Keanu Subba is feeling a little anxious.
For the past 11 months, the Malaysian sensation has been on the sidelines due to a broken shin he sustained in his most recent bout against Ryogo Takahashi in May 2019.
Though he is still recovering from his injury, the 25-year-old has been keeping a close eye on the featherweight division’s top stars, and there is a former ONE World Champion he would like to challenge once he is medically cleared.
“I need to make a statement when I make my return because I’ve been out for almost a year,” he says.
“Honorio Banario is the perfect opponent for me. After him, I have a whole list of guys I want to compete against, but Honorio is the guy now. Beating him, a former World Champion, is going to put me right back in the mix.”
Banario joined the world’s largest martial arts organization in February 2012, and the Filipino beat his compatriot, Eric “The Natural” Kelly, to claim the inaugural ONE Featherweight World Title just one year later.
In 2016, the Team Lakay veteran moved up a weight class and experienced a career resurgence in the lightweight division, as he defeated a slew of well-respected athletes like Eddie “The Magician” Ng and Adrian “The Hunter” Pang.
This past February, however, the wushu stylist known as “The Rock” moved back down to his old featherweight stomping grounds and edged out Thai mixed martial arts pioneer Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai via split decision in his return.
That victory exhibited some of the traits that make Banario a top-shelf competitor, which is another reason why Subba is so eager to challenge him.
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“Honorio is a big name,” the Malaysian offers.
“Just look at his experience – he has fought guys like Shinya Aoki, Lowen Tynanes, and Ev Ting. He was even winning that fight against Amir Khan (in September 2018) until Amir took him down and choked him out.
“At first, I thought about facing Bruno Pucci. But after doing some research, I realized that [Honorio] has a bigger fanbase, and that is why I want to face him.
“There are other newcomers, too, but I don’t want people to go around saying, ‘Oh, he’s only beat a new guy.’ I want to prove my point in the division.”
Over the years, Subba has extensively transformed his skill set at Bali MMA in Indonesia and Monarchy MMA in his native Kuala Lumpur.
Those intense training sessions have equipped the featherweight with the techniques and drive necessary to succeed in ONE Championship.
Since his promotional debut in October 2015, he has defeated six of his opponents in the first round alone – including Myanmar star Phoe “Bushido” Thaw, Chinese hero “White Dragon” Xie Chao, and Pakistani warriors Ahmed “Wolverine” Mujtaba and Waqar “Psycho” Umar.
Because of that, Subba is not entirely concerned about Banario’s stand-up repertoire. In fact, he believes that he holds the key to unlock a much-needed triumph in any area of the game.
“Stylistically, when he first signed with ONE, he was known as a very wushu-dominant guy,” the Kuala Lumpur-based athlete explains.
“However, he has evolved into a well-rounded fighter. In some of his recent fights, he has been going for the takedowns and submissions rather than just wanting to knock people out. I have improved, too, so this would be an interesting fight.
“His strength and striking are his greatest threats, but I can figure out his pattern, and if it goes to the ground, I can do even better.”
Despite an eagerness to step back onto the global stage, Subba will only return to competition once he is medically cleared and fully fit.
As soon as that happens, the Malaysian will put his blueprint for success into action and attempt to navigate his way towards a shot at the ONE Featherweight World Title.
“I still got a lot of things I need to work on before I think about taking a fight,” he admits.
“I haven’t wrestled for a year, so it’s going to take me two to three months to get used to wrestling, and the intensity of grappling and sparring.
“I need to ease my way back, and, ideally, I would love to fight just before the year ends, maybe on the Kuala Lumpur card in December.
“A win is important to me because I want to kickstart a winning run and be a World Champion within the next two years.”