Kevin Belingon is one of the smallest 135-pounders on the ONE Championship roster and is being constantly linked with a drop down to 125 pounds but after a dominant decision win over former Shooto champion Koetsu Okazaki, he feels he has finally proved that he belongs in this division.
"I was happy with my performance against Okazaki because even though I could not get the finish, I dominated the fight completely for three rounds. I think it would be possible for me to go down, but I want to fight for the title in this class and also a lot of my team mates are at 125."
Belingon believes he is good enough to beat anyone in the division and is ready for another step up when Asia's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion returns to Manila with ONE Championship: "Valor of Champions" on April 24th.
"I have fought three times at the MOA Arena and I think my performances have always been good and the Pinoy fans give me a lot of support. I hope to fight in April and I want to take on one of the top fighters in the division because I want to prove I am ready for a title shot."
It is also rumored that, assuming the on/off negotiations with Floyd Mayweather don't result in a May match up, ONE Championship shareholder Manny Pacquiao will be cageside on April 27th and Belingon would love nothing more than to show off his punching power in front of the best Filipino boxer of all time.
"Manny has trained in Baguio two or three times before. He is a hero for people in the Philippines and I hope he can come to a ONE Championship and see that Pinoy MMA fighters are also very skilled."
Belingon has registered some big wins for ONE Championship, knocking out the previously undefeated David Santacana and scoring TKO victories over Yusup Saadulaev and Thanh Vu as well as outpointing Okazaki last December.
He pushed former ONE Championship title challenger Masakatsu Ueda all the way in a "Fight of the Night" performance in 2013 and came close to turning the fight around in the final round, but the frustration for Belingon is that he has never won more than two fights in a row for Asia’s biggest MMA organization.
"To fight for the title it is important to go a long time without losing and I need to do that if I want to win the championship. I hope to fight in April and if I can win again I think I will be close to the title."
Belingon’s record currently stands at 13-4 but by far the most frustrating of his four losses was the most recent, when he over-committed to a bulldog choke and gave up his back, allowing Dae Hwan Kim to sink in a rear-naked choke in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s a fight he understandably feels he should have won and the sight of the Korean challenging for the title in Manila a few months later would have been insult to injury for Belingon, who knows he needs to cut out these mistakes.
"Against Imanari, I made a big mistake because I started to soccer kick him and then remembered about the rules so I stopped and against Kim, I also made a mistake because I was winning the fight with my striking but I thought I could submit him with a choke."
If there is a fighter in the division who can outstrike Belingon then the Filipino, who packs incredible power into his 5’5" frame, has yet to meet him. His kicks in particular are devastating and he showed against Yusup Saadulaev the sort of damage he can do with explosive ground and pound.
His speed and power give Belingon the potential to pose reigning 135-pound champion Bibiano Fernandes some problems but his title charge is being undermined by the issues with takedown defense, which helped Soo Chul Kim and Ueda to outpoint him and the lack of nous on the ground that led Imanari and the other Kim to submit him.
They are issues he is working tirelessly to address and Belingon says that if there is a problem it is with his execution on fight night rather than his preparation.
"At Team Lakay coach Mark Sangiao always trains us very hard and Honorio (Banario) was the ONE Championship champion and also Crisanto (Pitpitunge) was the PXC champion and a lot of us have won URCC belts, so I think as a team we have had some glory. But fighting against the best fighters in Asia is not easy because if you make one mistake the fight is over and you have lost."
Three of the opponents to have defeated Belingon have gone on to challenge for the title in their very next fight and while he was dominated by the wrestling strategy of Soo Chul Kim, the fights against Ueda and Dae Hwan Kim are both ones he is entitled to feel he could and possibly should have won.
However, the belt is now the longterm property of Bibiano Fernandes and while Belingon rues these missed opportunities, the 27 year old feels that time is on his side.
"I think I am improving all the time and learning from my losses. I have fought eight times for ONE Championship and now I am more confident than I was before, but to beat a fighter like Bibiano would be a big challenge, so the more times I fight and win the better prepared I will be for this challenge."
Before Belingon can even think about fighting Fernandes he will need to string together a series of wins in a division which is stacked with talented fighters like Fransino Tirta, Mark Striegl and Jordan Lucas, but he believes 2015 could be his year.
"The win with Okazaki was the first time I won a fight by decision for ONE Championship so I showed I could fight three rounds with a high-level opponent without making any mistakes. I feel I have proven myself to people who are saying I am too small for this division and I hope one day soon I will be able to fight for the belt in Manila."