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ONE: 'Valor of Champions' preview (part two)

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A fighter with a strong claim to being the best welterweight in the world headlines ONE: "Valor of Champions" at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila this Friday (April 24, 2015). Ben Askren remains undefeated and will be looking to make the first defense of his 170-pound title when he faces Brazilian challenger Luis Santos.

Askren's clash with Santos will be the main attraction for the international audience, but the top half of the card also features three Filipinos who will be guaranteed strong support from the fans at the 20,000 capacity indoor arena. Mark Striegl, Geje Eustaquio, and Eugene Toquero will all be taking on international opponents.

Here is my preview of the top half of the card (to see my preview of the first four fights click here).

Ben Askren vs Luis Santos (for Askren's ONE Championship welterweight title)

There is probably not a welterweight in the world capable of beating Ben Askren at the moment and despite the impeccable credentials of Luis Santos as both a grappler and a striker, few people give the Brazilian much chance of causing a major upset by defeating the American.

Askren (14-0) is the most devastatingly effective wrestler the sport has ever seen and has been winning fights ever since he transitioned from being a multiple-time NCAA Division-1 champion and U.S. Olympian to becoming a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.

In recent fights, however, he has also found a formula to finish opponents. His last four wins have all been inside the distance and each stoppage has been quicker than the one before. It has helped to silence critics who derided Askren as being boring and is a streak he will be keen to continue against Santos.

Santos (61-9-1) will be the most experienced opponent Askren has ever faced and perhaps the most dangerous because, while the Brazilian has been beaten before, he brings a skillset which combines some of the best striking anywhere in the MMA world with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

If Askren makes a mistake, then Santos can capitalize ruthlessly and unless he is in top position the American will always be in danger. But the reigning, undefeated ONE champion probably won't waste any time before trying for a takedown and if he can control the fight with his wrestling, then he is likely to dominate from start to finish.

Mark Striegl vs Casey Suire

Casey Suire (5-0) is tough and well rounded and has two wins out of two in the ONE cage. He's got pro boxing experience, a blue belt in BJJ and has won numerous submission grappling tournaments in Indonesia. That's the good news for the American. The bad news is, he's going up against one of the best bantamweights in the region.

Mark Striegl (13-1) has proven himself time and time again in multiple promotions against numerous high-level opponents. The likes of Bae Young Kwon, Yusuke Kawanago, Ev Ting, and Crisanto Pitpitunge have all been beaten by the Filipino who makes his promotional debut on Friday night.

Since his last fight, Striegl has joined Evolve MMA in Singapore so will have added some more weapons to his armory but wrestling will always be his base. He's very adept at getting opponents to the ground and 11 of his 13 wins have been by way of decision.

Suire is no walkover, but Striegl has beaten better fighters and I would expect him to register another submission win. Look out for the Scarf Hold Armlock which he calls the "Fil-Americana" as it's a specialty submission of his.

Geje Eustaquio vs Anatpong Bunrad

Geje Eustaquio (6-3) is coming off an unsuccessful title shot but he remains one of the top dogs in the division and will be looking to get back to winning ways against Anatpong Bunrad (4-1). The Thai might have fewer losses on his record, but the gulf between the calibre of the respective opponents they have faced is vast.

Eustaquio has been in with seasoned fighters like Adriano Moraes, Kentaro Watanabe, Eugene Toquero, and Andrew Leone and also holds a decision win over a BJJ black belt. By contrast, there's not one recognizable name on Bunrad's resume and he faces a big step up against the Filipino.

Eustaquio has strong Wushu-based striking and is also good with takedowns and tough to submit, Moraes is the only fighter to ever stop him inside the distance. Bunrad has a purple belt in BJJ and could well have the superior ground game, but will probably be at a disadvantage in terms of the stand up.

It's a difficult fight to call because Bunrad, who is based in Belgium, has been training extensively in Thailand since signing with ONE Championship and will have been improving rapidly, but Eustaquio has an advantage in terms of experience and comes into this as a slight favorite in my eyes.

Eugene Toquero vs Brianata Rosadhi

Eugene Toquero (6-1) signed for ONE Championship with an undefeated record and a reputation as a Muay Thai fighter, but he turned his game upside down to defeat top Malaysian contender Gianni Subba with a wrestling based gameplan.

After that win, the charismatic Filipino thrilled the media in Manila with his quips backstage (most of which seemed to focus on the subject of his hair) and I think his performance both inside and outside of the cage that night convinced key figures at ONE Championship that they could have a future star on their hands.

Toquero's only career loss was to Eustaquio, who he went the distance with, and he is strong with all eight of the Muay Thai weapons, particularly elbows. Brianata Rosadhi (1-1) was submitted swiftly in his ONE Championship debut nearly two years ago and hasn't been seen since, so the Indonesian will be a clear underdog in this match up.

ONE: "Valor of Champions" is set for the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Friday and the entire card can be purchased for $9.99 from: http://www.onefc.com/livestream.html

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