Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev believes he’s within striking distance of the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
The division’s #3-ranked contender will square off against debuting Filipino hotshot Stephen “The Sniper” Loman at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS II on Friday, 17 December, and he thinks a victory at the Singapore Indoor Stadium would earn him a crack at the gold.
“Absolutely, yes. I expect to be the next contender for the title if I win this fight,” Saadulaev says. “For sure.”
It’s difficult to argue with the Dagestani submission specialist, who owns the resume to back up his World Champion aspirations.
The 36-year-old holds a 20-5-1 (1 NC) professional record – including 13 finishes – and will carry an impressive three-bout winning streak into this mixed martial arts contest with Loman.
And although “Maestro” has competed in various weight classes over the years, he hasn’t suffered a loss in the bantamweight division since 2014.
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But while Saadulaev is riding a wave of momentum, “The Sniper” will present a unique challenge.
The much-heralded Filipino will bring a 14-2 record and an eight-fight winning streak into his first promotional appearance.
He utilizes Team Lakay’s signature brand of wushu, which has produced some of the most devastating strikers in MMA, including reigning ONE strawweight king Joshua “The Passion” Pacio.
But unlike the gym’s old guard – which largely emphasized striking – Loman represents Team Lakay’s new generation of young talent, who are complementing their stand-up arsenals with dangerous grappling.
Saadulaev has become very familiar with the 26-year-old rising star after watching him compete in other promotions around Asia. And for his part, the veteran is quite impressed.
“I’ve seen some fights of Loman, and his strengths are that he has explosive attacks, good takedowns, [good] control, and good timing,” the Dagestani says.
“He’s a pretty good wushu sanda fighter. I don’t see many weaknesses in his game.”
Of course, this isn’t “Maestro’s” first rodeo with Team Lakay.
Saadulaev made his ONE debut against Loman’s teammate Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon back in October 2012. However, he ate several leg kicks from the Filipino star, while a doomed takedown attempt allowed Belingon to take top position and score a first-round TKO.
Saadulaev admits inexperience got the best of him but notes that he took away plenty of lessons from that defeat. And nine years later, he is a completely different “Maestro.”
“It was my debut in ONE Championship, it was a long time ago since then,” Saadulaev says.
“I improved a lot in every aspect. Also in wrestling, I got better too. I made some mistakes, I guess [with] Kevin Belingon, so right now, I’m ready [to fight Stephen Loman].”
Should the Dagestani spoil Loman’s highly anticipated debut on 17 December, he would undeniably strengthen his case to be next in line after John “Hands of Stone” Lineker for a crack at reigning bantamweight titleholder Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
But getting the World Title shot is only one piece of the puzzle for “Maestro.” He wants to be known as the greatest fighter in his division, which is why this matchup with “The Sniper” at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS II is a must-win situation.
“I’m still focused on becoming the best bantamweight in ONE Championship and in the world,” Saadulaev adds. “So, I’m being very professional for this fight.”