Few martial artists know what it is like to represent Indonesia on the international stage like Eko Roni Saputra.
The 28-year-old conquered all comers at home on the wrestling mats, and took his skills to the SEA Games, where he brought home medals in 2009 and 2013.
Now that he has switched a singlet for shorts and 4-ounce gloves in mixed martial arts, the Samarinda native can compete on the kind of stage he had always dreamed of this Friday, 25 October.
Saputra will be exposed to a whole new audience outside Southeast Asia when he kicks off the main card of ONE: DAWN OF VALOR in a flyweight bout against the Philippines’ Kaji “Alpha” Ebin.
Because ONE Championship is the world’s largest martial arts organization, he will represent his nation in front of a global audience of millions.
“It’s an honor for me – I can fly the Indonesian flag to the world,” he says with a smile.
“It’s a great opportunity for me. Not everyone can be like me, so I won’t waste this opportunity. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud to represent Indonesia in the biggest event in the world.”
Saputra made his debut in The Home Of Martial Arts earlier this year, but his first experience under the lights was across the sea in Manila, Philippines.
His sophomore appearance in the Circle will come in front of his compatriots in Jakarta. Some athletes would feel a ton of extra pressure to perform in this scenario, but it has fired him up to pick up a victory that would be met with a huge ovation inside the Istora Senayan.
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“I’m so excited to fight in my own country. It’s so amazing for me,” the 28-year-old adds.
“I have to win in my home country because this is a very precious moment.
“I’m so enthusiastic to fight in Indonesia. I’m so happy. Moreover, being supported by friends and all Indonesians is a part of my motivation to win this match.”
Saputra is not just driven to achieve personal glory, however. One of his big hopes is to show the world that he and his fellow Indonesian competitors can compete with the best in the world.
The multiple-time national wrestling champion was hand-picked by the Evolve team in Singapore because of his elite grappling skills, and his potential to use them to dominate in the Circle.
Now, the rest of his skills are being molded with a squad of World Champions from multiple disciplines to make him more than a match for his peers in the flyweight division.
But it is not just Saputra who has the potential among Indonesians to do great things on the global stage.
Talented athletes are breaking out all the time, and many of the country’s most promising figures are set to thrill the crowd at ONE: DAWN OF VALOR.
They include Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol, who has more wins in the past two years than any other woman on the ONE roster, and Adrian “Papua Badboy” Mattheis, whose hot streak has seen him break records for the most wins and finishes in the strawweight division.
Saputra’s message to his people is to have faith in this crop of emerging heroes. As they continue to achieve, they will pave the way for even more stars in the future as mixed martial arts grows in the island nation, and they will soon see one of their own at the very top.
“Indonesian athletes can compete like other countries, so don’t underestimate Indonesian athletes,” he says.
“My friends in Indonesia, don’t think that we are weak. Keep up the spirit. In this world, nothing is impossible. Everything is possible, so keep trying. Work hard, and one day, Indonesia will have champions in ONE Championship.”