One Championship returns to the Philippines on Friday with One: Reign of Kings, which takes place at Manila’s Mall Of Asia Arena. The event features an impressive lineup of current stars, up-and-comers and established veterans.
The evening’s main event will see Martin Nguyen face off against Kevin Belingon for the One Championship interim bantamweight strap. Although both fighters would rather be appearing opposite current champion Bibiano Fernandes, who is out injured, for One fans, a Nguyen-Belingon fight is a “circle the date” type bout. Whatever happens in this fight, you can be sure that there will be no lack of fireworks once those cage doors close.
Two former lightweight champions will be in attendance on the night as Shinya Aoki and Eduard Folayang take on Shannon Wiratchai and Aziz Pahrudinov in their respective bouts. Reign of Kings will also see legends Renzo Gracie and Yuki Kondo square off in a welterweight clash and BJJ wizard Garry Tonon will compete in his second MMA fight when he takes on India’s Rahul K. Raju.
Representing the striking arts, there will be two One Super Series bouts on the main card and one in the prelims. The prelims will be headlined by what could be one of the fights of the night when two of the promotion’s rising stars, Team Lakay’s Joshua Pacio and Tiger Muay Thai’s Pongsiri Mitsatit clash in their strawweight bout. The event will be broadcast live and free on the One app.
Nguyen (11-2) vs. Kevin
This time last year, the 29 year-old Nguyen was on a four-fight winning streak and in camp for his featherweight title bout with Russian champion Marat Gafurov. Gafurov had previously submitted the Vietnamese-Australian in the first minute of the first round when they had met in 2015. Nguyen avenged his loss by stopping Gafurov by KO when they met in August 2017 and in doing so put in motion what is likely the most extraordinary 12-month period of his career to date.
Nguyen followed up by winning the featherweight crown, defeating Team Lakay’s Eduard Folayang in November to claim the One Championship lightweight belt. As a newly minted double champ, Nguyen then set his sights on adding a third title to his collection by targeting the bantamweight strap held by Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes, a man whose last loss was eight years ago in 2010.
The two clashed in Bangkok back in March and after the dust settled, Fernandes walked away with a split decision victory, turning aside Nguyen's dreams of three-division dominance for the moment. In May, Nguyen made the first defense of his featherweight title, defeating highly-touted prospect Christian Lee. He was also nominated for three awards including Breakthrough Fighter of the Year at the 2018 World MMA Awards held earlier this month.
When you consider that not long ago Nguyen was still working as a full-time salesman in a mechanic’s auto workshop, it is safe to say that a lot has changed in his life since he stepped into the cage for that title fight with Gafurov. However, despite his success, the loss to Fernandes continues to prey on Nguyen’s mind. If it had been via stoppage or even a unanimous decision, he might have been able to chalk it up to experience and move on, but the fact it was a split decision left the lasting feeling of a job left undone. Fernandes was due to be back in action by now, but an ankle injury means he will not be competing again until later this year, hence the interim title. Whatever your thoughts on interim titles, there can be no question that the quality of the contest on offer is of the highest standard.
Belingon has been on a run since his own loss to Fernandes back in 2016. Undefeated in five straight bouts, the 30 year-old Filipino appears to be coming into his prime as a fighter. His second-round TKO of American Andrew Leone in April provided the perfect snapshot of who he is as a fighter.
Interestingly, it was Belingon who was originally slated to compete next for the bantamweight title. One Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong let it be known prior to his clash with Leone that Belingon had already been promised a fight with Fernandes on his return, but Belingon still chose to take the fight on offer.
Fast, explosive and with the patience and maturity to wait until the moment presents itself to strike, Belingon will walk into the cage against Nguyen with the confidence that he has the tools to complete the task before him. As the physically bigger man, Nguyen will have the height and strength advantage, but speed will belong to Belingon. If Belingon wins this fight, he will do it on his feet, and though Nguyen prefers to utilize his striking skills, he does have a solid ground game as demonstrated in his last bout with Christian Lee. But Belingon’s takedown defense is of a high standard. In his fight against Leone, who is well known for his submission prowess, Belingon nullified his ground game and was able to keep the fight exactly where he wanted it. Belingon will the third fighter from Team Lakay to share a cage with Nguyen and will be hoping to be the first to end the fight with his hand raised.
For Nguyen, there is no time like the present. Holding two belts simultaneously is no small task, but holding three belts compounds the scheduling problems for both the fighter and the company even further. It is an unusual situation Nguyen finds himself in, and he must be aware that if he does not walk away with the interim belt this week, then it will be a hard road back to get an opportunity like this again.
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