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ONE FC 23: 'Warrior's Way' preview (part 2)


ONE FC: "Warrior's Way" is set for the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila this Friday night (Dec. 5, 2014) and will see Bibiano Fernandes look to cement his status as the most dominant fighter on the roster with a fifth straight win under the banner of Asia's biggest MMA promotion.

The top half of the card also features Filipino fighters Eduard Folayang and Kevin Belingon as well as the promotional debuts of UFC veterans Roger Gracie and Brandon Vera and here is my fight-by-fight preview (for part one click here):

Kevin Belingon vs Koetsu Okazaki

Kevin Belingon (12-4) never gets an easy ride from ONE FC matchmakers and this is no exception as the Filipino faces a Japanese opponent who has looked extremely impressive in his last two fights in the shape of former Shooto champion Koetsu Okazaki (10-3-1).

Belingon's striking is superb and he is quick and powerful but in previous fights has paid the mistake for making basic grappling errors, like giving up his leg to Mazakazu Imanari and his back to Dae Hwan Kim. He's so talented that it was painful to watch when he overcommitted to a headlock and handed the initiative to the Korean in his most recent outing.

Okazaki's boxing is crisp, his submission defense is superb, he is a patient counter striker and he will be bigger and taller than Belingon. The Filipino will need to fight the perfect fight if he wants to win. It's something he is capable of doing and he can definitely trouble the Japanese fighter with his striking but it's essential that "The Silencer" cuts out the mistakes.

James McSweeney vs Roger Gracie

This is a fight which could easily have taken place on a UFC card, but the truth is James McSweeney (14-11) has improved beyond all recognition since his stint in the Octagon while Roger Gracie (6-2) is coming off a lackluster decision loss to Tim Kennedy and has been out of action for over a year.

Everyone knows what Gracie brings to the table and that is world-class grappling but there are question marks over both his striking and stamina. McSweeney's not much of a wrestler but he has some of the best stand-up in the division and an underrated ground game.

If Gracie can get the fight to the ground and be aggressive in pursuit of the submission then he has the tools to finish any fighter in the world, McSweeney included, but if he can't then there's a very high chance the Englishman will score a third successive ONE FC stoppage.

Eduard Folayang vs Timofey Nastyukhin

On paper this is a tough test for Eduard Folayang (14-4) because Timofey Nastyukhin (7-1) has won seven straight fights, all by first round stoppage as well as tasting victory in a number of amateur tournaments. However there have to be serious question marks over the standard of opposition the Russian has faced and the speed with which he has registered those finishes.

Nastyukhin's last seven fights have lasted slightly longer than ten minutes collectively, while Folayang has gone the distance with the likes of Kotetsu Boku, Kamal Shalorus, Ole Laursen, A Sol Kwon and Vuyisile Colossa. This experience should give him an edge over the Russian Top Team prospect, although it's worth noting that both have a similar style and are light on their feet and tend to bounce around a bit.

Folayang was robbed of an opportunity to challenge Zorobabel Moreira for the inaugural ONE FC 15 lbs title when the URCC pulled him out to face Lowen Tynanes on one of their cards. A third straight win would put him in touching distance of a well deserved title shot and he is odds on to make it happen.

Brandon Vera vs Igor Subora

Brandon Vera's long awaited appearance in Manila might be taking place under the banner of ONE FC rather than the UFC, but the anticipation is intense because he has had a significant fan following in the Philippines for many years.

Vera (12-7-0-1) is moving back up to heavyweight and will be looking for a first win in over three years but he's up against an opponent in URCC heavyweight champion Igor Subora (5-1) who has made his name beating fighters with two or less fights.

That's not to say Subora is out of his depth at this level, he's just untested whereas Vera brings world class striking, wrestling, and grappling as well as experience of sharing a cage with some of the biggest names in the sport. That makes the Fil-Am fighter a strong favorite but it's a huge opportunity for the Ukrainian who will have a point to prove.

Bibiano Fernandes vs Dae Hwan Kim

The opponent who has posed the most problems for Bibiano Fernandes (16-3) since the Brazilian signed for ONE FC is Soo Chul Kim, a young, aggressive, fearless Korean who took the fight to the champion but just got taken down too frequently to win a decision.

Dae Hwan Kim (10-0-1) is a very similar type of opponent, he has good striking but what stands out from his two ONE FC wins to date is his aggression. He likes to take the fight to an opponent and is willing to take damage in order to do damage.

Fernandes, by contrast, tends to employ a safety first strategy which is predicated on his ability to take opponents down and keep them down for long periods of time. He is always sufficiently proactive to prevent referees from standing him up but a failure to finish fights has been his only weakness.

Hopefully this confident Korean will go for broke looking for a quick stoppage and that could bring out the best in Fernandes, who certainly knows how to strike. There's no doubt that the Brazilian is a heavy favorite but there comes a time in every veteran's career when young contenders start to bridge the gap and that means the outcome of this fight is far from a foregone conclusion.

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