When ONE Championship returns to Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena with ONE: Heroes of Honor on Friday, April 20, it will bring with it not only the spectacle of good ole cagefighting but also the debut of their striking-only spinoff the One Superseries, fresh in the popular wake of other similar sister promotions like Bellator Kickboxing, and the renewed success of similar organizations like Glory, Kunlun Fights, and the World Lethwei Championship.
The promotion is also doing away with the cage and instead holding all 11 bouts inside the new five-rope ring. That’s not just for the striking matches but the MMA bouts officiated under the organization’s Global Rule Set, too. A nod to Japan’s PRIDE FC glory days of yore? Very likely.
Potential barn burners abound with the promise of blood, aggression, and knockouts. Take a look at just some of the choice fights to watch out for.
NONG-O GAYANGHADAO vs FABIO PINCA
There are three matches set for the debut of this pure striking series to be held with the same small MMA gloves.
And while the featured marquee bout is between Giorgio Petrosyan vs “Smokin’” Jo Nattawut, we’re more interested in the bout between Fabio Pinca, a highly-decorated French-Italian Muay Thai kickboxer, and Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, a veritable icon among Thai boxing purists whose list of accolades includes four-time Lumpinee champ.
Both are elite strikers, with Pinca the kind of roadworthy fighter that has made Europe his stomping ground, and Gayanghadao bulldozing his opponents with power and precision.
Pinca’s status as a force in welterweight was cemented in Thailand as Rajdamnern Stadium champion. On that road was a decision win over Petchmongkong Petchfocus in the semi-finals of the inaugural Thai Fight tournament. Petchfocus is Gaiyanghadao’s training partner and the Thai has been raring to get a piece of the Frenchman ever since.
While most pure Muay Thai matches tend to be tedious point counters, this Superseries has the potential to be a game-changer in Asian striking promotions with this bout, technicality and offensiveness on one hand and incredible old school speed on the other, as the one that busts the door down like a shotgun.
KEVIN BELINGON vs ANDRE LEONE
Bantamweight Main Event
Whenever Baguio’s “The Silencer” steps into the cage, there’s gladiatorial entertainment guaranteed. With his only loss to champ Bibiano Fernandes back in January 2016, Belingon has taken a run at the title by storming the castle and cutting through the ranks with four-straight wins.
Belingon can almost taste contender status within reach, so it’s a good choice by the organizers to pair him up with Andre Leone from out of New York.
Leone is an American veteran who’s currently 8-3 and plans to use his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and highly-decorated wrestling skills—with grappling a previously known weakness of Belingon’s camp—to great advantage. With combat vets from Shooto and Ukraine’s ACB, the Bali MMA dojo, where Leone trains, has a legit and razor sharp grappling pedigree. Still, Belingon has showed much improved wrestling courtesy of Ali Heydarabadi, and it might just be enough to implement the sprawl and brawl style he favors.
Stylistically, the clash between Leone’s grappling and Team Lakay’s renowned wushu skills (not to mention Belingon’s signature aggressive, marauding style) will not only be interesting, it’ll be the kind of fight that makes you stand up and whoop if Belingon’s vicious KO of Reece McLaren was any indication.
Whoever wins this main event will be the prime contender and get a shot at the champ next. Belingon, in front of a hometown crowd, will come on strong as always. But don’t sleep on Leone’s submission game.
MASAKAZU IMANARI vs DAE HWAN KIM
Imanari is a legend in grappling circles with his “Ashikan Judan” (that’s Maser of Leglocks, bub) moniker—the kind that strikes fear on mats worldwide.
In the cage, though, the Japanese fighter hasn’t exactly been having a great time, with his slated return last January against Yusup Saadulaev ending in an embarassing UD loss. Then again, neither has Kim, whose last match ended in a DQ through an illegal spike.
There’s nothing more dangerous than two fighters up against the wall and both Imanari (who’s getting along in years with his 36-17 record) and Kim, who’s a young and dynamite striker in his own right, are looking to dig themselves out from the hole they’re currently in.
Watch out for that famed Imanari Roll and a heel hook finish by round two, or it’ll be a long night with Kim dominating the stand-up exchanges and eking out a decision.
HONORIO BANARIO vs ADRIAN PANG
Lightweight Co-Main Event
Adrian “The Hunter” Pang is one of those brawlers that has increased his technicality over the years, trying to shed the cloud of fury that overtakes him in the cage. Recall how the 40-year-old Australian took Folayang through a grinding three-round battle back in their fight at Macao, his top game a menace and his ground-and-pound the kind that would make Mark Coleman proud.
Meantime, the former featherweight kingpin, Banario, has been doing extremely well with a four-fight win streak since he moved up to lightweight. The latest was an impressive KO win against Jaroslav Jartim in April last year. That left hook was sharp and powerful. He looked like vintage Banario, on point and conscious of form, with just the right mix of tactical aggression.
Pang is looking to get out of a three-fight losing skid and his best strategy will likely be to bait the often hot tempered Banaio. If that happens, odds are the two are likely to get in a brawling mood and duke it out in a firefight. And that would be just damn fucking awesome.
However, if it does run through the whole 15 minutes, Banario definitely has better cardio and if he keeps the pressure on, he might just score another KO win to his resume.
ONE Championship: Heroes of Honor will happen on Friday, April 20 at the Mall of Asia Arena