In the five years I have been living in South East Asia, I cannot remember looking forward to any card quite as much as the one coming up in Kuala Lumpur this Saturday (June 23, 2012). The undercard of ONE Fighting Championship: "Destiny of Warriors," which I have already previewed here, is solid, but the main card is absolutely spectacular.
If you had told me 12 months ago, before the launch of ONE FC, that one day I would see Roger Huerta, Masakazu Imanari and Renato Sobral on the same card in Malaysia, I would have laughed at you. What a difference a year makes!
Now, top class mixed martial arts (MMA) is coming to big stadiums in countries all across the region.
I am excited about all six fights on the main card for completely different reasons. You have the clash between two of the best featherweight prospects in Asia as Eric Kelly takes on Bae Young Kwon, the local hero stepping up for the biggest challenge of his career with Adam Kayoom up against Gregor Gracie -- and that's before we even get into the fights featuring the big guns like Renato Sobral, Roger Huerta and Masakuzu Imanari.
It's a candidate for Asian MMA "card of the year" and I can't wait, so it gives me great pleasure to bring to you my preview for the main card of ONE FC: "Destiny of Warriors."
Check it out.
It's unfortunate that Eddie Ng had to withdraw from this fight with a serious shoulder injury as a bout with 8-1 Lepont would have provided an excellent indication of the highly touted Hong Kong fighters future prospects. Ng's loss is Choi's gain as the Korean steps up for what will be the biggest fight of his career to date.
Lepont has been making waves in Asia for a while and is coming off two first round wins at DARE Championship. He started off in the European scene fighting in places like Belgium and Germany and has never been to a decision in his entire career.
After competing at or around the welterweight limit this will be his first fight at 155 lbs and it will be interesting to see whether he brings the same sort of power to the table that he did at the higher weight. Lepont is supposedly already at around 160 and has no concerns about making the weight which could be bad news for Choi because he has knock out power in both hands.
The gameplan for the Korean, who is moving up from 145 lbs, will be to impose his wrestling and try to grind out a victory against an opponent unaccustomed to being in the later rounds of fights. He took the fight on short notice but the fight team at Evolve MMA train all year round and are always close to being fight ready so I don't expect cardio to be an issue.
This is a make or break fight for Lepont's career and he has been quite upfront about the fact that he wants to finish it as fast as possible. It's a big opportunity for Choi who is also making his ONE FC debut so the stakes are high for both fighters. The odds probably favour the charismatic Frenchman but I could see the tenacious Korean spoiling his night.
Bae Young Kwon (South Korea) vs Eric Kelly (Philippines) 145 lbs
This fight could easily have been the headliner for my money. Kelly is probably the premier Filipino prospect at present with a 6-0 professional record and he is coming off an emphatic first round submission win against Mitch Chilson on his ONE FC debut.
Kwon is likely to be the Road FC featherweight champion just as soon as they introduce the belt and is 7-2 and coming off three straight wins against solid opponents in Kyung Ho Kang, Brian Choi and Honorio Banario. Both fighters are well rounded and comfortable in the stand up exchanges or on the ground which makes this a potentially unpredictable contest.
Kelly is the URCC Featherweight Champion and all his wins are by way of submission but he is not a fighter who is afraid to stand and bang and in his last fight he never even tried to get the fight to the ground, the first time Chilson took him down the Filipino cut him with an elbow from the bottom and the second time he locked on a rear naked choke.
Kwon comes from a kickboxing and Judo background and has wins by both submission and KO. Like Kelly he likes to keep fights standing but if the action does head to the ground he is very comfortable there too. One factor in his favour is that he has definitely faced better opponents than the Filipino up to this point in his career.
If one fighter wins this decisively then we can start talking seriously about them being on route to becoming the best featherweight in Asia. It's a tremendous test for both men and after being out of action for so long Kelly is likely to make a very aggressive start so don't be surprised if this ends early with spectacular finish.
Adam Kayoom (Malaysia) vs Gregor Gracie (Brazil) 170 lbs
For the 10,000 Malaysians in attendance this is the biggest fight of the night. They have all come to see the hometown hero return to do battle in a stadium which is just a stones throw away from the hospital where he was born.
Kayoom has black belts in BJJ and Taekwondo and has won world titles in Muay Thai. His MMA record only stands at 2-1 but he is a martial artists who has been tried and tested at the elite levels of various competitions and never found wanting.
Gracie will have the advantage in terms of size and experience but stylistically this is a very dangerous fight for him. Stand up is not his strength and he is facing an opponent who was once ranked in the top ten at one of the major Muay Thai stadiums in Thailand.
If Kayoom can avoid being taken down then he is likely to dominate such is his superiority in the striking department. Gracie will probably shoot for a takedown at the first available opportunity and if he gets it he will be confident that his size and strength will help him to implement a BJJ based gameplan.
Don't be fooled by Gracie's reputation into thinking this is a missmatch. They are both coming off wins against the same opponent but the Brazilian needed three whole rounds whereas the Malasian did it in less than four minutes. There is no doubt that Kayoom is the underdog but if he does prevail the roof might very well be blown off the Stadium Negara.
Leandro Issa (Brazil) vs Masakuzu Imanari (Japan) 135 lbs
Brazilians have been facing Japanese fighters since Asian MMA first began and this rivalry has led to some classic confrontations down the years. Issa is another member of Evolve MMA and while he lacks experience when compared to his veteran opponent I believe he has an excellent chance to win this fight.
Imanari's strengths are well documented, he is probably the foremost submission specialist in the entire MMA world and certainly the best fighter in history when it comes to utilizing leg locks. He is not particularly well rounded and the key to beating him is clearly to stay out of the submission attempts.
Issa is a BJJ world champion who, just like his opponent, holds a black belt. He has something like 17 years of BJJ experience and if anyone can avoid being caught in one of Imanari's deadly leg locks it is him. He also has rapidly improving Muay Thai and will bring a three inch height advantage into the cage.
If Imanari wants to win this fight he will probably need a submission. I think he will struggle in the stand up exchanges and if he is his normal elusive self, turning his back, running away and trying to lure Issa into a mistake, it's going to be difficult to win a decision.
In an MMA fight it is impossible not to engage sooner or later and Issa will need to carefully select his attacks so as not to leave any limbs exposed for Imanari to get a grip off. If the Brazilian can execute this gamplan then he has a very real chance to win but avoiding the submissions of the 'leg lock master' is very much easier said than done.
Roger Huerta (US) vs Zorobabel Moreira (Japan) 170 lbs
When ONE FC was launched with the concept of featuring the best Asian and Asian based fighters this was exactly the sort of fight I was hoping to see. Moreira's an up and coming star who is tipped for the top and has acquired some serious Muay Thai skills to go with his BJJ black belt since moving to Singapore to join Evolve MMA.
Huerta is one of my all time favourite fighters, not because he has a rags to riches story, has starred in movies etc but because every time he steps into the cage he brings it. There is no feeling out process, no low risk gameplans, he just goes for broke every time and goes out like a warrior, either on his shield or with his hand in the air.
Moreira has been beating experienced opponents but he has never faced anyone on Huerta's level before. I honestly believe that were it not for a combination of bad management decisions and bad luck Huerta would still be one of the top lightweights in the world and ONE FC could b the perfect springboard for him to relaunch his career.
The fact that this fight is at welterweight makes it all the more alluring. Both these fighters are natural lightweights but this way they won't have to worry about cutting any weight and should be in fantastic shape and ready to fight for three hard rounds come fight night.
Huerta will have to find a way to get past Moreira's range and the Brazilian has learned a few Muay Thai tricks recently and knows how to use teeps and sweeps to keep an aggressive opponent at bay. He might be able to beat 'El Matador' but he will have to go through hell to do it, Huerta is hungry for the win and will do whatever it takes to get it.
Renato Sobral (Brazil) vs Tatsuya Mizuno (Japan)
ONE FC Destiny Of Warriors: Renato "Babalu" Sobral (via OneFCMMA)
I have high hopes for this fight because Mizuno does not do decisions, he has only been the distance once in 18 outings and that was at the end of a two round fight. Five of his 11 wins are by way of KO which could spell trouble for 'Babalu' whose last five losses were all either KOs or TKOs.
Sobral has also been out for 18 months so ring rust could be an issue and Mizuno is far from a gentle introduction back into the fight game. The Japanese fighter doesn't have a stellar record at 11-7 but he has consistently faced high calibre fighters like Mirko Crocop and Gegard Mousasi and has wins over ONE FC fighters Yoshiyuki Nakanishi and Melvin Manhoef.
Mizuno is just 31 and is riding a two fight win streak, his most recent appearance was in January. This is a fantastic opportunity for him because a win over Sobral would quite simply be career defining, he's already the number one light heavyweight in Asia but has yet to feature in the sort of prestigious fight which will make the world sit up and take notice of him.
This fight will also tell us much about Sobral's prospects. At 37 he is still one of the most marketable fighters outside the Zuffa roster and if he can prevail against Mizuno he could establish himself as one of the main men for ONE FC.
Mizuno's Judo is world class, he holds a third degree black belt and is the most accomplished mixed martial artist in the entire heavyweight division at this discipline. He will need to use it to nullify Sobral's wrestling because if he can keep the fight standing, or avoid ending up on his back, then his heavy hands could make the difference.
Sobral has 18 submission wins to his name and will definitely want to take this fight to the ground. If he succeeds with his takedowns the pendulum will swing firmly in his favour but the Brazilian will be in serious danger for as long as the fight stays standing.
The whole card is going to be available for just $10 and the undercard, which consists of the first four fights, will be streamed free of charge. For more information about watching the show, which begins at 8am Eastern Time and 5am Western time for those in the US visit: http://www.onefc.com/live-streaming.html.