ONE: "Spirit of Champions" is set for the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Friday night (Dec. 11, 2015) and the card will be headlined by a fight for the organization's inaugural heavyweight title. A late change has seen Chi Lewis Parry pulled from the card which means Paul Cheng will now be challenging Brandon Vera for the belt.
There was also a change to the co-main event with Jordan Lucas pulling out of the fight with Mark Striegl after suffering a cut in training. In his place steps fellow Australian Reece McLaren with ONE Championship able to find two late replacements in order to keep the nine fight card intact.
Here is my preview of ONE Championship's last event of 2015:
145 lbs.: Christian Lee vs David Meak
Christian Lee is making his pro debut but with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), a black belt in Taekwondo and over a decade of martial arts experience, the 17 year old is not exactly a beginner. David Meak (1-4) is an Australian who was probably signed because he is of Cambodian descent and ONE Championship has a major television deal in that country.
Lee is half Singaporean / half Korean and is the younger sister of rising female star Angela. He's a fighter who has the potential to be very popular and even though he's significantly less experienced than Meak in pro MMA terms you would expect him to win this fight.
125 lbs.: Alex Silva vs Ruel Catalan
Alex Silva (2-1) is returning after a two year absence and will still be competing at flyweight despite being an obvious candidate for the 115-pound division. The Brazilian is a BJJ black belt and the only blemish on his record was caused by a 2012 decision loss to Geje Eustaquio.
He's facing another Filipino on Friday night but Ruel Catalan (2-6) isn't quite as well rounded as Eustaquio. He's been submitted by six different opponents so far in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career and you wouldn't bet against the Brazilian making it seven.
145 lbs.: Bruno Pucci vs Anthony Engelen
Bruno Pucci's rise up the featherweight ranks was brutally interrupted by a Major Overall soccer kick in May of 2014. The Brazilian has been out of action ever since with some undisclosed injury issues but returns to the cage to take on undefeated Dutchman Anthony Engelen.
Engelen (3-0) has spent his entire career competing in Indonesia and is an unknown quantity. Pucci (3-1) is a two time no-gi grappling world champion and a BJJ black belt so should have a significant advantage on the ground, the Dutchman will probably want to keep this fight standing.
115 lbs.: Angela Lee vs Lena Tkhorevska
Angela Lee (3-0) is one of the fastest rising stars in female MMA. She has won three fights out of three for ONE Championship, the most recent victory coming courtesy of a dramatic twister. The 19-year-old phenom has a brown belt in BJJ and looks devastatingly effective on the ground.
Lena Tkhorevska (3-1) is from Ukraine but lives and trains in Poland. She has previously competed at 105 pounds and will be five cms shorter than Lee which should give the Singaporean-Korean an advantage in terms of height and strength.
125 lbs.: Irina Mazepa vs Ana Julaton
We've only seen Irina Mazepa (1-0) in the cage for a few minutes so she's something of an unknown quantity. The Russian needed just over three minutes to knock out Ann Osman on her recent pro debut. Knocking out Ana Julaton (2-1) won't be quite as easy because she's a former boxing world champion.
The Fil-Am flyweight has put together a serious training camp in Las Vegas and should have improved significantly in the 12 months since she last fought. Mazepa is a Wushu world champion but we haven't seen much of her ground game or wrestling, meaning that there are a lot of unknown variables going into this fight.
125 lbs.: Li Wei Bin vs Eugene Toquero
Eugene Toquero (7-2) looked on track for a flyweight title shot until he ran into Asuka Mikami, who neutralized him with relentless takedowns. Li Wei Bin (3-0) comes from a Sanda background and with the Filipino being a Muay Thai fighter that could make for an out and out striking battle.
Toquero, however, demonstrated by beating Gianni Subba that he is capable of becoming a wrestler / grappler if the occasion demands it. Bin has a submission win on his record but it wasn't against a high caliber opponent and the Filipino might not want to get in a striking battle with an opponent five cms taller than him.
125 lbs.: Geje Eustaquio vs Yang Jiang Bing
Geje Eustaquio (6-4) was extremely unfortunate to drop a split decision to Anatpong Bunrad last time out. He's fought six times for ONE Championship already including an unsuccessful title shot and has unquestionably been in with much better opponents than Yang Jiang Bing.
Bing (5-1-0-1) has only ever lost one fight and that was a split decision which caused a fair bit of controversy in China. He doesn't look particularly well rounded and tends to rely on his ground game to win fights, if Eustaquio can keep it standing and be aggressive with his striking he should take this.
135 lbs.: Mark Striegl vs Reece McLaren
Mark Striegl (14-1) was already a big draw in the Philippines when he signed for ONE Championship last year and he did his prospects no hard with a quickfire submission win over Casey Suire on his promotional debut. Now competing at bantamweight, he had beaten some of the top featherweights in the region while competing for promotions like Legend FC, PRO FC and PXC.
Striegl comes from a solid wrestling background and 12 of his 14 wins have come by way of submission. Opponents are unable to stop him taking them down and when he gets the fight to the floor he tends to finish, more often than not with either a rear naked choke or his own patented "Fil-Americana" (better known as a scarf-hold Americana).
His original opponent, Jordan Lucas, got a nasty cut above the eye in training and had to pull out around 10 days before the fight. Replacement Reece McLaren (7-3) might not have quite as impressive a record as Striegl's original opponent but he is higher slightly ranked by a handful of websites.
McLaren reached the final of a a national wrestling competition last year and has won titles with two separate MMA promotions. He went five rounds with with current UFC flyweight star Ben Nguyen in another title fight last year and has spent time training at Team Alpha Male.
Since dropping down to 135 pounds we haven't seen Striegl fight for more than a few minutes so it will be interesting to see what happens if the fight reaches the latter rounds. Much will depend on what sort of shape McLaren was in when he accepted the matchup, if the Australian was fight fit then this should be a close and competitive contest.
265 lbs.: Brandon Vera vs Paul Cheng
Paul Cheng (5-1) accepted this fight on around a week's notice but was reportedly already in good shape. He will have a significant advantage in terms of size against an opponent who has spent the majority of his career competing in the 205-pound division.
Brandon Vera (12-7-0-1), however, is used to fighting bigger men. He's been in with Frank Mir, Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum and Randy Couture so having faced four different UFC heavyweight champions he probably won't be too worried about facing a 6'3", 260-pound fighter like Cheng.
Cheng started out as a pro boxer and has heavy hands although he also wrestled in high school and knows how to get opponents down. Vera's a BJJ black belt so his grappling credentials are superior although he won't want to end up underneath the Taiwanese giant.
Vera also comes from a strong wrestling background, he was on the wrestling team at the US Air Force and he is also a former kickboxing world champion. At the age of 38 he's probably coming toward the end of his career but the Fil-Am veteran would love nothing more than to win a title in Manila.
Even if Cheng was in excellent shape when he got the call to replace Lewis Parry he's still going to find it tough to beat Vera. The Taiwanese born fighter might have an advantage in terms of size and power, but his opponent possesses superior skill and speed, with a full training camp behind him the hometown hero should triumph here.
ONE: "Spirit of Champions" is set for the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Friday night and will be broadcast live in Asia by FOX Sports and by various other networks around the world. The pay-per-view (PPV) can be purchased for $9.99 USD from: www.oneppv.com.