Stephen “The Sniper” Loman has a second chance to make a strong first impression on the global fan base – and this time, it’s all systems go.
After testing positive for COVID-19 and being forced to withdraw from his main event showdown with #1-ranked bantamweight mixed martial arts contender John “Hands of Stone” Lineker in April, the Filipino is healthy and ready to make his ONE Championship debut.
Saadulaev brings a formidable 20-5-1 (1 NC) record into the contest and hasn’t suffered a loss in the bantamweight division since July 2014. The Dagestani owes much of his dazzling success to his rich grappling prowess, which has helped him submit 11 opponents.
While Team Lakay is famous for its devastating brand of wushu striking, Loman is part of the gym’s new generation of athletes, who complement their devastating stand-up arsenals with strong submission games.
Because of that, “The Sniper” – who holds a 14-2 professional record – feels particularly confident heading into this three-round affair.
In this sit-down interview with ONEFC.com, the Filipino breaks down Saadulaev, shares his thoughts on the canceled bout with Lineker, and explains why he will never fight his Team Lakay stablemate and #2-ranked bantamweight contender, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon.
ONE Championship: How’s your preparation going for your upcoming match against Yusup Saadulaev?
Stephen Loman: I was supposed to make my debut earlier this year, but unfortunately, I got COVID. The good thing is as soon as I recovered, I kept training for seven months until I got called up to face Yusup. Now, I’m really ready because I’ve been preparing for a long time.
ONE: You were originally supposed to make your debut against John Lineker at “ONE on TNT III” in April. Were you frustrated that you had to withdraw from that fight?
SL: I truly prepared for it for two months, but maybe it’s not for me. Sure, it left me a bit frustrated, especially since that happened during the peak of the pandemic. I still took it positively – with positive feelings, I mean.
I just look at it as maybe it wasn’t [meant] for me yet. Look at my substitute, Troy [Worthen] – Lineker knocked him out. That could have been me, so maybe it’s not for me yet.
ONE: After Lineker knocked out Worthen, he earned a ONE Bantamweight World Title shot. If you could have fought Lineker and won, do you think that you would’ve gotten the World Title shot instead?
SL: Yeah, of course, I’ve been thinking about that. Sometimes, I really feel at a loss because that was such a big opportunity for me and I had to pull out because of COVID. But at least I saw that I’m not that far off from a World Title shot and that makes me more motivated than ever.
ONE: Do you think you’ll bring that frustration with you to the Circle against Saadulaev at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS II?
SL: Yes, of course, especially now that I’m still facing another ranked contender in Saadulaev. The frustrations I had then with the cancellation of that match [with Lineker] only motivates me to prepare harder for this match. I just have to be confident and believe in my skills.
ONE: You’re on an eight-bout winning streak. How confident are you entering your ONE debut?
SL: I’m certainly confident, and I’m motivated cause this is another challenge for me. I’m facing the best of the division right away in Saadulaev. I honestly thought I was going to start at the bottom of the rankings, so I was surprised to see [the matchmakers] lining up all the contenders. I really have to be at my best. That streak gives me the confidence that I can hang with anybody.
ONE: Let’s talk more about Saadulaev. Break down his skills for us. What do you think is his weakness, and where do you think he is the strongest?
SL: I think his weakness is in the stand-up game. I’m not looking past it, though. I believe that his stand-up looks good, but if I go toe-to-toe with him, I know I can beat him there. Where he’s really strong is his wrestling and grappling. We’ve seen that in his past fights, he’s been choking his opponents left and right, and that’s something I have to prepare for.
ONE: But do you think you can knock him out?
SL: That’s the plan. I’ll be looking for a clean shot. I’ll be using my movements. He’s a southpaw like me, so I really have to be careful when looking for that clean shot. However, if there’s a chance for me, whether on the feet or even on the ground, I’ll take it.
ONE: Since you come from Team Lakay, which is known for its wushu-based striking, do you think Saadulaev is looking past your ground game?
SL: Well, he shouldn’t be too confident. In our team, we have different fighting styles. I’ve been working on my ground game for a long time, so I hope he’s not overconfident. I’ll show it in our fight.
ONE: If you beat him, does that put you in line for a ONE Bantamweight World Title shot?
SL: I’m not looking past this fight. I have to focus on it first. My first goal is to win this bout and get myself into the rankings. To answer that though, if they give me a World Title shot after this, why not? I’ll grab the opportunity.
ONE: Your teammate, Kevin Belingon, is the #2-ranked bantamweight. If it comes down to it, would you be willing to fight him?
SL: No chance. No chance at all. We’re training partners. We’re brothers in arms during training. I wouldn’t want to face him in the Circle. Let’s just leave the scrap during sparring.
Read more: The Untold Story Of Team Lakay