ONE Championship is bringing in heavy artillery to start of 2017. ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash makes a much-anticipated return to the cage at the Jakarta Convention Center on Saturday, 14 January. Originally scheduled to meet Marcin Prachnio, who had to withdraw due to injury, the title will now be contested by Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang.
When Bigdash vs Pacchnio was first announced, the Myanmar hero tweeted, “Kind of mad I’m not getting this fight… My time will come.”
Well, it has, and this is perhaps an even more exciting prospect for MMA fans. With ONE’s enormous South-East Asian fan base, the Burmese Python presents a local challenger with first-class credentials.
Bigdash provided fans with the 2015 fight of the year in a roller-coaster, power-packed battle which wrested the belt from Igor Svirid, only to then lie dormant for 15 months through injury. Now he is back, and a win over Aung La N Sang would place him firmly among the best pound-for-pound fighters on the ONE roster, and probably even as its most dynamic striker.
This first event of the year will be a pivotal moment for the US-based Myanmar fighter. A win would set him up perfectly for a July defense in Yangon, probably against Prachnio, in what would likely be considered the biggest international sporting event ever to be staged in Myanmar.
This will undoubtedly be the main incentive for Aung La N Sang. The Jakarta contest will be the biggest night of his career, only to be topped by the prospect of a first defense in his home country. But there is a treacherous road to travel before that can happen.
What ignites neutral interest in this fight is the explosive power on display. These are two well-muscled men who throw bombs with bad intentions, and can take advantage of an opponent stung with a huge punch by latching on to a neck or limb for a strength-based submission.
32-year-old Bigdash has a 100 per cent finishing rate in his 8-0 record – four KOs and four submissions. One year younger, the challenger is more experienced (19-9-0-1). Only one of his 19 wins has come by decision. 11 submissions and seven TKOs means he has a 95 per cent finishing rate, so the judges are unlikely to have to focus for the full 25 minutes.
Bigdash’s inactivity may be a factor. The “Burmese python” trains in Baltimore, Maryland, and has fought three times in the last 10 months. It is likely that Indonesian fans will be pulling for a challenger with such prominent Asian connections, but Bigdash has shown that he has extraordinary mental toughness and can overcome any lack of vocal support.
This one is very tough to call. The determining factor may well be what Bigdash has done in his year off; how well he has recovered from injury and what kind of cage shape he’s in.
I don’t think it will go the distance. Rather, fatigue will set in during the third round of what should be an all-consuming affair. I see a submission win or referee’s stoppage caused by the loser having absorbed heavy artillery in the preceding moments.
Our eventual winner: the fans.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.