Team Lakay is on top again.
The air was electric last Friday, January 26, at ONE Championship’s first event of the year in Manila as Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, the top flyweight of the famed MMA team based in Baguio City, walked out to the cage for the main event of Global Superheroes at the MoA Arena in Pasay City.
Eustaquio, standing 5’ 5” and getting the second chance at a title shot in his pro MMA career, was fighting a rematch against veteran grappler Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov for the Asian promotion’s interim flyweight belt.
Akhmetov is certainly no pushover, being a three-time Kazakhstan National Wresting Champion and having already won against Eustaquio last September 2017, his confidence was sky high.
Watching “The Kazakh” beat opponents on the ground is a like a bear mauling his prey, a textbook study of meat and potatoes ground and pound, sapping both will and energy, until the opponent breaks. And he’s done it like clockwork, bearing out a 24-1 record with only slight variations in the formula. That one loss of his attributed to the current flyweight champ, Adriano Moraes, the only mar on his record.
So you can understand why Akhmetov is chomping at the bit to avenge that loss, surprised when he got the call for an interim fight against Eustaquio, first.
See, a fair bit of controversy in Akhmetov and Eustaquio’s last fight at ONE: Total Victory in Jakarta marred the split decision win, when the Filipino appeared to have secured a first-round knockout. Eustaquio had stunned The Kazakh with a series of up-kicks, when the fight was inexplicably and weirdly paused by referee Yuji Shimada, thus allowing the bout to go the distance.
“I do not think [my decision win against [Geje] was controversial,” explained Akhmetov in one pre-fight interview. “I thought I dominated the match, and it was not close at all. I am just honoring the process.”
The question that night, when Eustaquio and Akhmetov finally faced each other in the cage, was who had improved better in their overall game?
The flyweight champ, Adriano Moraes, is an athletic wunderkind with amazing fight IQ who could execute a gameplan with precision and almost zero chinks in his defensive armor. He’s already outgrappled Eustaquio in 2014 and made him tap with a guillotine, and he’s already fought Akhmetov twice—losing once to a close split decision and then, bouncing back, erasing that loss with a unanimous decision win.
Whoever would win this interim belt would get to fight Moraes, eventually, to unify the titles.
Akhmetov, the picture of a bulldozing grappler, has been proven deficient by Moraes with his striking and ability to fight in the pocket, and Eustaquio’s biggest waterloo was his ground game and inability to keep the fight standing where he could get his wushu to come into play.
But that night at Global Superheroes, Eustaquio showcased not only the kind of takedown defense he had long ago needed, but also the surprising ability to reverse a cage clinch position and be the one pinning the other guy to the fence. Over and over again the Kazakh grabbed Eustaquio for a single or a double leg. Again and again Eustaquio hunted for underhooks, planted his feet wide to strengthen his base, or pushed down The Kazakh’s head to execute single-leg slip outs to angles where he could escape and go back to the center of the cage. Credit Ali Heydarabadi, former Iranian Olympic wrestling coach now working with Team Lakay’s athletes, for the merciless drilling it must have taken for Gravity’s muscle memory to remember all those techniques in the middle of a five-round fight.
The Kazakh’s frustration showed itself soon enough, trying to counter Eustaquio’s slip-and-rip striking with wild punches of his own. Many of these blitzes pushed through but did no significant damage to the Filipino. And all this time Gravity was scoring mad points with his footwork, his counters, and his aggression through striking superiority. At one point he even attempted a sub of his own.
Eustaquio captured the belt that night with a much improved defensive grappling arsenal and a higher fight IQ.
As the confetti rained down on the cage, MMA legend Renzo Gracie was on hand to put the belt on Eustaquio. An honor not lost on the 28-year-old Baguio native.
“It was a proud moment for me for [somebody like] Renzo Gracie to put the belt around my waist,” Eustaquio said, speaking to FHM for a post-fight call. “Most specially because it happened in Manila. I had a heavy mix of emotions and I got carried away,” he added, referring to the tears he shed when he received the belt.
Now, Eustaquio can look forward to the inevitable unification match against Adriano Moraes. The grueling preparation for which, Gravity confesses, is intimidating.
“Honestly, preparing for [the champion] Moraes will be a bit scary, because it’s going to be another 5 rounds and this will require lung-busting training,” said Eustaquio. “And I’m scared of that, not with the fight, and not about the opponent.
Eustaquio is, however, confident that with further improvement to his defensive grappling, he will not only be fully prepared for Moraes, but for what will be the biggest title contention fight of his life.
“I have the best team behind me and all the people who had my back since day 1,” he exclaimed. “And I will definitely focus on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu. As much as possible I do wish to get back to training camp to prepare for the unification fight. Maybe I will take a couple of days off? Maybe 3 or 4 days to relax when we get back to Baguio.”
Earlier that night, before the drama of the main event of the evening, first round finishes dictated the prelims and set the tone for most of the card with Adrian Matheis sinking in a rear naked choke against Eddey Kalai, then India’s Rajinder Singh Meena clinching a magnificent finish by guillotine from a striking blitz against China’s Zhang Ze Hao.
But it wasn’t until the first round KOs started raining down on MoA Arena that the night kicked into high gear.
When female atomweight Jomary Torres of Team Catalan got caught in an early armbar from guard by Team Lakay’s April Osenio, things looked grim. Until Torres brutally slammed Osenio to the mat, vintage Rampage Jackson-style, bouncing her head and knocking her out cold. Three follow-up hammerfists, ended the bout, brought down for good measure but absolutely unneeded.
Another flash KO came by way of Edward Kelly’s truly ferocious knee against Cambodia’s Meas Meul. The young Kelly executed a striking combo that ended with a body kick, but ended up hitting Meul in the head when he tried to dodge what he thought would be a head strike.
One of the most interesting events of the night was a pure Muay Thai bout between the sport’s icon Sam-A Gaiyanghadao against a young, rising star in Italy’s Joseph “The Hurricane” Lasiri. Combining power and timing beautifully, the Thai legend defeated the Italian by round 2 with three knockdowns.