MMA evolves at such a quick pace that, at elite levels, there is no longer a question of ability, but rather of gameplan, reduction of risk, and countertactics.
Team Lakay got a bittersweet three-for-two victory at ONE Championship’s Legends of Tomorrow last November 10, Friday night, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
At bantamweight, Kevin Belingon was his signature aggressive self but scored a lackluster unanimous decision victory over the Korean, Kevin Chung, who was tough and looked unfazed at the barrage of The Silencer’s attacks, but ultimately failed to do much, if any significant damage to Belingon.
Female atomweight standout Gina Iniong took on Indonesia’s Priscilla Lumban Gaol, and dispatched her with a side saddle barrage of strikes, before turning it into a bootleg crucifix that enabled her to rain down even stronger blows. The ref saw fit to call an end to it early in round two, which now puts Iniong much higher in MMA stardom. Perhaps even in title contention soon?
The spectacular win of the night however belonged to Joshua Pacio, one of Team Lakay’s young guns and a former strawweight title contender. Up against fellow Pinoy striker Roy Doliguez, Pacio timed a savage spinning back fist perfectly, ending the fight at 38 seconds into round two, with Doliguez staring up at the lights.
Earlier, priming the crowd for the main and co-main events were first round finished by Fil-Aussie Reece McLaren, who scored an exquisitely technical D’arce choke against Anatpon Bunrad, while Brazil’s Alex Silva sunk in a rear naked choke against Japan’s Hayato Suzuki.
The audience delighted in all these finishes but they’ve really come to see the two championship fights that night. Danny Kingad is finally in title contention against the flyweight kingpin Adriano Moraes, and everybody’s fervently hoping that two champs will reign in Baguio’s Team Lakay.
That hope is dashed when, early in round one of the co-main event, Kingad is taken down with a single leg, and though he upkicks like crazy and tries to make a scramble to his feet, Moraes eventually passes his guard like a shark cutting through the ocean.
With superb timing and the patience of a constrictor, Moraes’s elite jiu-jitsu easily enabled him to take Kingad’s back. The King put in a valiant, but ultimately futile defense: he’s tapped by 4:45 of round one.
By the time the main event theatrics are over the crowd, like a thousand-footed beast, was growling its discontent. They want to see the champs collide. Then Eduard Folayang walks out and the place erupts into chaos.
The undisputed, reigning king of the lightweight mountain, Eduard “Landslide” Folayang is huge. He’s obviously gotten jacked for this fight and is the picture of a chiseled warrior. He’s one of those figures you carve into marble on a public square for the plebeians to appreciate.
Across from Folayang, the contender, and also the current featherweight champ, Martin Nguyen is dwarfed by his opponent’s pneumatic build. The Australian of Vietnamese descent could easily be two weight classes removed tonight from a hydrated Folayang’s welterweight size difference.
Still fresh in my memory was how Landslide pummeled iconic grappler Shinya Aoki into the ground to win the ONE Championship belt. And fresher still was his title defense against the formidable Kiwi Ev Ting, last April.
But halfway into round two, the crowd sits in unbelieving silence. Folayang is lying on the cage floor, stunned and out of the game.
How did Nguyen take on the furious flurries of Landslide and score a perfect KO win? “[I want to] start fast and finish strong,” Nguyen told me at the presser eariler in the week. And lo, does his mystic powers of athleticism and evasion predict such a win.
The main event of the evening started with the two fighters gauging each other’s weaknesses with hard strikes. Nguyen, satisfied that he did not want to combat a flamethrower with a torch, danced and evaded more than he engaged but gave as good as he got. Nguyen scored a throw in that round but Folayang did more damage, such at it was.
Nguyen’s movement into evasion was earmarked by small, lateral adjustments, looking for the space to attack, looking for the counterstrike every time. Folayang spun, Nguyen sidestepped. Sometimes he countered. More often, he blocked the follow-up punch from Landslide’s combos. It is the pocket and the space to strike within the gap in the armor, exposed for a split second when Folayang spins in his Wushu strikes, that Nguyen is on the lookout for.
Both men picked up where they left off in the second round, continuing to trade heavy blows but neither got the upper hand. Folayang is aggressive but calculating. Nguyen is simply waiting. And moving, dancng, blocking when necessary.
At 2:20 of round two Martin Nguyen feinted and then Folayang, predictably, attacked. Nguyen then dodged the spinning back kick by side stepping and advancing into the pocket, just a half-step, and hurled a right straight to the chin, like a sniper that’s found the perfect mix of windage and sight. Folayang is unconscious before he even hits the floor.
The exact same strategy was employed by UFC fighter TJ Dillashaw to bring down Renan Barao in 2014. Once, Barao’s cage craft and swift, spinning kicks was the shadow that loomed large over the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Dillashaw, drileld by his striking coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig, revealed the way to combat the puzzle of Barao by superior positioning. Timing the dodge and stepping into those continued spins left Dillashaw in the perfect place to exploit the blind spot of such attacks, spelling the demise of the the once-unbeaten Baron of Brazil.
That same game plan and masterful execution of cage generalship was how Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen became the first man to hold two world titles simultaneously in ONE Championship by dethroning Folayang with a beautiful KO. Thus was history made that night in Asian MMA.
Official Results for ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD
ONE Lightweight World Championship bout: Martin Nguyen defeats Eduard Folayang by Knockout (KO) at 2:20 minutes of round 2
ONE Flyweight World Championship bout: Adriano Moraes defeats Danny Kingad by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 4:45 minutes of round 1
Bantamweight bout: Kevin Belingon defeats Kevin Chung by Unanimous Decision (UD) after 3 rounds
Strawweight bout: Alex Silva defeats Hayato Suzuki by Submission (Armbar) at 1:22 minutes of round 1
Flyweight bout: Reece McLaren defeats Anatpong Bunrad by Submission (D’arce Choke) at 4:52 minutes of round 1
Featherweight bout: Zhao Zhi Kang defeats Thai Rithy by Submission (Rear Naked Choke) at 2:31 minutes of round 1
Women’s atomweight bout: Gina Iniong defeats Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol by TKO (Strikes) at 2:12 minutes of round 2
Strawweight bout: Joshua Pacio defeats Roy Doliguez by Knockout (KO) at 0:38 minutes of round 2
Featherweight bout: Xie Chao defeats Kelvin Ong by TKO (Doctor’s Stoppage) at 1:48 minutes of round 1
Strawweight bout: Peng Xue Wen defeats Phat Soda by Knockout (KO) at 2:15 minutes of round 1