Kuala Lumpur is in for one of the biggest treats of the year in Asian martial arts. ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS puts together Kevin Belingon and Reece McLaren this Friday, and it’s a genuine toss up as to who will win.
Two of the organization’s most exciting warriors will compete for the right to take on Bibiano Fernandes once again. The Brazilian is ONE’s most enduring champion. He beat Belingon back in early 2016 with a first-round submission, and defeated McLaren later on in the year with a grueling split decision.
Belingon and McLaren thoroughly deserve the bout against each other. Belingon (15-5) won a decision over the impressive youngster Muin Gafurov in October last year, and followed that up with a two-and-a-half-minute destruction of another Fernandes victim, Toni Tauru.
McLaren (9-4), on the other hand, launched himself onto the scene with a big win over Mark Striegl, before also beating Gafurov by decision.
While Belingon’s bout with Fernandes left him with little to be satisfied with, it was quite the opposite for McLaren.
On the day before that title match, the champion and I had a brief conversation, where he asked what my assessment of the contest was.
“I think it will be your toughest challenge to date,” I told Fernandes. His usually approachable persona changed to hold me in a glare of some displeasure. “But I will win,” he replied. We were both right.
With Fernandes beating Andrew Leone convincingly in his latest defense, there is every reason to believe that McLaren and Belingon can work their way to another shot.
So thrilling, and so defiant, was the very entertaining McLaren in defeat against the champion, that he is probably ahead in the queue. Indeed, there might have been some grumbles among his supporters that he didn’t get an immediate rematch.
This one is almost guaranteed to be all-out warfare. Belingon has improved dramatically throughout his career, and if he can bring a composed approach with him into the cage, the Filipino could be the one to dictate the pace of the fight, and its destiny.
If he can’t resist and gets too close for comfort, like he did earlier in his career against Masakazu Imanari and later against Fernandes, he might get whisked off his feet in the worst way.
Team Lakay’s development has been the single biggest highlight of Asian martial arts over the past two years. For that reason, I think there’s more chance Belingon will approach this one successfully.
I wish this one was to go five rounds. If it was, I might even have Belingon winning by strikes. As it is, I see a narrow, but unanimous, decision for him.
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.