On Friday, 26 January, a packed Filipino crowd inside Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena roared to hail the coronation of a new ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion.
Local hero Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio had defeated former flyweight world titleholder Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov to capture gold in the main event of ONE: GLOBAL SUPERHEROES.
The bout was a rematch of the pair’s September 2017 clash, which was won by Akhmetov via split decision. But this time around, the result was much more clear cut.
Eustaquio showcased significant improvements to his game to deliver a masterful performance full of confidence and composure against a man who previously had lost just once in his decorated martial arts career.
Akhmetov started the bout looking to close the distance and use his wrestling against the seasoned wushu striker. But the Filipino showed vastly improved takedown defense, repeatedly fending off the former world champion, and even locking up a kneebar submission from his back after eventually being taken to the mat late in the round.
It was a sign that Eustaquio was a much more well-rounded and confident martial artist, and it proved to be the difference maker throughout the entire contest.
Eustaquio took control of the cage, dictating the distance and looking comfortable with his striking. The Baguio City native landed leg kicks and front kicks from range, and stepped in with the occasional punch. Akhmetov’s inability to use his wrestling to dominate was proving problematic for him.
Even when he did score with a takedown, Eustaquio reversed the position quickly, showing huge improvements in his ability to deal with “The Kazakh” on the ground. Confidence was coursing through the veins of “Gravity,” who clearly extended his lead in the second round.
The action resumed in the third stanza with the Team Lakay veteran settling into his relaxed rhythm once more. By this point in the contest, Akhmetov’s striking attack was reduced to single shots, most of which Eustaquio smoothly evaded as the former world champion started to look increasingly frustrated.
That frustration only grew when another takedown attempt was expertly avoided by the Filipino challenger. Even a late standing guillotine choke attempt proved unsuccessful, as Eustaquio, roared on by the home crowd, easily survived to the end of the round.
The Filipino’s takedown defense and control of range were both on display once again in the fourth, as he continued to frustrate “The Kazakh” by reversing clinches against the cage, evading Akhmetov’s power strikes, and countering effectively.
Despite never competing past 15 minutes in his ONE career, it was “Gravity” who looked the fresher of the two in the championship rounds. He ripped heavy kicks to the legs and body of Akhmetov, slowed the forward pressure of the former world champion, and even attempted a guillotine choke of his own as the round ended.
Eustaquio’s confidence was soaring in the final frame as confidently evaded the advances of an increasingly desperate Akhmetov, who had been made to swing and miss for much of the bout. A late takedown from the Kazakhstani gave him a glimmer of a chance to score a last-gasp finish, but the Team Lakay standout survived the flurry of ground and pound as the bout went all the way to the judges’ scorecards.
When the judges rendered their verdict, they were unanimous in their assessment: a euphoric Eustaquio was awarded a hard-earned unanimous decision win, and the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title. To put the icing on the cake, martial arts legend Renzo Gracie presented the belt.
“I don’t know what to say, guys,” admitted an emotional Eustaquio after the contest. He went on to pay tribute to his family, team, and country, telling them: “This belt is not mine, it’s ours. I’m proud to represent this flag, this country.”
Also on hand was the reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes, who defeated “Gravity” three and a half years earlier in the inaugural title match. The Brazilian entered the cage to congratulate Eustaquio and show his respect. The pair then shared a heartwarming moment.
“Adriano! I’ve got a belt!” Eustaquio exclaimed. “When we faced the first time, I didn’t make it to the third round. Give me one more try!”
Moraes accepted the challenge, and paid tribute to the newly-crowned interim champion, saying the time was right for the pair to meet again to unify the titles.
“I’d like to congratulate this guy. Geje Eustaqio really deserved this belt. I have too much respect for this guy,” he told an approving Manila crowd. “Now he’s an interim flyweight world champion. But this is my throne, this is my house, so let’s do it again!”
With a ONE Flyweight World Title unification bout seemingly now set, the anticipation will begin as the Philippines’ newest world champion will look to become the undisputed best flyweight in the world later in 2018.