ONE Championship returned to Thailand on Saturday Night, 11 March, to stage its second event in the country, ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM, and it was easily their most thrilling card of 2017 thus far.
The action-filled night at Bangkok’s Impact Arena played host to nine sensational bouts, eight of which featured thrilling finishes and a single razor-thin split decision. It was a night where a champion extended her title reign in dominant fashion, contenders rose to the occasion, and a slew of promising up-and-coming talents made some definitive statements.
While there were many highlights, here are the top five from ONE: WARRIOR KINGDOM.
#1 Angela Lee’s Remarkable Evolution
Undefeated ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee has not fought inside the cage since capturing the belt ten months ago at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER. It was a long layoff for someone used to fighting every couple of months, but the submission specialist returned for her first title defense and looked twice as good as the last time we saw her.
Armed with a much-improved stand-up game, she peppered judoka Jenny Huang at will and stunned her multiple times throughout the first two rounds. Then in the third round, Lee brought Huang to the ground with a picture-perfect head snap takedown, mounted her, flattened her out, and rained blows until referee Olivier Coste waved the fight off.
Quite honestly, Lee made it look simple. “Unstoppable” took the masterful training she received from the Muay Thai World Champions at Evolve MMA and utilized it to exploit Huang’s biggest weakness. While the Hawaiian always had fair striking, she has truly evolved it — no pun intended — over the past ten months. At just 20, it will be fascinating to see her continued growth as she enters her prime.
#2 Yodsanan Sityodtong and Ramon Gonzales’ Gritty Displays
This was truly a rollercoaster of a fight. Yodsanan “Little Tyson” Sityodtong had been pegged the favorite due to his previous MMA experience, hometown advantage, and the fact that he is a former WBA Super Featherweight World Champion.
However, two-time Philippine Kyokushin karate champion Ramon “The Bicolano” Gonzales, who took this fight on two weeks’ notice, proved to be a worthy adversary. For much of the first round, he controlled Sityodtong on the ground, and came immensely close to putting the legendary Thai to sleep with a rear-naked choke. If there were a few more ticks on the clock, he could have done it.
Gonzales tried to build off that momentum to finish off a tired Sityodtong in the second round, but “Little Tyson” was prepared to make a comeback. He displayed that world-famous punching power, rocked his Filipino foe, and punched him to the point of exhaustion, forcing Gonzales to verbally submit. It was truly a back-and-forth affair filled with drama.
#3 Sagetdao Petpayathai Proved His Worth
There are lots of martial artists who tend to dominate a specific discipline, but fail to cross over and transition their craft into the MMA world. Sagetdao Petpayathai, however, is not one of them. In fact, he has put the featherweight division on notice.
Arguably the most decorated Muay Thai champion in recent history, Petpayathai lived up to his moniker of “Deadly Star” and absolutely obliterated Kelvin “Ice Man” Ong from the second he landed his first left hand.
He repeatedly stuffed the Malaysian’s takedown attempts, kneed him with authority in the clinch, and battered and bruised Ong with an array of strikes until referee Yuji Shimada called off the fight.
Though we have only seen Petpayathai in the cage for all of two minutes, the multi-time Lumpinee Champion demonstrated his aggressive stand-up and his ability to avoid the takedown. Sure, questions about his ground game remain, but this is a very promising start to what could be a fruitful MMA career.
#4 The Strawweight Showdown Between Two Top Contenders
Former ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and ex-title challenger Joshua Pacio fought like they had something to lose, and in a way, they did. Both of their only blemishes have come at the hands of current champ Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito, and a victory here would catapult the winner to a title rematch conversation.
The bout was a seesaw battle, where Amnuaysirichoke, the hometown legend, used his sharp Muay Thai striking to counteract the wushu of the young Team Lakay standout. Although the Singaporean-based Thai flashed that elite stand-up in glimpses throughout the opening stanzas, Pacio was able to negate it by taking Amnuaysirichoke down, and spent the bulk of the first two rounds working ground strikes and submission attempts in the guard.
In the third frame, however, there was a new fire in the eyes of Amnuaysirichoke. He stuffed all of the fatigued Filipino’s takedown attempts and tore into him with a blistering attack, even sweeping his legs at the round’s conclusion.
It is quite telling that this was the only fight on the card to go the distance, and the decision was unbelievably close. Pacio may have gotten the split decision, but the result could have easily gone the other way. In fact, two more rounds would have told a completely different tale.
#5 The Thai MMA Power Couple’s Flashy Entrances
Shannon Wiratchai certainly got his three wishes: to share a fight card with his girlfriend Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige, to see her win her MMA debut, and to TKO his opponent “Notorious” Richard Corminal.
Ever the showman, Wiratchai made his grand entrance to the ONE cage by taking a cue from Disney’s Aladdin. He dressed as the animated film’s protagonist himself, Aladdin, and was escorted to the cage by a enthusiastic Genie. It was unforgettable, to say the least.
As for his girlfriend, Ishige preceded Wiratchai’s entrance with a show of her own, and entered the Impact Arena in spectacular fashion. She entertained the masses dressed as Gokai Pink of the Gokaigers, a Japanese live-action series that the Power Rangers are based off of, and defeated a ninja during a skit before making her way to the cage. She won her fight in the first round too, defeating Audreylaura Boniface by TKO.