By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
TOKYO — This weekend ONE Championship makes history as it holds its first-ever event in Japan with “ONE: A New Era.”
And for combat sports analyst Nissi Icasiano, for ONE to finally descend on “The Land of the Rising Sun,” which has a rich martial arts history and was home to one of the top MMA promotions in Pride Fighting Championships, is really a huge occasion as it solidifies its growing standing as an MMA powerhouse.
“From the very beginning, ONE Championship’s main goal is to be the premier destination of mixed martial arts in the eastern hemisphere. They have gone to several markets in the region, including untapped countries such as Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Cambodia. But there is still something missing in order to cement the company’s position as the real successor of the legendary Pride organization,” said Mr. Icasiano in an online correspondence with BusinessWorld.
“Let me use a comic-book analogy here. It’s like Thanos’ feared Infinity Gauntlet in the pages of Marvel Comics. You can say that the missing Infinity Stone for an MMA company like ONE is holding an event on Japanese soil. After nearly eight years of holding events in various cities across Asia, they finally get to do that. Of course, staging an event in Japan’s capital of Tokyo holds historical relevance,” he added.
ONE: A New Era, happening at the Ryogoku Kokugikan here on March 31, boasts of the biggest fight card in the promotion’s history, including four title fights and legends stepping into the cage.
The Japan event is headlined by the world lightweight title fight between champion Eduard Folayang of the Philippines and hometown bet Shinya Aoki.
Co-headlining it is the champion-versus-champion battle between women’s strawweight world champion Xiong Jing Nan of China and women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee of Singapore for the former’s belt.
Also part of the card is the middleweight world championship collision of champion Aung La N Sang of Myanmar against Ken Hasegawa of Japan as well as the world bantamweight title clash of champion Kevin Belingon of the Philippines against Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes.
A New Era will see the ONE debut as well of MMA legends Demetrious “The Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez in separate grand prix matches with Filipino flyweight Danny Kingad also set to see action.
For Mr. Icasiano, that ONE decided to lay out a lot for its first Japanese event is not at all surprising.
“I consider Japan as the birthplace of mixed martial arts. Shooto and Pancrase gave birth to the sport we love and adore today. For ONE Championship, a company that claims to be Asia’s frontrunner in MMA, it is paying homage to the place where it originated. Definitely, it is a milestone for the company,” he said.
Considering the enormity of the whole event in MMA, it presents a great platform for Filipino fighters to showcase what they are capable of to an even wider audience, the fight analyst said.
“All eyes of the MMA world will be on ONE’s card in Tokyo this Sunday, and it’s a great platform for Filipino athletes such as Eduard Folayang, Kevin Belingon and Danny Kingad to showcase what Filipino MMA is all about. Their matches on Sunday are important because it could establish that Filipinos are not just part of Asian MMA’s ecosystem. We could stake our claim that it’s possible for us Filipinos in a constantly expanding landscape of MMA to be apex predators at the top of the food chain. Definitely, it is a must-win for the three Team Lakay representatives. But it comes with greats rewards,” Mr. Icasiano said.
He went on to say that among the three Filipino fighters seeing action, while he believes all are a capable of emerging triumphant, he sees Mr. Folayang having “the greatest chance of walking out victorious,” owing to how he is the more well-rounded fighter over Mr. Aoki at this stage of their respective careers and how he has significantly improved since he last fought the Japanese legend in 2016.
“Messrs. Belingon and Kingad should have a tougher time against Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes and Japanese Senzo Ikeda, respectively,” Mr. Icasiano said.
The analyst said Mr. Belingon should be on top of his game against Mr. Fernandes who most certainly would go for his vaunted takedown game to reclaim his title. Knocking out his opponent and not leave the outcome of the match to the judges would serve Mr. Belingon’s cause well, said the analyst.
Mr. Kingad, on the other hand, has had his struggles against Japanese opponents in the past, Mr. Icasiano observed. He is hoping that the Filipino flyweight made the necessary preparations against Mr. Ikeda and would show the true top-class fighter that he is.
ONE: A New Era will be available live for viewing on the ONE Championship app while in the Philippines it can be seen at ABS-CBN S+A beginning at 6 p.m. and iWant Sports.