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The Time Of 'The Silencer': FHM's Tactical Guide To 'ONE: Reign Of Kings'

These might just be the barnburners the doctor ordered (or a totally bloodless snooze-fest)
by Karl R. De Mesa | Jul 22, 2018
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Kevin "The Silencer" Belingon is within reach of One Championship gold, but first he must get through the two-division champ Martin Nguyen. Let's break down the potential highlight fights and the main event of the upcoming ONE Championship: REIGN OF KINGS on July 27 at the MoA Arena.

Martin Nguyen vs Kevin Belingon (Interim Bantamweight Title)

We were there the night Belingon headlined the Heroes Of Honor card last April 20, when One Championship puzzlingly decided to do away with the cage and have everything take place inside a ring with a border of five ropes (instead of boxing's usual three).

Belingon handed a lopsided beating to Bali MMA's grappling wunderkind Andre Leone from New York. While, predictably, the jiu-jitsu black belt Leone endeavored to take the fight to the ground, what surprised him was how Belingon reversed positions, winning scramble after scramble, utilized technical whizzers, and escaped clinches to end up on top and rain down knees and elbows like death from above.

While the lack of a solid cage with which to work his grappling against might have been a factor in Leone's inability to grind Belingon, the Team Lakay brawler capped his non-stop aggression with a stunning second round spinning back kick that sent Leone to the other side of the ring, knocked down and dazed. A blitz of ground-and-pound was superfluous and gave him a marvelous TKO win.

Now that Belingon can almost taste the championship gold after cleaning out the division with five consecutive wins, he’s certainly attained No. 1 contender in the bantamweight division, can he do the same thing against sniper counterstriker Martin Nguyen?

Two factors could tip the win either way:

First: technical brawling may win the PH the most belts. If Belingon wins, an interim belt would enshrine the Philippines with the most title wins in the promotion. Such a prize over and above the interim belt is certainly a great motivator, especially for Team Lakay, who's been fighting for national glory since their Xanda days. And if there's something that the Cordillera MMA team does best is simply put the pedal to the metal and train harder every time they come into title contention. So Belingon will certainly go into beast mode early on and try to overwhelm the footwork-heavy Nguyen whose distance control is simple yet phenomenal.

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"Sa tingin ko advantage ko ang ring," said Belingon at the media scrum last April. "Kasi dati lumalaban ako sa ganun. Nasanay na rin ako sa cage pero siyempre ngayon ingat ingat kasi kapag na-takedown ka sa ring tapos nasa gilid di ka na maka-depensa kasi hindi ka makasandal. Ang game plan doon dalhin ang laban sa gitna tapos tapusin ang laban sa striking."

Second: speed kills and Martin Nguyen is a master at fast cage craft. You may have qualms about Nguyen's evasive, technical fighting style, but it's won him belts in two different divisions with stellar, highlight reel KOs against the beasts Gafurov and Folayang (Belingon's teammate). He's now in line to claim a third. This is also a potentially historical moment in his already stellar career in Asian MMA and that's if he can weather the inevitable early storm of Belingon, keep himself at a comfy distance, and work his own signature game like a matador to the bull.

Whoever wins will likely depend on how they work the new landscape of the five-rope ring in their favor and impose their killing distance: Belingon from the outside where he can pick his spinning attacks and advance for an occasional blitz, and Nguyen in the boxing pocket where he can change stances, position himself for an overhand, and zoom in for a killshot.

"I feel my advantages, to be blunt, have to be my championship round experience and my gas tank," said Nguyen. "Kevin is a complete mixed martial artist. Yes, he's known for his striking, but he's proved to the world he can also wrestle."

While reigning bantamweight kingpin Bibiano Fernandes is still on recovery mode, the announcement of this interim title fight was a headscratcher when it was released. Relevant questions being: why is Nguyen, the current Featherweight & Lightweight World Champion, claiming a contender fight in a completely different division? Have the rankings been thrown out with the bathwater? How do Yusup Saadulaev and the rest of the bantamweights feel?

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We bet this one doesn't go a full five rounds and a KO from either one will bring the house down. Either that or it'll be a snoozefest where they cancel each other out and end up grappling for dominance.

Garry Tonon vs Rahul Raju (Lightweight Fight)

"The Lion Killer" Garry Tonon is like one of the gods of the world of grappling, or at least an anointed saint. But he's also proven himself an able MMA athlete who can stand and bang, just ask Filipino striker Richard Corminal, who got his ass handed to him with a second round TKO in Tonon's debut last March. Albeit Tonon looked a bit gun shy in the first round he finally got comfy enough to let his hands loose towards the end of the first round and pour it on in the second.

Tonon may be the dark horse fave of this match but the Tom DeBlass black belt is up against "The Kerala Krusher" Rahul Raju, who once defeated hardy URCC vet Andrew Benibe. His well-rounded grinding style may just spell the difference if Tonon a relative MMA noob, hasn't fully integrated his ground and stand-up game yet.

Hopefully, the Danaher Death Squad stand-out has improved his ringcraft and taken more sparring rounds against UFC vet Jake Shields to prep him for the onslaught. Odds are, Tonon relies on his grappling more on this one instead of trying to bang out another ground-and-pound KO.

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Eduard Folayang vs Aziz Pahrudinov (Lightweight Fight)

Folayang's decision win against Kharun Atlangeriev last May looked like just the kind of tune-up fight he needed to get his groove back. He seemed hale and eager—two things he's going to need more of to get back into the contender picture in a deep division full of beasts.

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This is an interesting fight because Pahrudinov, albeit a newcomer to One Championship is a Sambo World Champion out of Dagestan, Russia. And that place, if you know your MMA lore, breeds the kind of wrestlers that maul people. Case in point: current UFC lightweight champ, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who used to wrestle bears as a child.

This guy is Folayang's third Russian opponent in his career in the promotion and the last Russian that got through his defenses, Timofey Nastyukhin, handed him a KO loss. While that learning opportunity did eventually push him to a string of wins that led him to the title, we've also seen footage of Pahrudinov grinding it out in local Russian leagues and this dude has that same vicious grinding style that is the bane of flashy strikers.

Folayang himself admits it: "He doesn't have many weaknesses, but I would like to test his striking. Let's see if he can keep up with me on the feet."

If Folayang can keep on the outside and impose his striking game and spin attacks then we can expect a spectacular KO. Otherwise, the Russian and his sharp grappling will make it a long, long night in the crucible.

Renzo Gracie vs Yuki Kondo (Welterweight Fight)

Photo by One Championship

This one is for the MMA fans of yore. More than just a nostalgia fight, this is being billed as a farewell match between two legends. Nostalgia may play a big part of the interest in this one and we should embrace it rather than downplay their age.

Renzo Gracie, likely one of the toughest 50 year olds, is, of course, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend and sixth-degree black belt who hails from the Gracie family. And it's been eight years since his last professional bout but when he left he held a more than decent 13-7 record, with wins over the likes of Pat Miletich and Frank Shamrock.

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Meanwhile, Yuki "Sora" Kondo, a much younger guy in his mid-40s, is also an MMA vet with more than 100 professional bouts, most of them in Japan's famed Pancrase league. If you think you've seen it all, then take a gander at Kondo's 60-34-9 record. That's a stat that has 19 knockouts and 17 submissions.

We've seen vet matches before and they tend to be slow as heck for obvious reasons (Hi, Chael vs Tito), but neither of these guys has ever shied away from engaging and the most interesting points here are: who has the better gas and conditioning, and who can control the fight with the strength that we hope they've tried to keep over the years.

While Kondo's record is a bit more spotted and Gracie's has a bit more consistency, all bets are off when they fight again inside a sturdier five-rope ring where it'll be terra incognita when they do grapple against the edge—even if both Pride and Pancrase took place inside a ring with three thin ropes, whoever adjusts better to the new lay of the land should gain the upper hand in this fight.

We predict a grappling showcase that might just have the blood we want or a snoozefest where all we see is vying for position.

 

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