ONE Championship closed off 2016 with one of its best shows of the entire year. ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION rocked the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, on 2 December in front of a raucous crowd with epic battles inside the ONE Championship cage.
As is the case in any high-profile MMA card, there are winners and then there are losers. Let us take a closer look at what might be next for the victorious athletes of ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION.
Brandon “The Truth” Vera
Brandon “The Truth” Vera has hit his second wind as a professional mixed martial artist. The San Diego, California, resident moved to Manila earlier this year to be closer to his fans and get in touch with his heritage.
In three fights with ONE Championship, he has looked and played every bit the part of champion, even before he put on the coveted belt.
Last Friday night, Vera took on enormous Japanese challenger, the previously unbeaten Hideki Sekine, in a concise affair. Vera needed just a little over half of the first round to dispatch his foe, winning by technical knockout.
It was an exhilarating performance by the Filipino-American, who has hit high gear as far as his MMA career goes. Vera, to be quite frank, has never looked better. His vaunted Muay Thai skills were overwhelming, takedown defense was definitely on point, and his powerful kicks appeared unblockable.
Sekine was merely the latest in a long list of names for the future hall-of-famer. He joins Igor Subora and Paul Cheng as opponents Vera has completely dismantled. In fact, Vera has averaged just two and a half minutes inside the cage. That is impressive by any means.
With his dominance, Vera will look for new challengers across the world. He plans on competing two to three times next year to defend his belt, and it will be up to the expertise of ONE Vice President and matchmaker Matt Hume to find worthy challengers.
Could anything more be said about Bibiano Fernandes’ spectacular performance over five rounds aginst rising star Reece McLaren? The Brazilian showed real tenacity and grit in his victory, proving just how good the reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion really is.
Fernandes overcame a significant nose injury when a left hand landed for McLaren in the third round. It was a tremendous strike, one that would have turned the lights out for lesser fighters. But Fernandes is of a different ilk, and he proved as much.
McLaren thought he had the win in the bag, sticking his tongue out at the proud champion, pointing at Fernandes’ likely-broken nose. But Fernandes, a veteran of 23 professional MMA bouts, has seen it all inside the cage.
This is the first time, however, that he has been tested and pushed to the limit. Much credit goes to McLaren, who made his name known as a legitimate bantamweight threat, but the champion prevailed in one of his toughest fights to date.
The way the Brazilian dug deep to overcome the odds is the stuff of legend. When it truly mattered most, Fernandes proved that he could do what it takes to win.
There are many ways Fernandes can go about his career from this point forward. A rematch with McLaren is certainly welcome given just how epic the first fight went. There are also a lot of great fighters knocking on his doorstep, such as a resurgent Mark Striegl who earned a win on the same night.
If Fernandes truly wants a greater challenge, he could move up to featherweight where there are a lot of great competitors, including fellow champion Marat Gafurov.
After three impressive outings in a row, it is safe to say that Honorio Banario’s reinvention as a new and improved fighter is complete. In a fairytale career turnaround, “The Rock” went from five straight losses dating back to 2013, to three straight inspiring performances.
Against Vaughn Donayre, Banario gave the world a sneak peek at his newfound wrestling and grappling abilities. Against the powerful and aggressive Eddie Ng, Banario again put his improved ground game on display.
Up against Rajinder Singh Meena, Banario wanted to come full circle and prove to the world that his new strengths were no fluke. In a smooth transition, Banario went from side control to mounted crucifix to armbar in swift succession, forcing the tap just moments into the submission.
With the victory, it is safe to say that the true Honorio Banario is finally back. The former ONE Featherweight World Champion is now campaigning at lightweight where he says he feels stronger and more confident.
The current ONE Lightweight World Champion is Banario’s Team Lakay brother Eduard Folayang, so a title shot is of course out of the question. But that does not mean Banario cannot wreak havoc in the division.
Compelling bouts against Ev Ting and even Rob Lisita are in the cards for Banario. No matter who he ends up facing, Banario is an underdog no more.
It has been a banner year for Baguio City’s famed Team Lakay. 2016 has been more than memorable for a number of reasons. Edward Kelly played a big role in delighting the throng of Team Lakay diehard fans that reside in the Philippines’ mountain provinces.
Just like Banario, “The Ferocious” is on a terrific three-fight win streak. Significant victories over prospect Jordan Lucas and veteran Vincent Latoel put the world on notice.
Last Friday night, a third-round technical knockout over Indonesian powerhouse Sunoto was Kelly’s latest masterpiece, and just like pretty much every one of Team Lakay’s members, Kelly has shown a vastly improved grappling game.
He has won all three of his most recent bouts by exciting finish, and it does not seem like Kelly is anywhere near slowing down.
Kelly could be ready for a step up in competition. Evolve MMA’s Christian Lee is coming off a loss and is in search of victory. Kelly could be just the right opponent for Lee in a comeback fight.
However, Kelly would be a dangerous opponent for Lee, or any fighter for that matter. The way Kelly has performed recently puts him up near the top of the heap talent-wise.
For all intents and purposes, Jenny Huang just simply did not look likely to win her bout against April Osenio last Friday night at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION — not after Osenio pretty much dominated the bout up until the finish. But there is just something about the unbeaten 25-year-old warrior from Chinese Taipei.
Despite being outstruck by Osenio from pillar to post, Huang kept her composure and knew that all she had to do was weather the storm until she could find a way to drag Osenio down into her web of grappling mastery.
Osenio is no slouch on the ground herself, but it was very clear that Huang was on a completely different level. Once on the ground, Huang was in her comfort zone, expertly moving around while looking to capitalize on any opening or mistake Osenio offered.
When Osenio reversed position from being on her back and wound up in Huang’s guard, it appeared as though Osenio was in complete control. However, Huang proved that even on her back, she is as dangerous as ever.
After threatening with an omoplata, Huang expertly transitioned into a very rare gogoplata submission, using her very flexible rubber guard to snake her foot underneath Osenio’s neck. Osenio never saw it coming.
ONE Championship’s women’s atomweight division is new and bustling, and word is out that champion Angela Lee is looking for an opponent for early 2017. Huang appears to be just the right fit, and seems ready for the big stage.
Of course, there is also the possibility of bouts against top contenders Mei Yamaguchi and Istela Nunes.