After suffering a major knee injury last September, ONE Championship’s most promising flyweight will face the division’s #5-ranked contender, Reece “Lightning” McLaren, in the co-main event.
“I’m happy, satisfied, and grateful for the opportunity,” Toivonen says.
“I was honestly a bit surprised coming off a 15-month layoff and a big injury that ONE is giving me an opportunity to fight a top-five opponent. It’s a great fight and a good chance to test myself against one of the best guys in the world.”
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The 28-year-old Toivonen has fought just once in ONE Championship. He made his promotional debut in July 2019 at ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY, where he earned a first-round submission victory over Akihiro “Superjap” Fujisawa.
But with his future looking extremely bright, the undefeated flyweight tore his ACL during training and was forced to the sidelines. Fortunately, a smooth rehabilitation period allowed “The Giant” to make a successful recovery.
“It’s been perfect,” Toivonen says about his progress. “I’ve been ready to go for a while. But it was unlucky timing [with COVID-19]. I would’ve been able to compete months and months ago.”
Aleksi Toivonen makes a MASSIVE statement in his ONE debut with a slick submission victory over Akihiro Fujisawa!????: Check local listings for global TV broadcast????: Watch on the ONE Super App ????http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, July 12, 2019
Now, the man from Finland has just a few weeks to go before squaring off with McLaren, whose list of accolades includes a grappling record of 170-22, XFC and Eternal MMA Championships, and a spot in ONE’s flyweight rankings.
“Lightning” originally found success as a bantamweight in ONE. First, he submitted Mark “Mugen” Striegl on short-notice in his promotional debut back in December 2015, and then he handed Muin “Tajik” Gafurov his first professional defeat just four months later.
Following a narrow split-decision loss to ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes, McLaren thought about dropping down a weight class and he ultimately made the plunge in November 2017.
From there, the Australian flyweight rattled off consecutive wins over Anatpong “Mak Mak” Bunrad, Gianni Subba, and Tatsumitsu “The Sweeper” Wada. He momentarily fell on hard times after being ousted from the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix, but he capped off 2019 with a first-round submission victory over Gurdarshan “Saint Lion” Mangat.
“I know Reece is a great grappler – that much I know. But I don’t really watch my opponents that much, or I leave that to the coaches,” Toivonen says. “But I’m expecting a very, very fan-friendly fight.”
There’s no doubt that Toivonen’s training camp at Evolve MMA has been filled with adjustments. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions set in place by Singapore authorities for martial arts gyms, “The Giant” hasn’t been able to grapple or wrestle throughout his camp.
“The training has been good considering the situation. But of course, it’s a bit limited,” the Finn says.
“It’s mostly been strength and conditioning and overall striking drills. We’re doing the best we can considering the situation, but we’re mostly focusing on striking and conditioning.”
Come 9 October, it will be interesting to see whether Toivonen can implement striking into his strategy. But if he can’t stand and trade with McLaren, he will aim to take the fight to the canvas.
“My strength is always my grappling. I hope we get a chance to test each other a bit when it goes to the ground and see technically where we’re both at,” he says.
“But let’s just say I’m a grappler without a grappling camp this time. We’ll see what kind of tricks I bring into the cage.”
Having spent over a year away from competition, Toivonen’s ultimate goal is to regain his old form and carry on his seven-bout streak of finishes.
He knows it won’t be easy against McLaren, but submitting or even knocking out a top-five contender would go a long way toward his own ONE World Title aspirations.
“I want to get the finish like my previous fights,” Toivonen says.
“I’m going to get a finish, but I think it’s going to be a highly competitive fight. I think in many aspects, we’re going to test each other, and I think the best man is going to win.
“It’s my first opportunity to compete against a world-ranked opponent. So of course, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope that after the fight I can jump over the line and steal a spot in the top five.”