Bantamweight contender Panicos Yusuf first came to ONE Championship as a prospect for Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series.
Though he was not able to earn a spot among the sea of young talent, the English-based Cyprus warrior was given an opportunity to join the prestigious ONE Super Series.
As it turns out, the 33-year-old is a well-accomplished striker. He is a two-time Muay Thai World Champion, and he hoped to find his footing among the world’s best stand-up practitioners.
On Friday, 27 July, he capitalized on the opportunity given to him.
Yusuf kicked off the main card of ONE: REIGN OF KINGS, and in front of a capacity crowd at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, he did just enough to earn a unanimous decision victory against China’s Han Zi Hao.
The first round saw the Cyprus native attacking from range. He operated behind a zippy lead right leg kick that kept Han — a Top King Muay Thai World Champion — on the outside. The Chinese bantamweight was intent to move forward, however, and he put pressure on his rival to force him onto his back foot.
Both men traded intense strikes towards the end of the frame, with Yusuf connecting on a thudding left hook. Han returned fire with a right to the body, and a left upstairs.
The Chinese striker aggressively opened up the second stanza by pushing his adversary towards the cage fence with a slew of powerful boxing combinations. Yusuf remained calm, as he avoided his rival’s most dangerous strikes, and effectively countered.
It was a closely-contested three minutes, and the bout was certainly up for grabs heading down the final stretch.
Both Yusuf and Han were motivated to make a statement in the third round. Each man stormed out of the gates, and looked to end matters within the distance. Fierce action ensued at the center of the ONE cage, with the pair missing wildly on their head kicks.
For the majority of the frame, it was the Cyprus warrior who showcased a more intelligently-paced strategy. He picked his spots perfectly, all while timing Han with well-placed offense.
The Chinese bantamweight, however, would make his power known by stunning his opponent momentarily with an overhand right as time wound down.
With Han on the attack, Yusuf went into defensive mode against the cage, and braced himself for the sound of the final bell.
Ultimately, it was Yusuf who earned the judges’ decision. The scorecards were unanimous in his favor, and he moves his record to 37-6.