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Preview – ONE Championship: Warrior’s Quest (Part 1)

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This upcoming Friday, ONE Championship will have its third show of the year in Singapore with 11 bouts, including 2 title fights – Shinya Aoki will defend his lightweight belt against Koji Ando and the scrap between undefeated Thai Dedjadamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and Roy Doliguez for the vacant strawweight belt.

Here are part 1 of the fight breakdown:

Ali Yaakub (0-1) vs Jianbing Yang (3-0)
Yaakub, a decorated Muay Thai practitioner in his home country Malaysia, have shown to be able to stand toe to toe against the now-title contender Amnuaysirichoke in his last outing. Unfortunately, it also showed his lack of ground game, and he’s paired up against Yang who got 2 out of his 3 wins via submission, all of which was obtained after a series of grappling exchanges.

On the flipside, nothing much can be said on Yang’s standup, which thus far only intended to set up clinches and has not been effective even against opponents with a combined record of 1-8 to this day. Yang is likely to face the best striker in his fighting career in this match, and given the little progress that Yang made between his fights, this fight may look to be more competitive than what it seemed to be.

However, Yang’s durability may hold the key in this fight. While Yaakub may defend Yang’s takedown attempts early in the game and landing shots, Yang has so far proven to be resilient in weathering shots to close the distance and get the takedown. I see Yaakub defending the takedowns early in the fight with Yang maintaining the pressure and ultimately getting the fight to the ground to finish it.

Prediction: Yang by R2 Sub

Angela Lee (0-0) vs Aya Saied Saber (3-5)
Saber has shown her ability in a competitive fight against Ana Julaton, where she managed to stand toe-to-toe against the boxing champion and outwrestle the Filipino fighter until the third round where she made a mistake and ended on the bottom of mount, Julaton pounding away. However, she seemed powerless against a more skilled grappler in Ann Osman, where she was quickly taken down and submitted within the opening round.

Lee may only have 3 wins on the amateur scene, but have finished all her opponents within the first round. She was not afraid to stand and bang, and rightfully so given the competition she was in, but it is when the fight went to the ground is where the BJJ purple belt finishes her opponents.

While Saber may have more experience on paper and likely to have the size advantage (Lee fought her last fight at 115lbs), Lee’s standup should be sufficient for her to close the distance and end the fight on the ground – where Saber is at greater disadvantage.

Prediction: Angela Lee by R1 Sub

 

Benedict Ang (0-0) vs Waqar Umar (3-2)
Ang will be the first out of 2 amateurs making their debuts in the night’s card. The undefeated 19-year old have been dominant in his past outings, winning all three matches with his ground game. His standup game has so far adequate to implement his game plan against the level of competition he had faced, but untested against higher level of competition.

His opponent, Waqar Umar, is on a 2 fight losing streak on ONE, but it is worth noting that both came with asterisks. The first time around, he was faced with a visa issue that only allowed him to weigh in in the morning before the fight, while his second loss was marred with a low blow and an elbow to the back of Umar’s head that should’ve ended the fight with a DQ.

So far, Umar have shown that he is capable to stand and trade with the bigger striker in Davis, but he has proven to be more comfortable on the ground and attacking with submissions. His takedown defense, however, remain questionable, and at times he seemed to be getting too comfortable fighting off his back, both of which key points to fight against a grappler with strong top game like Ang.

Prediction: Ang wins by UD

 

Amir Khan (3-1) vs Shannon Wiratchai (3-1)

Originally slated for Manila show, Amir Khan finally faced Shannon Wiratchai in Singapore.

Khan showed dangerous he is on the clinch, particularly on his last fight against Bashir Ahmad, where Khan controlled the fight with his clinch, pick apart the Pakistani with his knees, and take him down at will. Striking-wise, Khan showed an powerful and accurate standup in his ONE debut, where he picked apart Jian Kai Chee with his boxing en route to an opening round KO.

The level of striking shown by Wiratchai, however, is a notch above Khan, particularly when he took apart Mitch Chilson on both of their fights. On the clinch and on the ground, Wiratchai will be at a disadvantage against Khan. Wiratchai have shown the shortcomings on these positions on his past fights, particularly on his loss against Bashir Ahmad 2 years ago.

Expect to see Wiratchai’s advantage on striking getting neutralised, as Khan grind his way to a decision win.

Prediction: Khan by UD

 

Stephen Langdown (2-1) vs Heili Alateng (3-4)

Langdown may only have less than 8 minutes of effective cage time, but in that short period of time has shown a great deal of power, accuracy, and aggression in his wins. His defense, however, is a suspect. He got caught with clean shots and knocked down in his last 2 fights, and his weakness on the ground was apparent against a stronger grappler like Suire, where Langdown was unable to recover after the fight went to the ground.

Alateng may have more experience on paper, but his MMA game seem a bit raw. His game so far revolved around swinging for the fences or shooting for takedowns with little set up. Even when he gets the takedown, his top control is not as strong as what is expected from a wrestler.

Expect to see Langdown, to keep the fight standing and picking apart Alateng from the outside and ultimately finish him in later rounds

Prediction: Langdown by R2 KO

 

Eddie Ng (7-2) vs Ariel Sexton (9-3)

Sexton may have lost his ONE Championship debut against Kamal Shalorus, but he proved to be a stiff opposition against the Iranian; reversing, even taking the lightweight title contender down and threatening him from the back several times during the three round bout. A BJJ black belt, Sexton all but two of sexton’s 9 wins are achieved through submission, and he has shown to have a strong transitions and reversals from the bottom. Standing up, sexton may not be too technical standing up, nor a sufficient KO power for this level of competition, but Sexton made it up with his intensity, and this is enough to bring the fight to the ground where he is more dangerous.

Ng may just had his first loss in ONE a year ago against Vincent Latoel when Latoel knocked him down and referee Yuji Shimada prematurely stop the contest. In his past outings, Ng have always been touted as a skilled grappler, and rightfully so, but he is equally dangerous standing up, having scored quick KO finishes in early years of ONE against 2 standup artists.

Sexton is definitely in a class above all Ng’s previous opponents, and this will be the first time Ng fought against a more decorated grappler under MMA ruleset, which may affect his confidence in going to the ground. Standing up, Ng have may have shown more power on his strikes than the Costa Rican, but Sexton have more variety on his striking repertoire and this may turn the tide in the likely event that the fight goes to the distance.

Prediction: Sexton by UD

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Fight Announcements

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Official for UFC 224

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Brazils second UFC event of the new year added another middleweight contest. UFC officials announced, Kelvin Gastelum will face Jacare Souza in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224.

The inevitable main card booking of Souza comes after headlining UFC on Fox 27. The Brazilian fighter is 3-2 in his last 5. His recent contests only look worrisome in comparison to the entirety of his long career. Prior to his past 5, Souza held an eight fight win streak. In that period of time, he defeated Gegard Mousasi, Derek Brunson (for the first time), and Chris Camozzi twice. Despite the drama words and numbers on screens create, his recent record is nothing to have concern over. A split decision loss to Yoel Romero in 2015, and a 2017 TKO loss to division champion, Robert Whittaker is manageable. Defeating Derek Brunson in the opening round of their main event bout kept him deep in the milky opaque froth that is the middleweight title picture. Clearly his position in that photo lies upon the upcoming match up.

Looking ahead for Jacare Souza, assuming he wins, becomes interesting, just as it devastating for Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum is 3-1 since returning to middleweight, technically his record sits at 2-1 and 1 No Contest. He tested positive for marijuana in a sample collected the night of his bout against Vitor Belfort by USADA in March of 2017. Originally, the outcome of the bout read the way viewers remembered it; a 1st rd. TKO in favor of Gastelum. On May 7th, 2017, the win was officially overturned and changed to a No Contest. He also received a 90 day suspension, adjusted to the day of the failed test (March 11th).

In the aftermath of the failed test, his scheduled contest against Anderson Silva. He then split his next two contests, losing to Chris Weidman and defeating Michael Bisping emphatically, yet under odd circumstances. A win for Gastelum certainly muddies the waters of middleweight contenders, while adding to a good 185 lb. resume.

UFC 224 takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on May 12th, 2018 at the Jeunesse Arena. A battle betwen Brazilians is set for the date as Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort. Other featured bouts include; Aleksei Oleynik vs. Junior Albini*, Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson*, Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev, and Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein*.

*Bouts reportedly set for UFC 224

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Exclusive: Mike Ekundayo, “He could come with anything, I don’t care”

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In a little less than a week, Rise of Champions crowns its inaugural bantamweight champion. The crowning of the first 135 lb. champion marks the young promotions first champion. It makes sense why the promotion owned and operated by UK MMA star, Brad Pickett, and Team Titan head coach, Mickey Papas plan to crown the promotions first champion in the bantamweight division. Pickett competed in the division throughout his tenure with the WEC, and ultimately the entity which absorbed the light weight promotion, the UFC. Even more-so, two young and rising prospects of the division. One undefeated in his professional and amateur career, the other riding a seven consecutive victories, five by submission. The two meet February 17th, Mike Ekundayo puts his career unbeaten streak up against Jonas Magard’s at ROC 5, for the aforementioned, inaugural bantamweight championship.

Speaking to the undefeated Ekundayo before his fight, he believes this opportunity to be inevitable. Born in Hackney, (a borough of London) early in life, Ekundayo was no stranger to cramming his belongings into large cardboard boxes. At the age of 7, he moved from Hackney to Herne Hill, a district located in South London. Two years later he found himself in similar situation, moving from his vaguely new home in Herne Hill to Brixton. A road trip in the car to his new home, took approximately 5 minutes.

It is admittedly, not an easy life. In a harrowing article describing the horrors of gang life in London by the metro.uk, former gang member turned community activist, made the claim, “When you are from Brixton, from Peckham, west London, anywhere in London, you are seeing hardship where a lot of communities can’t reach their full potential”.

In his own words, Ekundayo describes his home as, “not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing”. But that couldn’t matter any less for him. Not only does the London resident consistently work to grow his potential, he gets to see it every day. His coaches Brad Pickett and Mickey Papas hold the knowledge as well as first-hand experience, increasing his limits with every session. “We’re all close”, speaking of his coaches and team. “My head coach is Mickey Papas, he’s very knowable in the game. He’s been around for a very long time. He teaches me a lot, I can learn a lot of stuff from Mickey Papas. Sometimes I just think, how does he know all of this? Where did he get this information from?”

He continued, “While I was coming up through amateur, Brad (Pickett) was still an active fighter, but nowadays he’s taken a coaching approach. So he’s coaching us prospects getting us to where he got to and further… He’s been through it all, gotten to the top, and stayed at the top”.

Further discussing his coach, “For UK MMA, you could definitely call Brad a legend. He’s done a lot in his career, and someone who I rate highly as an MMA fighter is Demetrious Johnson, and of course Brad has got a win over (him). I feel like just being surrounded by someone like Brad, you’re working towards the right things. When he passes information onto you, you respect it that bit more because of far he got in his career. He’s definitely given me the right guidance, I trust his guidance”.

When it comes to the upcoming title fight, confidence poured out from where praise and respect had once been. “I just think it’s my time, to be honest. I really do believe it’s my time for all of this. The work I put in, certain things become inevitable”, he said. “I actually called this after I won my third fight, I called for belts and big shows. I spoke it to existence”. He continued, “It’s my time to finally to get a strap of some sort. All the straps is what we’re going for, all of them. We’re going for every one”.

“Rise of Champions is my show… That’s how I feel when I’m performing on ROC, it’s just my show, it’s my time to shine. Everyone knows who there here to see, there not really there to see the other guys. It’s my time, it’s my show and I’m going to put on a show on February 17th and I’m going to win that belt”.

The infectious nature of his positive attitude was palpable. Although we only spoke through small rectangular devices, I could feel his energy in the room. His attitude shined brightest when talking about what it would mean to be the first ever ROC Bantamweight champion. Ekundayo claimed, “It just means a lot to have my first belt in anything to be honest… Within myself, I call myself a champion, every day. But now, other people would have to call me a champion because I’ve got a belt… And one thing I really want to do is, which sounds a bit weird, I just want to take the belt home to my area, to Brixton.”

“I just want to take it to my area, and just show the people of that area what hard work can achieve… I want to just take it to my people and show them that not for nothing, we are from Brixton, it’s not the best start to have in your life. It’s not the best upbringing but you can rise above it and you can achieve your goals and that’s what the belt will mean”.

When the conversation shifted to the topic of his opponent, Ekundayo had less encouraging words rolling off his tongue. Jonas Magard, the second half of the ROC 5 main event, holds a record of 7-4. Currently he owns a seven fight win streak after starting his career 1-3. Ekundayo thought, “He did fight quite decent guys in his three loses… but in the seven fight win streak, none of his opponents have been of caliber”.

He elaborated further, “What’s in my thoughts is more me, then it is of him. So, he could come with anything, I don’t care. I’m just focused on how I’m going to be picture perfect. How I’m going to paint a masterpiece, how I’m going to make it a beautifully perfect performance. That’s what my primary focus is on, so what he does to me is irrelevant, I’m just going to focus on how I’m going to be perfect on the night of February 17th”.

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Announcement

UFC 222 Re-Worked with Cris Cyborg vs. Yana Kunitskaya, and Frankie Edgar vs. Brian Ortega

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UFC 222 has been saved, and it didn’t take a superhero to lift the burning boulder which was Max Holloway’s injury and withdrawal. All it took was a female named Cyborg and a man with a demeanor so smooth, he could be mistaken for an alter-ego. Cris Cyborg now serves as the UFC 222 main event when she defends her featherweight belt against Yana Kunitskaya. Frankie Edgar bumped down to the co-main event to face Brian Ortega in what is likely a title eliminator. The news of the UFC 222 revival originally stemmed from a report by MMAFighting.com and confirmed later in the evening by the UFC.

Over the course of the week, reports surrounded the Las Vegas card and whether it would survive. Multiple options were reportedly being mulled over; cancelling the card outright, changing the pay-per-view (PPV) to a ‘Fight Night’ with an Edgar vs. Ortega main event, Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt 2 main event, among others. Ultimately, the promotion landed on Cyborg vs. Kunitskaya as the new main event, while also booking Brian Ortega.

This adjustment of the card places their women’s Featherweight champion in the second PPV main event in three months. Cris Cyborg recently put her undisputed Featherweight title on the line against Holly Holm at the year ending card, UFC 219. She successfully defended her belt by unanimous decision, in what was an amazing technical display from the Brazilian. In her octagon career, Cyborg is undefeated in her four appearances with three KO/TKO stoppages.

The second half of the new main event, Yana Kunitskaya, makes her UFC debut against the scariest women on the roster. If the 145 lb. champion was not enough of a challenge, Kunitskaya also makes her first appearance in the division since defeating Cindy Dandois in December of 2010. Of Russia descent, her most recent performances came inside the Invicta FC cage. At the female-only promotion, she posted a record of 1-1, with 1 No Contest. Her loss and no contest, both came at the hands of former UFC Featherweight title challenger, Tonya Evinger.

Turning to the co-main event, both fighters have been relatively inactive but, for good reason. Brian Ortega amazingly forced perennial men’s Featherweight contender, Cub Swanson, to tap in the second round of their ‘Fight Night: Fresno’ contest. Ortega fought twice in 2017, but more-so stayed inactive following his stoppage victory over Swanson. The Californian contender announced his desire to wait in line for the next title shot following the recent victory.

For Frankie Edgar, his last fight took place at UFC 211 when he absolutely demolished young and rising star, Yair Rodriguez. A card which took place last May. While Ortega holds an undefeated record, Edgar is undefeated in his previous 9 fights, excluding people named Jose Aldo.

UFC 222 takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 3rd.

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