Throughout 2021, Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang further cemented his reputation as one of the most explosive mixed martial arts fighters in ONE Championship.
In January, the Filipino knocked out Namiki Kawahara with a highlight-reel left hook. And in September, he showcased his wild striking repertoire to defeat “Wolf of the Grasslands” Hexigetu in an entertaining three-round thriller. As a result, the 28-year-old earned the #5 contender spot in ONE’s strawweight rankings.
But even with all of that success, Adiwang won’t enter 2022 on a hot streak. Last month, he fell to rival Jarred “The Monkey God” Brooks in the main event of ONE: NEXTGEN III, as the debuting American star used his potent ground game to secure a second-round stoppage.
It was a disappointing setback for “Thunder Kid,” but he’s determined to use that misfortune as fuel for bigger and better things in 2022.
In this exclusive interview, Adiwang talks about his heated rivalry with Brooks, who he wants to fight next, his favorite memories from the past year, and much more.
ONE Championship: You had a very big 2021. How do you feel the year went for you?
Lito Adiwang: 2021 started good, and in a way, it still ended good for me. Even though I lost in my last fight, I’m very positive that I’ve gained a lot from that loss. I learned a big lesson from that match, especially when it comes to experience.
I’ve finally experienced what it’s like to be in the main event of a card, and of course, the level of my opponent was very high. These are the things that I’ll be bringing into my next fights.
ONE: Let’s talk about that fight with Jarred Brooks. What do you feel went wrong for you, and what were your biggest takeaways?
LA: I believe that I was ready for his wrestling, I was honestly prepared for it, but I was surprised with his approach in the bout. I expected him to come in and test the waters with me on the feet and then try to take me down.
But no, he had other plans. He decided to shoot right away and to be honest, he kind of frustrated me with that. What I can take away from that is the value of being relaxed, calm, and staying focused if things don’t go as planned.
One skill that he has which really impressed me was his ground control. His ground control was really impressive. I’ve never been controlled like that, I’ve never experienced that in the gym, so it was pretty new to me. It’s something that I have to check out and try to improve on so that it won’t happen again, should we meet again.
ONE: Would you say that Jarred Brooks made you a better fighter?
LA: Yes, I believe that Jarred Brooks made me a better fighter. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I found out that no matter how hard I try to improve, I have to continuously double my efforts because there will be better people out there.
I know for a fact that I’ve worked hard on my wrestling, but when you compare it to someone like him who’s been wrestling all his life and who continues to polish his skills, then my improvements are already mitigated.
Now, I know the level that I have to catch up to when it comes to wrestling. I think I’m alright with our submission game, but when it comes to wrestling and control, it’s something that I truly have to work on. That’s the next step that I have to reach. I have to reach that level.
ONE: There were quite a few heated exchanges between you two leading up to the matchup. But is everything all good with you and Jarred now?
LA: It’s all good. After the fight, I sent him a message, I told him congratulations and see you on top. That was my message to him, and he replied. He told me that he expects to see me again, but this time, on the top of the division.
ONE: Is your mullet still intact?
LA: Yeah, I didn’t put my mullet on the line against him. Well, I was ready to put it on the line, but then I thought about it, and I realized I wouldn’t want to risk it because a lot of my fans and followers are already sporting my same hairstyle, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them by cutting it if I lose. That would be really bad. Good thing I didn’t risk it.
ONE: Who do you think is next for ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua Pacio? Do you think Jarred is ready to challenge him for the belt?
LA: For Jarred, I think it’s too early. I think he needs to prove himself more by winning a few more fights. I wouldn’t want to say that he still has a lot to prove, but maybe he needs to gain more fans and recognition here in Asia.
I believe one guy who deserves to be Joshua’s challenger is Bokang [Masunyane] because he has a perfect record, he’s won two big fights in ONE already, and I think he’s ready for it.
ONE: What about you? Who do you want next?
LA: I want a big comeback. I still want a big name. I want to challenge Yosuke Saruta. Maybe if ONE allows it, and he wants it, then I’ll take it. Saruta is someone who I really want to test myself against. It’s a big risk for me because I’m coming off a loss, but I want a great comeback and a big name in my return so I don’t fall far off from the rankings.
ONE: So overall, what’s your favorite memory from 2021?
LA: My favorite memory is how this pandemic really brought me and my family together. That’s one positive takeaway from the pandemic, that it really brought people together. We got a whole lot closer. My siblings from Japan went home because of the pandemic.
ONE: Now looking ahead, what is your New Year’s resolution for 2022?
LA: I have to check my mistakes inside the Circle, but I also have to check my mistakes outside the Circle. It has to be a balance. Sometimes, I forget other personal obligations and those are the things that I have to work on. I have to balance things out based on last year. I have to correct this in 2022.