ONE Championship brings the circular cage to Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, May 27, for ONE Championship: Kingdom of Champions. Breaking into Thailand’s thriving combat-sports marketplace was a dream of ONE founder Chatri Sityodtong.
Staging an event in the mecca of Muay Thai hasn’t always been easy. The country’s storied history of “the art of eight limbs” travels back hundreds of years. MMA was banned by the Sports Authority of Thailand in 2012, but that didn’t stop some organizations from promoting MMA fights in the country illegally. Muay Thai purists have argued for years that the sport of MMA will damage the image of the country’s national sport, which has roots dated further back than the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The ban was a small bump in the road for promotions looking to promote in the rich martial-arts traditions of Thailand.
The event isn’t the first MMA show in the country, but it is primed to be the most influential. ONE Championship held fighter tryouts on Tuesday in hopes that the press leading into the event will flush out future ONE Championship stars. As long as the Muay Thai traditionalists give room for MMA to grow, ONE Championship could have very well found a regular landing spot for future events.
The promotion already has one star from Thailand, and he has an opportunity to prove he is the best strawweight in the world. Dejdamrong Sor. Amnuaysirichoke is undefeated since ending his illustrious Muay Thai career in favor of a budding MMA career. He ran through all six of his opponents in impressive fashion — just watch this striking breakdown from famed striking analyst Lawrence Kenshin.
The ONE strawweight champion will put his title up for grabs against the top-ranked strawweight in the world, Shooto world strawweight champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito. Naito left his Shooto title in Japan when he signed on the dotted line for ONE Championship in April, a move that has many excited about the prospects of these undefeated champions clashing for the No. 1 spot in the division.
Over the years, Shooto has always showcased the world’s best talent at 115 pounds. The man who was crowned the first Shooto world strawweight champion, Rambaa “M16” Somdet, was also a Muay Thai fighter turned mixed martial artist. Somdet was in the later stages of his career when injuries started to take over. He vacated the title in 2011 and the strawweight carousel began. Shooto hosted the world’s best strawweights for many years, but Pancrase has recently attracted some of the world’s top 115ers after switching to the unified rules and putting a larger focus on becoming a “western style” MMA promotion. The current Strawweight King of Pancrase, Mitsuhisa Sunabe, can certainly make a claim to being the world’s top 115-pound fighter. Sunabe is unbeaten since 2011, winning 13 consecutive fights while capturing the title in three different weight classes. Japanese promotion Deep has added plans to hold a four-man 115-pound tournament to crown the promotion’s inaugural strawweight champion. The division is relatively new, but the talent is not lacking.
Speaking of a division not lacking for talent, the featherweight division is one of the deepest divisions in the sport, with many of the world’s best fighters spread across multiple organizations. One man who has flown under the radar is undefeated ONE featherweight champion Marat Gafurov. Gafurov has continued to impress the Asian fans each time he steps inside the cage. Even with only 13 fights on his resume, Gafurov has already staked his claim as one of the world’s best featherweights outside of the UFC. Kazunori Yokota, the man meeting Gafurov in the center of the cage on Friday, could make that same claim. The two-division Deep champ hasn’t lost a fight since 2010 and has yet to taste defeat at featherweight.
Knockout artists Timofey Nastyukhin and “Ruthless” Rob Lisita will be hungry to get back in the win column when they clash above the ONE Championship logo on Friday. The Thai faithful and the fans around the world should be treated to an all-time classic when two of the more aggressive fighters on the roster fight for the all-important win.
Brazilian striker Leandro Ataides hopes to end his two-fight skid against Polish striker Marcin Prachnio. Ataides’ struggles continued in his return bout following his 17-second knockout loss to Igor Svirid in the inaugural ONE middleweight championship. Prachnio put together a five-fight winning streak and earned a first-round knockout in his ONE debut against Alexandre Machado in February.
Undefeated prospect Christian Lee, brother of ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee, makes a quick turnaround against Filipino fighter Rocky Batolbatol. The 17-year-old has finished all four of his opponents since making his professional debut in December. Lee is stepping back in the cage after a first-round brabo choke submission win over Cary Bullos just three weeks ago.
The fight card also features the return of former WBA world boxing champion Yodsanan Sityodtong. This will mark his first fight in four years. Yodsanan takes on Cambodian fighter Chrech Kosal. Kosal is a skilled striker who holds a win over ONE championship veteran Chan Sam Art with a devastating flying-knee knockout in just 40 seconds.
ONE championship veteran Shannon Wiratchai will represent Thailand when he takes on fellow ONE veteran and Lethwei practitioner Kyal Linn Aung. Aung made an impressive debut in his home country of Myanmar just two months ago at ONE Championship: Union of Warriors. Wiratchai compiled a two-fight winning streak after knocking out Mitch Chilson and taking a decision from fellow prospect Amir Khan.
Pongsiri “Punhod” Mitsatit has quickly become one of Thailand’s best young MMA prospects. The 19-year-old will be making his ONE debut against Myanmar’s Ye Thway Ne after racking up six consecutive wins to begin his MMA career under the Full Metal Dojo banner. Mitsatit has finished five of his six opponents, and he will surely be looking to do the same against Lethwei competitor Ne, who is making his MMA debut on Friday.
In the evening’s opening bout, Kritsada “Dream Man” Konsrichai makes his ONE championship debut against Cambodia’s Kev Hemmorlor. Both men have fought in Thailand’s Full Metal Dojo promotion before making their respective debuts on Friday.
The fight card airs live on ONEFC.com at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Amnuaysirichoke, 37, didn’t need much time to pick up a loyal fan base when he made the transition from Muay Thai to MMA. “Kru Rong” has more than 300 Muay Thai fights with a whopping 282 wins. He collected a Thailand national title, three Lumpinee stadium titles and many other titles and tournament wins during his nearly 25-year Muay Thai career, which he began at the age of 10. When he entered the ONE cage for the first time in 2014, he was already a year into his training at one of Asia’s best gyms, Evolve MMA. He was already a complete fighter.
Amnuaysirichoke dismantled Jomanz Omanz in the first round with strikes. He finished his next opponent, Ali Yaakub, with a submission in the first round. He followed that performance up with an impressive grappling attack against Saiful Merican, ending another fight with a submission. Amnuaysirichoke then tore threw Rene Catalan in just two and a half minutes in his fourth professional fight. After four brilliant performances at flyweight, Amnuaysirichoke dropped to 115 pounds to fight Roy Doliguez for the inaugural ONE strawweight title at ONE Championship: Warrior’s Quest. He had his hand raised in victory and the oversized belt draped around his waist. Amnuaysirichoke cruised to a five-round decision against Shooto Brazil strawweight champion Yago “Codorninha” Bryan in his last outing.
Naito is an undefeated 32-year-old champion training out of Paraestra Matsudo in Chiba, Japan. He is an aggressive grappler that carries an absolutely incredible pace in all of his fights. He trains on a regular basis with larger, highly experienced grapplers and champions like Hiromasa Ogikubo, Ryota Matsune and Yoshihiro Koyama. Naito is big for the division, but he plays a character by the name of “Nobita” from popular Japanese anime Doraemon. Naito usually plays the role of a wimpy boy who is bullied. He played the role while relinquishing the Shooto world title, a big change for Naito if it means he has to drop the character.
Naito has racked up an impressive start to his 10-fight career, winning all his fights, including five finishes. Naito’s career began in 2012 with three straight finishes to begin his career. He defeated veteran strawweights Atsushi Takeuchi, Takeshi Sato and Tadaaki Yamamoto before meeting his toughest opponent in his career up to that point, perennial top-10 strawweight Yuki Shojo. Naito topped the Japanese MMA stalwart to earn his shot at the Shooto world title and the No. 1-ranked Shinya Murofushi. Naito showed his perseverance in the nearly 25-minute affair after turning up the pace in each round. He locked on the rear-naked choke and submitted Murofushi with just three seconds remaining in the final round. Naito fought Japanese wunderkind Ryuta Sawada in a crazy back-and-forth fight. He survived the early onslaught and steamrolled Sawada’s exceptional defenses. Naito locked in the arm-triangle choke during the fourth round to defend his title for the first time. He defended his title again in his most recent fight against multiple-time title challenger Junji Ito in November.
Naito will want to avoid any part of the stand-up with the slick and deadly Evolve MMA striking instructor. Amnuaysirichoke brings a dynamism to his diverse striking attack that is rarely found at strawweight. Naito is an incredibly durable fighter with a granite chin and a heart of steel, though, and Amnuaysirichoke will have trouble breaking him early, which could mean we see rounds three, four and five.
If the fight goes deep into the championship rounds, Naito has to be favored as the minutes tick down. Amnuaysirichoke is an aggressive striker with a high output. That output could slow with each grappling exchange. Naito pushes such a high pace late in fights, and even the world’s top fighters have broke under the pressure. This fight very well could see all 25 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it will be boring or uneventful. It just means two of the top fighters in their weight class will be able to truly showcase the unheralded talent of the little guys.
Amnuaysirichoke has never faced a fighter like Naito, and “Nobita” has yet to face a striker the caliber of Amnuaysirichoke. The hometown hero needs to shut down the lights early, or this fight could become a one-sided grappling affair by the championship rounds.
Gafurov, 31, has faced some of the best featherweight competition available outside of the UFC and Bellator. He started his career fighting for Russia’s longest-running MMA promotion, M-1 Global. In only his seventh professional fight, Gafurov won the M-1 featherweight title over Vugar Bahshiev. He picked up wins over UFC fighter Mairbek Taisumov and prospects Magomed Arapkhanov and David Kozma. Gafurov was off to a blazing start just two years into his career. “Cobra” defeated veteran fighters Yuri Ivlev and Lee Morrison before moving to ONE Championship in 2014. Gafurov stunned ONE fans when he head kicked and choked out then top featherweight contender Rob Lisita in a mere 68 seconds.
Gafurov dispatched of rising prospect Ev Ting in under one round before getting an opportunity to fight for the interim featherweight belt when Jadambaa Narantungalag had issues traveling to the event’s host country. Gafurov dispatched of the previously undefeated Martin Nguyen in 41 seconds. He had a little more trouble against Narantungalag. Narantungalag gave Gafurov serious trouble on the feet, staggering the champion on a few occasions. Gafurov showed his incredible resiliency and willingness to fight for his life against all odds, qualities that give Gafurov the nod heading into this fight against Yokota.
Yokota is not a fighter to write off. Narantungalag is actually the last man to defeat Yokota, and the defeat came five and a half years ago in the now-defunct Japanese promotion Sengoku. Since the loss, Yokota has fought at both lightweight and featherweight while winning all 13 of his bouts. This contest will take place at a walking weight of about 155 pounds, which could be an advantage for the larger Japanese fighter. Yokota has racked up wins over some of Japan’s best and titles in two different weight divisions. He is a well-rounded fighter who has only dropped fights to top competition.
Gafurov will be another tough test for Yokota, and he certainly makes the claim for being high-level competition. Yokota is a grappler at heart with skilled wrestling and clinch takedowns. His hands have continued to develop, but most of his work is done in the clinch and on the ground. Gafurov will be happy to exchange on the ground with Yokota, but he will likely give Yokota trouble on the feet with his somewhat unorthodox striking from a southpaw position.
Gafurov is one of the world’s best featherweights outside of the major U.S.-based promotions, and he will prove it again on Friday with a win over another top featherweight.
|73-kg: Timofey Nastyukhin (9-2) vs. Rob Lisita (15-7)||Lisita by decision|
|MW: Leandro Ataides (8-2) vs. Marcin Prachnio (10-2)||Prachnio by knockout|
|FW: Christian Lee (4-0) vs. Rocky Batolbatol (5-2)||Lee by submission|
|62-kg: Yodsanan Sityodtong (1-1) vs. Chrech Kosal (3-1)||Sityodtong by knockout|
|LW: Shannon Wiratchai (4-1) vs. Kyal Linn Aung (1-0)||Wiratchai by decision|
|StrawW: Pongsiri Mitsatit(6-0) vs. Ye Thway Ne (0-0)||Mitsatit by submission|
|StrawW: Kev Hemmorlor (0-0) vs. Kritsada Konsrichai (3-2)||Kronsrichai by submission|