vacant ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship in front of his countrymen in Yangon, Myanmar.
While the hometown hero looks to make history yet again, there are four world-class lightweight warriors scheduled to compete at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD this coming Friday, 23 February, which could provide a little more clarity as to who may challenge ONE Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen next.
After 18 months on the shelf, the surging Ariel “Tarzan” Sexton makes his long awaited return against former world title challenger Ev “E.T.” Ting, and rising star Amir Khan clashes with fellow knockout artist Timofey Nastyukhin.
Each man is an elite martial artist, and each man has a claim to gold.
Ting has won five of his last six matches, including victories over two former ONE World Champions. The Malaysian, who sports a 14-4 record with nine finishes, may have lost to then-champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in a five-round world title thriller in April 2017, but he walked away with more knowledge than he acquired in any of his other 17 professional bouts.
“It made me realize that I need to be very specific, and be a master of my craft in competition,” he recently said. “It was looking after myself in training camp, not trying to ‘win’ every training session, and not burning myself out and getting sick in the last week. A lot of these things I learned to get better for the future.”
“E.T.” displayed that vast improvement last August, when he made an example out of former ONE Welterweight World Champion Nobutatsu Suzuki. He punished the former titleholder en route to a first-round TKO. This looks to be a reinvention of an already highly intelligent martial artist, but a second consecutive dominant performance will confirm that and open even more eyes.
The Costa Rican, however, has been out of action for 18 months due to a cracked orbital bone and a torn ACL. Now, he is finally healed, and looks to continue his ascension up the ranks. For “Tarzan,” this bout is a true test.
Can he continue to compete at the elite level after being gone from the cage for so long, and can he overcome the potential fear of acquiring another serious injury? If he can defeat Ting, and even stop him, that would be another huge win on his record.
Nastyukhin answered both of those questions posed to Sexton with a resounding “yes” last August.
Following a broken tibia nine months earlier, the Russian stormed back to the ONE cage, and outclassed former lightweight world title challenger Koji “The Commander” Ando en route to a unanimous decision win. That would be the only bout of his to make it outside of the first round.
With the rest of his bouts ending via finish in the opening stanza, including a flying knee knockout of Folayang and a record-tying six-second KO of Rob Lisita, Nastyukhin (11-3) is stating his case as the next exciting challenger to the lightweight crown. Perhaps now, he just needs a little more momentum.
Conversely, there is Khan, the Singaporean star who is on a meteoric rise.
Khan, the youngest of the lightweight collective at 23, has been brought up the ranks with each match becoming increasingly tougher. On his ascent, the combatant set the company’s record for the most knockouts (7) and stoppage victories (8) in the organization.
He achieved the biggest win of his career in his last bout against Adrian “The Hunter” Pang, a battle-tested veteran and perennial contender with an iron chin, heavy hands, and a BJJ black belt. Staying true to his willingness to face anybody placed in front of him, Khan draws Nastyukhin, a Russian knockout artist who has faced, and defeated, more elite competition.
Truly, ONE Championship’s lightweight division is stacked, and the aforementioned athletes, as well as Rasul Yakhyaev, and former titleholders Folayang and Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki, all have a claim to be the next challenger for the lightweight world title.
Regardless of who wins at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, none of these warriors are guaranteed a title shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship. But what is for certain is the victors will take another step forward in their dreams, and the losers will fall down the ranks.