ONE Championship returns home to Singapore on Friday, Nov. 13, for ONE Championship: Pride of Lions. The nine-fight card from the Singapore Indoor Stadium features two title fights.
ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren will make his long-awaited return to the circular cage to face veteran challenger Luis “Sapo” Santos in a rematch of their ONE Championship 26 fight. The title bout ended controversially when the challenger claimed that the undefeated Askren poked him in the eye during a wrestling exchange. As Askren dipped down for the body-lock takedown, his left hand came up into Sapo’s right eye, leading to the accidental poke. What ensued was confusion on the part of Santos and referee Olivier Coste, who believed that Santos was indeed not poked in the eye and was instead forfeiting when he would not continue to fight. The video review showed that Santos was poked with a thumb in the eye, and he was given five minutes to recover. At the end of the five-minute recovery period, Santos and his cornermen decided to opt out of the fight. The two men were brought to center cage to announce that the bout was a no-contest, a decision that visibly upset the champion and the packed crowd in Manila.
As for the fight itself, all two minutes and change, it was an exciting affair with high drama during the many wrestling and striking exchanges. Askren immediately looked for the takedown with relentless attempts, but Santos was able to fend off the attempts and even reverse the superior wrestler on multiple occasions. Santos threatened with kicks and knees early and often, landing multiple hard knees to the body and barely missing with multiple soccer-kick attempts. The much-anticipated rematch raises many of the same questions, but offers a fresh start to what should be an exciting championship fight.
The second title fight of the evening features ONE Championship strawweight champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke making the first defense of his title against undefeated prospect Yago “Codorninha” Bryan. Amnuaysirichoke has only fought five times in his mixed martial arts career, but he has already become one of the most successful high-level Muay Thai fighters to transition to the sport of MMA. Bryan will be making his ONE Championship debut in this title affair, but the young Brazilian has claimed gold in the past by winning the vacant Shooto Brazil strawweight title in his last bout.
A featherweight showdown between former ONE Championship lightweight champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku and Major “Majee” Overall highlights the final three fights of the main card. Earlier in the evening, 19-year-old “Unstoppable” Angela Lee looks to keep her undefeated record intact against Australian strawweight Natalie “The Kilapino” Hills. Heavyweights Igor Subora and Alain Ngalani will exchange heavy strikes in the pay-per-view’s opening bout.
The four-fight Facebook preliminary card features the return of Singaporean prospects Amir Khan and Benedict Ang. Khan, the 21-year-old Evolve MMA fighter, will be making his return against Filipino striker Jimmy “The Silencer” Yabo. With seven knockouts in seven career wins between the two fighters, expect an exciting stand-up affair. The undefeated 19-year-old Ang looks for his second career victory when he takes on Indonesian featherweight Yohan Mulia Legowo. Edward “The Rock” Kelly looks to build momentum following his first ONE Championship win in April. He takes on Australian prospect Martin Nguyen, who lost in his last bout against Marat Gafurov at ONE Championship: Odyssey of Champions in September. Nguyen stepped up on just hours’ notice to face Gafurov in a interim featherweight title fight when the current ONE Championship featherweight champion Jadamba Narantungalag had to pull out of the contest due to travel restrictions into Indonesia.
Ben Askren has long been placed in many top-10 welterweight rankings, but his worldwide stock has fallen since joining ONE Championship. Askren ran through his early ONE competition, defeating Azerbaijan prospect Bakhtiyar Abbasov at ONE FC 16 and heavy-handed striker Nobutatsu Suzuki at ONE FC 19. However, the former Bellator welterweight champion wasn’t fighting the level of competition he was receiving while under the Bjorn Rebney-run Bellator promotion. In Bellator, Askren had earned dominant victories over Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and current champion Andrey Koreshkov before parting ways with the promotion in 2013.
Luis “Sapo” Santos stepped in to fight Askren at ONE FC 26, becoming Askren’s most notable opponent inside the ONE Championship cage. Santos turned in what was a surprising performance for many, keeping Askren at bay while using his kicks and knees to effectively make Askren look increasingly more desperate for the takedown. The near misses and chopping leg kicks culminated in nothing, as the fight was stopped when Santos opted not to continue after he was poked in the right eye. While Askren has stuck to the notion that Santos was “looking for a way out” before the fight even started, the second fight raises many questions. We know Santos is a consistently fast starter, having finished an astonishing 34 opponents in one round’s worth of work, but what we don’t know is if Askren can handle the onslaught again. Sapo will use the full ONE rule set in his attempt to become the first man to defeat Askren. He will need to avoid getting stuck in the clinch with Askren if he wants to land his devastating offense, a feat the Brazilian JIu-Jitsu and judo black belt was able to accomplish in the first meeting.
Askren needs to stay relaxed, work behind his striking and survive the opening exchanges. The best and maybe only path to victory for Askren relies heavily on his wrestling offense. The two-time NCAA Division I national champion would benefit greatly from working his way in the clinch and grinding on his opponent for an extended period of time. There’s one problem: the ONE rule set puts the referee in the place of the “director” managing his fighters in a manner that allows them to put on a great show for the audience. Should Askren get Santos back against the cage, the referee will be watching over him, making sure to keep the action flowing in what could materialize into a five-round championship fight. Despite the idea that Sapo’s gas tank was empty just two minutes into the fight, Askren will have to contend with a dangerous Santos for the entirety of the fight, making his control of the fight one of the most important factors in deciding who walks out of the cage with the ONE welterweight title.
Although Askren should and rightfully will be considered the heavy favorite for the fight, don’t underestimate the sure violent outbursts that Santos can throw in a short amount of time. All it takes is one kick or one knee to hand Askren the first loss of his career. The tough American won’t go down without a fight, which is exactly what we will have on Nov. 13. Only fight night will reveal our final definition of what “Askren vs. Santos” looks like, but what we do know leading into the contest is that Santos is not to be taken lightly. A Santos win would not be a shocker, but Askren will remain unbeaten and retain his ONE welterweight championship.
Dejdamrong “Kru Rong” Sor Amnuaysirichoke is considered one of the best Nak Muays to make the full-time transition to MMA. In just 18 months and five fights, Amnuaysirichoke has already set the ONE Championship organization ablaze with his aggressive skills on the feet and the mat. The former three-time Lumpinee Stadium champion and winner of 282 Muay Thai fights began his journey to the top at ONE FC 17: Era of Champions, a fitting event name after his impressive first-round knockout over Jomanz Omanz. “Kru Rong” began his ONE career with a bang in that June 2014 fight, destroying Omanz with a barrage of elbows, punches, kicks and a brutal series of knees to the head while holding his opponent’s head against the mat. Amnuaysirichoke continued to earn impressive wins in his next three bouts against Ali Yaakub, Saiful Merican and Rene Catalan. Despite being a budding title contender at flyweight, “Kru Rong” made the drop to strawweight with the addition of the division to ONE Championship’s lineup in 2015. Amnuaysirichoke defeated Roy Doliguez after five hard rounds in his adopted home of Singapore at ONE FC 27 in May.
Yago Bryan makes his ONE debut coming off a championship-winning performance against previously unbeaten prospect Francisco “Chicão” at Shooto Brazil 52 in December 2014. The 23-year-old earned the decision victory with takedowns and effective striking late in the fight. “Codorninho” is a well-rounded fighter training out of Nova União. His fighting style reflects that of the revered gym in Rio de Janeiro, which serves as home of UFC featherweight champion José Aldo. Bryan is an orthodox fighter who rarely throws single strikes. He has many tools in his striking arsenal, including a heavy left jab, a quick right low kick and a frequently used flying knee. Bryan is a very aggressive fighter who throws a large chunk of his strikes with knockout intent. The problem is he will be face to face with a Nak Muay with over 300 fights and enough power to leave Bryan in a heap against the cage in the fashion of Steve Nelmark when Tank Abbott threw his lifeless corpse away like a 30-pack of Keystone Light at the end of a Tuesday night.
While Bryan does have some striking chops, he won’t want to stand in the pocket and exchange blow for blow with the champion. “Kru Rong” is too diverse in his attack, too aggressive in his destruction and too much of a master at his craft to be put in danger on the feet. If Bryan works Amnuaysirichoke to the mat, the 37-year-old Thai fighter is perfectly happy working a sweep from guard to stand back up to his feet or work in one of his underrated submission attempts. This is a fight tailor-made for the Evolve MMA instructor despite “Codorninha” having promise for the future. Most of America will wake up Friday morning, pick up their phones and open up Twitter to find a video of Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke defending his ONE strawweight title in devastating fashion, followed by the hashtag #Nelmarked.
The 33-year-old Major Overall made a splash upon his arrival to ONE Championship at ONE FC 16 in May 2014. Overall scored one of the greatest soccer-kick knockouts in MMA history when he ran over and punted the head of Evolve MMA’s Bruno Pucci through his guard. The kick stiffened his foe and forever placed Overall in MMA highlight videos. The knockout was the first of his career, but the American is not foreign to finishing his opponents. He has earned stoppages in all six of his wins. Overall locked up a rear-naked choke just 29 seconds into his most recent outing against Cary Bullos at ONE FC 22 in November 2014.
Former ONE lightweight champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku has established a strong resume in his 14-year fighting career. Boku fought the best Japanese MMA has had to offer over his career in Shooto, Pancrase, K-1 and many other top promotions. The Japanese fighter with South Korean heritage last fought against 20-year-old prospect Juntaro Ushiku at Pancrase 267 in May. Boku showcased his well-rounded skill set on his way to a TKO win in the waning moments of the second round. Boku last fought in ONE Championship against popular Filipino fighter Eduard Folayang at ONE FC 15 in May 2014. The 38-year-old will be fighting at featherweight for the first time inside the ONE cage when he faces off with the surging Overall.
Boku has been through a variety of situations while fighting at a high level in Japan for over 10 years. The experience may be a major factor in the fight if Overall is not able to get the early stoppage. Overall is an athletic fighter who uses strength over skill, but that’s not to say he doesn’t possess skill. Overall is especially skilled when the fight hits the floor, using his aggressive style to advance position and break his opponents. Overall should have an advantage on the ground, but Boku has consistently shown the ability to defend first and second takedown attempts. It’s not until the third and fourth attempts at a takedown before Boku hits the mat. Overall will risk position to finish a fight, something that could be his undoing against a talented striker like Boku. While Overall likes to set up his right hand as a lead or after a stiff jab, Boku frequently throws combinations with a high volume. The Japanese fighter will double up his jab while working in his left hook and right straight. Boku will have a distinct advantage if the fight stays on the feet. “No Face” has sneaky power in his left hook and right cross, punches that have put away past opponents.
Overall’s average fight time in his last five wins is just 84 seconds. The only time Overall has reached the second round was in defeat, which came by way of submission three years ago. Overall has put together a string of four quick wins in a row, but the grizzled veteran Boku will put an end to that streak and begin another trek toward a title, this time in the featherweight division. Boku puts together an impressive performance to earn the decision after three hard-fought rounds.
Undefeated 19-year-old Angela Lee has garnered a large following in Singapore since debuting with ONE Championship in July. Lee made quick work of Egyptian prospect Aya Saeid Saber in her debut at ONE Championship: Warrior’s Quest, submitting the veteran fighter in under two minutes with a near-side armbar from knee-on-belly position after some ferocious punches from the top. Despite getting her last bout moved and her opponent changed, Lee repeated the successes of her debut performance in her next bout at ONE Championship: Odyssey of Champions in September. Lee submitted Egyptian fighter Mona Samir with a rear-naked choke before the bell in round one.
Natalie Hills, 27, is a veteran of the Australian-based promotion BRACE. Hills made her professional MMA debut in 2012 after previously training in England and Thailand. Hills dominated her opponent in her debut win at BRACE 17. She went after Sam Manderson in the bout, taking her down almost immediately at the beginning of every round and controlling the top position for much of the fight. Hills submitted Manderson with a rear-naked choke halfway through the third and final round. Hills fought documentarian Lizza Gebilagin in her next bout at BRACE 29 in August 2014. Hills made quick work of the newcomer with a rear-naked choke submission just under two minutes into the first frame. Hills tasted defeat twice earlier this year.
The American Lee will be the favorite heading into the bout against her debuting opponent. Hills has a Muay Thai background from her time training in Thailand, but she rarely uses her striking. Hills instead presses her opponents against the cage and works for takedowns. She will need to change her game plan against the superior grappler Lee, who has an aggressive grappling acumen. The fight will start quickly, and it will likely end in quick, decisive fashion with Lee getting her hand raised for the third time in her professional career.
Igor Subora made his ONE Championship debut against UFC veteran Brandon Vera at ONE FC 23 in December 2014. The 35-year-old was met with a Vera left high kick 20 seconds into the bout. The shot dropped Subora, but the Ukrainian heavyweight showed his toughness and fought his way back into the fight. Subora was beginning to land with more frequency before the fight ended abruptly. Vera cracked Subora with a left hand on the chin that dropped him. Three follow-up soccer kicks forced the referee to halt the contest in the first round. While the defeat was a setback for the URCC heavyweight champion, the bout showed brief moments of Subora’s promise.
Alain Ngalani, a 40-year-old kickboxer turned professional mixed martial artist, has fought three times under the ONE Championship banner. The Cameroonian-born fighter earned his only victory in his debut at ONE FC 10 in September 2013. The win came just 30 seconds into the first round when Ngalani threw a spinning wheel kick that hurt his Egyptian opponent, Mahmoud Hassan. Ngalani finished up his handiwork with punches before walking around the cage like he was the most feared man in the arena. He was upset in his next bout at ONE FC 13 in December 2013 against former Canadian Football League player Paul Cheng. In his most recent bout at ONE FC 18, Ngalani took Chi Lewis-Parry to the floor before he was reversed and finished with a brutal left elbow on the ground. Ngalani hopes to turn his fortune around after making his return for the first time in 16 months.
Both men are returning after a long layoff from their last fight, and this may be to the benefit of the Ukrainian heavyweight. The 40-year-old Ngalani is a powerful striker with an aggressive kicking offense. He is a competent grappler with underrated trip takedowns, but Subora is a well-rounded fighter from a combat-sambo background. While Ngalani looks like the far superior athlete, Subora has an advantage in speed and movement, often exploding forward with his offense. Subora likes to work off of his jab and throw heavy hooks in the follow-up. Ngalani has the more decorated striking background, but the many years of competition may have finally taken their toll. Subora will weather the early storm and find a way to win by knockout late in the first round to the applause of his adopted Singaporean fans.
|FW: Edward Kelly (6-2) vs. Martin Nguyen (4-1)||Nguyen by second-round knockout|
|FW: Amir Khan (3-2) vs. Jimmy Yabo (4-1)||Khan by first-round knockout|
|BW: Yohan Mulia Legowo (7-3) vs. Benedict Ang (1-0)||Ang by decision|
|BW: Nathan Ng (1-0) vs. Kai Wen Li (3-2)||Ng by second-round submission|