Kevin Belingon is one of the most exciting young bantamweights in the world, having beaten nine opponents out of nine since making his mixed martial arts (MMA) debut back in 2007. At ONE FC 3 he is going to have to face up to the consequences of his success when he takes a huge step up in opposition against Japanese leg lock master Masakazu Imanari.
Winning brings a fighter fame and fortune but if he does it too often, sooner or later he is going to find himself facing an opponent he can't defeat because no one in MMA remains unbeaten forever. As he faces better and better opposition the day will probably come when Belingon meets his match, but he believes fervently that it won't be March 31st at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
"I have fought fighters who are more experienced than me and supposed to be better than me before and I always won, my first fight was against Richard Lasprilla who was the URCC Champion and had never been beaten and I won that. In my fourth fight I beat Justin Cruz who already had 10 wins, I know that Imanari is the toughest opponent I have ever faced but I have been training hard and I believe I can win."
While Belingon has never fought on a show of the size or caliber of ONE FC before, it will not be his first time playing the role of underdog. Few expected him to beat Lasprilla who was 5-0-2 when they fought and a dominant force in Filipino MMA. Getting past 10-2 Justin Cruz was just as impressive an achievement and he has also prevailed against opponents from Thailand, Korea and Mongolia.
None of them have anything like the level of experience of Imanari who is a veteran of 34 fights, the vast majority of them taking place in elite Japanese promotions DEEP, DREAM and PRIDE. He has consistently faced some of the best bantamweights in the world and more often than not he has beaten them.
Belingon has fought in Singapore once before when he took on the then unbeaten Thai prospect Ngoo Ditty in 2010 and you can see footage of that fight here:
Kevin Belingon vs. Ngoo Ditty - Martial Combat (via MrTEAMLAKAY)
Imanari is a BJJ black belt and will be much more of a handful on the ground than Ditty. Not for nothing is he known as the 'master of leg locks' and 16 of his wins have come by way of submission. When it comes to slapping on a heel hook, a knee bar or an achilles lock there are few better in the world but the Tan Lakay fighter says he feels no fear.
"I’m capable of fighting both stand-up and on the ground and I have competed in Wushu Sanda, Kickboxing and BJJ so I'm confident I can avoid the leg locks, I am ready to fight against anyone in my division including Imanari."
Belingon is currently competing at bantamweight although he holds a URCC title in the flyweight division which has an upper limit of 129 lbs. This has led to intense speculation that he could drop down to 125 lbs and potentially join the UFC's newly formed flyweight division.
"I don't cut much weight to make 135 lbs and I think I can cut down to 125 lbs to fight at flyweight if given the chance. ONE FC is the biggest event in Asia and I am proud to represent the Philippines and to fight for this show in front of so many people. If they want me to drop to 125 lbs in the future I will do that."
As if the odds weren't already stacked firmly in his opponent's favour Belingon has also been out of action for an entire year. He had to pull out of a title defence against Jessie Rafols at URCC 20 with an injury and his ONE FC debut was also pushed back from February to March for the same reason.
Imanari has fought no fewer than five times for DREAM in that period taking on some of the toughest fighters in their bantamweight division but Belingon does not believe that being out of action for so long will put him at too much of a disadvantage.
"I still train with my Team Lakay team mates even when I don’t have scheduled fights myself because I also help them when they have fights. Even though I haven't been fighting I have been training and sparring with Rey Docyogen and Geje Eustaquio and others and I am always in good shape."
At ONE FC 2 Eustaquio showed off an extremely sophisticated submission defense to defeat BJJ world champion Alex Silva by unanimous decision. If Belingon can avoid the leg locks of Imanari it would be an even more impressive grappling feat and a win would instantly establish him as one of the top 135 lbs fighters in the entire world.
Few people outside the Philippines are expecting the 25 year old to win against a man who is 11 years his senior, has had three times as many fights and consistently faced much higher caliber opposition. The stage is the biggest he has been on and the man standing opposite will be the best he has faced but at ONE FC 3 Belingon is looking to simply do the same thing he always does.