Angelie “D Explorer” Sabanal may have entered the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, to little fanfare, but once the debutante’s hand was raised following 15 minutes of intense action, everyone in attendance knew her name.
On Saturday, 24 March, the Filipina met local favorite Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige at ONE: IRON WILL. Not only was this Sabanal’s first professional cage match, but she was given a chance to compete in the biggest martial arts promotion in the world, and take on a megastar like Ishige in front of her adversary’s hometown crowd.
The stakes were sky high, but she was up for the task.
“It was my first time competing, internationally,” the 28-year-old Filipina begins.
“I could not believe it, because people were telling me that I should compete in the local scene first before I get my chance in ONE. Aside from that, my first opponent will be a veteran who is well known in Asia. And to top it off, the match was in her home country!
“Honestly, I really did not feel any jitters. In my mind, we are always wrestling when we spar, so I just thought of it like I was sparring for three rounds.”
Sabanal, a Muay Thai southpaw, made the most of her big opportunity.
The Filipina relied on her savvy stand-up background, where she constantly outpointed Ishige, and evaded many of the Thai’s kicks. Although “Tinydoll” proved to be superior in the clinch game, Sabanal hung tough, and broke away so she could deploy more of her striking game. She also was able to effectively negate Ishige’s grappling prowess, and keep the bout upright.
In the end, Sabanal pulled off the upset, as the judges awarded her the unanimous decision victory.
However, it was not by any means easy. There were a few times where the Filipina admits she was rattled, but was able to stay calm, and reclaim control of the contest.
“For instance, when she took me to the ground, because I know that is where she is good,” Sabanal begins. “Every time she attempted a takedown, or went for a clinch, I was a bit rattled. But my coach taught me how to defend against those attacks. Thankfully, I was able to remember those techniques, and execute them well.”
With her morale at an all-time high, “D Explorer” is looking forward to more challenges inside the ONE cage. Sabanal is willing to clash with anyone in the promotion’s exciting women’s atomweight division.
“Personally, I would like to match up against international talents,” she explains.
“I have no qualms if they give me a match against fellow Filipinas, but I would rather go up against international talents. We are from the same country, and I see them as sisters competing for the same people. Going up against them would feel a bit awkward.
“Also, I would rather compete in a different country, because win or lose, it does not have as much pressure as on home soil, where people rely on you to get a win. Hopefully, I get to overcome that pressure even before it happens.”
Having had this experience, and this win, she is already more prepared for her next battle, whenever that may be. In victory, Sabanal has learned plenty, and has some veteran knowledge to assist her in the future.
“Never underestimate your opponent because once they know you, and know where your strengths are, they will figure out how to take those away,” the Filipina says. “And you should always stay calm, so you will be able to think inside the cage.”