Kuala Lumpur is set to play host once more to an amazing evening of authentic martial arts action, as the world’s toughest warriors take the ONE Championship cage by storm in a series of compelling matchups. As we hit the second half of 2017, the stakes become incredibly high for our esteemed athletes.
As always, we take a step back and examine what’s in store for our heroes. This is what’s on the line for the biggest stars at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS on 18 August.
Marat Gafurov And Martin Nguyen
At 32 years of age and unbeaten in 15 professional bouts, Russia’s Marat “Cobra” Gafurov has been as dominant a champion as they come.
After defeating former featherweight titleholder Narantungalag Jadambaa on two separate occasions, Gafurov has put together six straight wins in ONE Championship, with all six victories coming by rear-naked choke submission.
Against Australia’s Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, Gafurov has a chance to turn the corner, and put another highly-anticipated rematch behind him.
Nguyen, of course, is snapping at Gafurov’s heels, after having been finished by the featherweight king in their first encounter. At the time, Nguyen agreed to the bout on short notice, and only had a few days to get ready. This time, however, a young and hungry Nguyen will be operating behind a full training camp, and promises to give a much better account of himself.
Will the result be different this time around? Despite being more physically prepared for the rematch, Nguyen will still have to find a way to overcome Gafurov’s relentless top-level jiu-jitsu game. Gafurov has a knack for seeking out the rear-naked choke finish. In order to win, Nguyen has to stay away from a close-quarters battle with the Russian.
Hanging in the balance is Gafurov’s ONE Featherweight World Championship, which will go to the victor of the five-round main event bout.
Kevin Belingon And Reece McLaren
Both men are former bantamweight world title challengers, with each facing reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes at different points in their careers.
Belingon, who challenged Fernandes back in January of 2016, is a highly-skilled wushu practitioner from the fabled Team Lakay of Baguio City, Philippines. He has taken care of business against the division’s biggest names, and remains one of the top contenders for the title.
In his most recent bout, Belingon reminded fans just how fearsome his striking is, with a first-round annihilation of Finnish grappler Toni Tauru.
On the other hand, McLaren is just over half a year removed from his bout with Fernandes, in which he dragged the champion into deep water, and pushed the Brazilian the furthest he has ever gone. McLaren’s strengths lie in his grappling, with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he has shown some considerable power in his hands, and could go shot-for-shot with Belingon should the need arise.
Nevertheless, this matchup is truly a striker versus grappler classic. Belingon will have to avoid a ground skirmish with the crafty McLaren, who submitted highly-touted bantamweight Mark Striegl in his ONE Championship debut back in 2015. Conversely, McLaren has to be wary of Belingon’s finishing ability on the feet, which is absolutely top-notch.
A win for either would more than likely warrant another crack at Fernandes, who was recently victorious over American Andrew Leone in Macao in early August.
Ann Osman And May Ooi
One of the biggest martial arts stars in Malaysia is the stunning Ann “Athena” Osman, who will be competing in front of her hometown crowd in Kuala Lumpur once again.
Four years into her professional martial arts career, the 31-year-old Osman has experienced a mixed bag of results, winning impressive bouts and suffering painful setbacks. Despite the results, however, what Osman has shown is the ability to learn from her mistakes, and improve with every contest.
This time, Osman is taking on former Olympian May Ooi of Singapore, igniting that famous Singaporean-Malaysian rivalry once again.
Ooi, who represented Singapore as an Asian champion swimmer in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, became a martial artist late in her career, making her professional debut in 2014. At 41 years old, however, Ooi just recently joined ONE Championship.
As such, she has a very small window of opportunity to make a statement. If Ooi can defeat Osman, it will speak volumes of her potential moving forward.
This bout is expected to be well-contested due to Osman and Ooi’s similar skill sets. Osman is looking for a big win, and Ooi can give the Malaysian the recognition she needs to attract bigger bouts. Ooi, on the other hand, is looking to prove that she belongs in Asia’s top martial arts organization.
Keanu Subba And Christian Lee
The bout between featherweight prospects Keanu Subba and Christian Lee has been a long time coming. On a collision course since early on in their careers, the highly-anticipated matchup was twice derailed by unforeseen injuries to Subba. Now that the two competitors are completely healthy, it is time to settle the score once and for all inside the ONE Championship cage.
Subba, a two-time MIMMA featherweight champion, will have the hometown advantage on his side. With roaring fans who are set to pack the Stadium Negara, Subba will look to put forward a complete performance against the talented Lee, who will have his older sister, ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee in his corner.
Of the two, Lee possesses the more impressive resume, having faced former world title challenger Martin Nguyen previously. Nguyen, of course, dealt Lee the first loss of his career. The youngster maintains that he has learned a lot from the defeat, and is a better martial artist because of it.
Both Subba and Lee possess a very similar skill set, with each possessing well-rounded striking and grappling skills. Lee is the more aggressive of the two, featuring superior movement and speed, while Subba is more methodical with his approach.
It’s an interesting matchup to say the least, one that will most probably see the victor break into the top ranks at featherweight.