The ONE Championship cage is an unforgiving place. Two warriors are tasked to climb inside its steel confines to do battle for honor and glory. Although it can be daunting, it can also bring out the best in an athlete.
Every fight has its own unique characteristics. There is a certain beauty to be appreciated when two individuals compete in view of thousands of screaming fans, chanting their names.
Over the last three months, ONE Championship has seen some of the most memorable contests in its history. Let us take a look at five of the best fights in ONE Championship in the past quarter.
1. Bibiano Fernandes Vs Reece McLaren At ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, 2 December, Manila
Bibiano Fernandes is one of MMA’s most acclaimed champions. His inherent skill in both the striking and grappling arts have brought him to the cusp of complete domination.
Rarely have there been challengers who were worthy of sharing the cage with the Brazilian, until a gutsy 25-year-old by the name of Reece McLaren came along. McLaren, who hails from Queensland, Australia, came out of seemingly nowhere, bursting onto the global fight scene with spectacular upsets over top fighters Mark Striegl and Muin Gafurov, earning himself a shot at Fernandes and the ONE Bantamweight World Championship.
Yet even though McLaren earned his chance at the belt, he was still not favored to win against Fernandes, who is widely considered one of the finest mixed martial artists in the world.
So when McLaren nearly finished Fernandes at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, breaking the champion’s nose in the third round, punishing him punch after thunderous punch, the entire arena was ablaze with excitement.
Fernandes had never before been met with this sort of adversity, at least not since he has been ONE Bantamweight World Champion. For McLaren to come out and do what he did to the proud Brazilian warrior was truly out of the ordinary.
With his back against the wall however, is when Fernandes showed the heart of a champion. The Brazilian dug deep, mustering enough determination to persevere and take back control of the fight.
By the end of the bout, both fighters were spent. It was the kind of fight that will be talked about for years to come.
Despite Fernandes taking the decision, many fans and observers felt the fight was too close to call. In fact, only two out of three judges gave the victory to the Brazilian, which resulted in a razor-thin split decision verdict.
2. Roger Huerta Vs Adrian Pang At ONE: DEFENDING HONOR, 12 November, Singapore
Following back-to-back losses to Koji Ando and Ariel Sexton, where Sexton literally battered Roger Huerta into verbal submission, it was hard to envision “El Matador” having very much left in the tank for another big fight.
Which is why it came as a complete shock to most when his lightweight bout against powerhouse Adrian “The Hunter” Pang was announced.
Pang is one of the strongest and most durable fighters in all of mixed martial arts. The scariest part of it all is that Pang would goad opponents into taking swipes at him. He is the kind of fighter who would not mind taking a couple on the chin just so he could get off some of his own.
That is where Huerta’s dynamic kickboxing came in handy. Huerta unloaded an array of various strikes at Pang, who seemed to walk through pretty much everything. The two blasted each other with bombs from all corners of the cage. It was a fight fan’s dream.
When the going got rough, Huerta would expertly take Pang to the ground with his wrestling, proving that he indeed had the edge in experience.
3. Eduard Folayang Vs Shinya Aoki At ONE: DEFENDING HONOR, 12 November, Singapore
What a fairytale ending it has been for Baguio City’s Eduard Folayang. For years, Folayang had traversed highs and lows in his professional mixed martial arts career. He experienced some pretty epic wins inside the ONE Championship cage, as well as a handful of heartbreaking setbacks.
When he was stopped by Timofey Nastyukhin with a flying knee in 2014, many fans thought it was the beginning of the end for the 32-year-old former school teacher. Yet, with two handy victories over Adrian Pang and Tetsuya Yamada, Folayang earned himself a date with Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki.
However, simply receiving a title shot against Aoki was not akin to actually beating the Japanese grappler. Aoki was the heavy favorite and for a good reason. He had not lost a bout in nearly four years, and was riding a nine-fight win streak.
Folayang, who did not possess anywhere near the Brazilian jiu-jitsu chops that Aoki possessed, was not expected to get through five rounds of grappling mastery and the constant threat of submissions.
It turns out however, Folayang did not need five rounds. He only needed three. In his finest performance to date, Folayang put together a timeless showcase of his elite level striking and solid defensive wrestling skills.
The former SEA Games wushu gold medalist rocked Aoki with his own flying knee a minute into the third round and followed up with a series of ground strikes, chipping away at Aoki’s resolve with each landed blow.
It was a thing of beauty to witness, and as the confetti rained down from the heavens, fans knew they had just seen a classic.
A well-deserved break is in the cards for Folayang, and while he was able to realize a lifelong dream of becoming an MMA world champion, Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao says the real work has only just begun.
4. Yoshitaka Naito Vs Joshua Pacio At ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS, 7 October, Myanmar
ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito and 20-year-old Team Lakay strawweight prospect Joshua Pacio could not be any more different from each other than they already are.
The 32-year-old Japanese warrior is 12 years Pacio’s senior and possesses an unblemished 12-0 professional mixed martial arts record. Although the younger Pacio came into the bout also undefeated, his first eight professional MMA fights were held locally in the Philippines. Entering the cage against the champion, Pacio was a largely unknown fighter.
Yet even though experience was not on his side, Pacio still showed tremendous promise. For starters, all eight of his victories inside the cage have come by spectacular finish, with three by knockout and a solid five by submission.
So despite Naito being able to come away with a submission victory from seemingly out of nowhere, the real story lied in the stellar performance of Pacio who showed as much in defeat as he would have in victory.
Pacio dominated Naito from the opening bell, beating the champion to the punch on almost every occasion while stuffing numerous takedown attempts that he could see coming from a mile away. Naito’s only game plan was to take the fight to the mat and it became painfully evident that it was going to be easier said than done.
Every opportunity afforded to him, Naito shot in for a single leg, hoping to drive Pacio to the ground where he could spin a web of Brazilian jiu-jitsu around his younger foe. Towards the end of the third round, Naito caught Pacio in a brief mental lapse and that was literally all that it took to latch onto a rear naked choke to seal the deal.
Pacio dominated the champion for two and a half rounds before succumbing to sheer exhaustion and a rear naked choke from Naito’s back pocket. It was a shocking end for the Team Lakay hopeful, but one that he has definitely learned from.
5. Edward Kelly Vs Sunoto At ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, 2 December, Manila
It has been a banner year for Baguio City’s famed Team Lakay. 2016 has been more than memorable for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is Edward Kelly, who played a big role in showcasing the team’s stark improvement in all areas of mixed martial arts.
Kelly impressed earlier in the year with two solid victories over Australian prospect Jordan Lucas and Dutch-Indonesian MMA veteran Vincent Latoel. Against “The Terminator” Sunoto at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, Kelly would continue his fantastic run.
Sunoto proved to be more than a live challenger however, as he was able to stand toe-to-toe with Kelly all throughout the bout. For nearly three whole rounds, Kelly and Sunoto went to absolute war, punishing each other with thrilling combinations and high-level grappling.
The end came when Kelly took matters into his own hands after landing a thunderous body kick that sent Sunoto crumbling to the mat. Kelly then immediately took full mount and finished Sunoto off with ground-and-pound.
Kelly has won four of his last five bouts, all by exciting finish. And it does not seem like he is anywhere near slowing down.