THE BIGGEST CARD in the Philippines of ONE Championship happens today at the Mall of Asia Arena, promising another exciting and slam-bang night of combat sports action.
The third event here this year and 18th since 2012, “ONE: Dawn of Heroes” is touted as the biggest show of the promotion in the country to date, boasting of a number of high-stakes contests and highly accomplished fighters from different parts of the world.
Dawn of Heroes is headlined by the world featherweight championship fight between Vietnamese-Australian champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen and Japanese challenger Koyomi Matsushima.
Co-headlining it is the flyweight muay thai world championship fight of champion Jonathan Haggerty of England against Rodtang Jitmuangnon of Thailand.
It also marks the Manila fight debut of mixed martial arts legend Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez of the United States.
Also fighting are five stalwarts from top local MMA team in Team Lakay, namely, Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, Danny “The King” Kingad, Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, Honorio “The Rock” Banario and Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly.
Mr. Nguyen is coming off a successful return to featherweight last time around after spending some time fighting in lightweight and bantamweight, knocking out Narantungalag Jadamba of Mongolia (flying knee) in the second round last April here in Manila.
He has expressed his desire to punctuate his top-class form in featherweight against Mr. Matsushima and continue to reign as champion.
“I hope you guys are as excited as I am, being able to come back here and compete in front of the Manila fans and Filipinos. First and foremost, I’m just happy to compete at the highest level,” said Mr. Nguyen (12-3) at the press conference for “Dawn” on Tuesday.
“I want to say congratulations to Koyomi Matsushima in earning his title shot by winning his last bout decisively. It’s an honor and I’m excited to go up against a warrior who puts it all on the line as much as I do. On Friday night, you all are in for a treat. I’ve been working so hard and I’m sure he’s been working so hard as well. But this is my division…and still,” he added.
The East versus West lightweight clash between Mr. Folayang of the Philippines and Mr. Alvarez of the United States is also much anticipated and both men vowed to give what fans they want while at the same see their respective goals through.
“I’ll be facing Eddie [Alvarez]. He’s one of those athletes that I spent a lot of time watching before. It’s a huge honor for me to be able to test my skills against him. My preparations have gone well. I lost my belt last March. That chapter of my career has closed. It’s time to write another chapter of my journey,” said Mr. Folayang (21-7), the former ONE lightweight champion.
For Mr. Alvarez (29-7), a former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champ, he knows that he is up not only against Mr. Folayang but also the Filipino fans who are rallying behind the local hero but said it would not stop him from doing what he has to do — win.
“I rarely come as a nemesis to a country. Usually, I’m the guy holding the belt. It’s unusual for me to be the bad guy, but I promise you if I’m the bad guy, I will not disappoint. I respect Eduard [Folayang]. I respect everything he’s done not just as a fighter, but also as a human being for his community. This is what this sport is all about. It’s beyond what goes on in the Circle,” said Alvarez, who lost in his ONE debut against Russian Timofey Nastyukhin in March.
Messrs. Folayang and Alvarez are to face in a ONE lightweight grand prix semifinal match.
Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson will face Japanese Tatsumitsu Wada in a flyweight grand prix semifinal with Mr. Kingad fighting in the other bracket against Australian Reece McLaren.
The winners in the flyweight grand prix semifinals face off in the finals in October in Japan.
Mr. Eustaquio, for his part, battles Yuya Wakamatsu of Japan in a flyweight world grand prix alternate bout while Messrs. Banario and Kelly are featured in preliminary lightweight and featherweight fights.
Dawn of Heroes is will be broadcast live over the ONE app and ABS-CBN S+A as well as online on iWant and on Facebook. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo