On Friday, April 15, ONE Championship returns to the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines, with ONE Championship: Global Rivals, the promotion’s best fight card of the year.
The show features the long-awaited return of ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren, who hasn’t stepped foot inside of the circular cage for nearly 12 months. His long absence can be attributed to a number of factors, with the usual suspect, injury, not being one of them. Askren last fought top contender Luis “Sapo” Santos at ONE Championship: Valor of Champions almost one year ago. The bout wasn’t exactly going in Askren’s favor before an unfortunate eye poke from Askren left Santos unable and, from Askren’s perspective, unwilling to continue fighting. The fight was ruled a no-contest, but the controversy didn’t end there.
The rematch was scheduled for ONE Championship: Pride of Lions in November. The fight was all set to take place as the days grew closer, but Santos stepped onto the scale two pounds overweight. It was a number that seemed to be close enough to the contracted fight weight to allow the bout to go on. However, the promotion, Askren and Santos went back and forth on stipulations for the Brazilian challenger’s weight. Askren called for restrictions that would keep Santos under 190 pounds on fight day. Santos never made it to the cage, opting not to cut the weight. ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui had harsh words for Santos, stating that the Brazilian’s actions were “one of the most unprofessional things I’ve ever seen from a fighter.” Santos countered that the promotion was looking to keep him from fighting, only flying Santos in 48 hours before the event.
Now, Askren makes his return to the cage against top Russian welterweight Nikolay Aleksakhin. Whether you believe Askren is still a top-10 welterweight regardless of his weight at fight time due to ONE Championship’s new weight-cutting program, or you believe he needs to leave the promotion to secure elite status in the sport, Askren is on the hunt for a challenge.
ONE Championship put forth its best efforts to bring in a strong fighters to fill out the fight card for the budding MMA market in the Philippines. The promotion booked many of its top prospects to entertain what surely will be a raucous card on Friday night.
The fight card airs live at 7:30 a.m. ET on ONEFC.com.
WW (185-pound) Championship: Ben Askren (14-0) vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin (17-3)
Askren has long been considered one of the best fighters outside of the UFC. He built his star under the Bellator MMA banner following his successful amateur wrestling career. The 31-year-old cruised through the welterweight tournament competition on his way to claiming the promotion’s welterweight crown. Askren defended his title four times before leaving the organization for a better opportunity.
Askren found that opportunity in ONE Championship. He debuted with the promotion shortly after signing a long-term contract. He needed just one round to submit combat sambo specialist Bakhtiyar Abbasov at ONE Championship: Honor and Glory. Askren next stepped into the cage to fight ONE welterweight champ Nobutatsu Suzuki. Once again, Askren ran through his opponent, needing just 84 seconds to dispatch of the Japanese veteran with ground-and-pound. Askren’s next year would be marred in the aforementioned controversy.
Aleksakhin, 25, is considered one of the best prospects at welterweight in Russia. The veteran of 20 professional bouts is currently riding a six-fight winning streak heading into this championship bout against the best fighter he has ever faced. The athletic fighter has spent much of his career fighting off fellow prospects in the extremely talented Russian MMA regional scene. He successfully debuted inside the circular cage at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Champions in November. Aleksakhin locked on a choke with 21 seconds remaining in the third and final frame to defeat the skilled Batmunkh Burenzorig in his promotional debut.
Askren is one of the best fighters in the promotion, but his recent comments created some question marks leading into this fight. He recently laid out his plan to retire following the completion of his ONE Championship contract, which he recently renegotiated. Askren stated that he has continued working hard while outside of the cage, but one has to question his motivation leading into this fight with an opponent who doesn’t have much mainstream name recognition. Askren recently stated that “it’s a fairly easy fight” for him. Those words can be taken as a statement of Askren’s confidence, but he seems to be overlooking his underrated opponent.
Aleksakhin made the move to Phuket Top Team in Thailand to prepare for his great opportunity against one of the promotion’s biggest stars. The Russian is a combat sambo specialist whose best traits are his size and athleticism. He is a gifted athlete who has shown an ever-improving striking offense and vastly underrated power in his hands. Askren will be pressuring Aleksakhin every opportunity he is given, even if it requires him to put himself in danger. Those are the key moments that the Russian prospect will need to take advantage of if he hopes to stay off of his back. It wouldn’t shock anyone to see Askren immediately look to take the fight down — it’s been his strategy for much of his career — but Aleksakhin is well prepared to land a devastating strike the moment Askren gets too aggressive.
Askren will be fighting at the higher weight for the first time since ONE Championship instated its diet and weight-cutting restrictions. This will be the advantage for Aleksakhin, who had to cut over 10 pounds to make the 185-pound limit. The most likely outcome in this fight is another victory for the American, but Aleksakhin has all of the skills to pull of the improbable outcome.
Aleksakhin does just that on his way to one of the biggest upsets in the sport this year. He will surprise Askren and become the new ONE welterweight champion.
LW: Lowen Tynanes (8-0) vs. Koji Ando (12-4-2)
Lowen Tynanes is one of the best prospects in the promotion and all of Asia. The 25-year-old Hawaiian fighter made waves early in his fighting career when he defeated ONE veteran Eduard Folayang in only his second professional fight. His victory earned Tynanes a shot inside the circular cage opposite South African kickboxing veteran Vuyisile Colossa at ONE Championship: Return of Warriors. Tynanes scored a submission victory in that bout to once again catapult his name into the headlines. He beat veteran Felipe Enomoto in his next ONE Championship bout after winning the King of the Cage 160-pound title outside of the promotion.
Tynanes continued his winning ways despite a lengthy contract dispute that kept him from fighting for over a year. He returned to the promotion in a big way when he defeated top prospect Kuat Khamitov at ONE Championship: Warrior’s Quest in May 2015. Tynanes most recently submitted Russian Rasul Yakhyaev at ONE Championship: Kingdom of Khmer in December.
Koji Ando, 31, has been a staple of the ONE Championship lightweight roster since joining the promotion in 2014. He began his career with little hype, but a move to China and the Legend Fighting Championships promotion skyrocketed his career. Ando defeated UFC veteran Damien Brown and ONE veteran Jadamba Narantungalag to earn the LFC lightweight title.
Ando earned his place inside ONE Championship after those big wins. He debuted with style, taking out the previously unbeaten Rafael Nunes with a submission at ONE Championship: War of Dragons. Ando put together another big win over former ONE lightweight champ Zorobabel Moreira at ONE Championship: Battle of Lions. Ando dropped an exciting decision to ONE lightweight champion Shinya Aoki in May 2015, but the loss didn’t stop his momentum. He got back in the win column with a victory over UFC veteran Roger Huerta at ONE Championship: Odyssey of Champions in August. The win was just another stepping stone on the way to another shot at Aoki’s belt.
Ando is a hard worker who throws his hands with conviction. The well-rounded Japanese lightweight is a solid offensive and defensive fighter who is always looking to land a heavy strike or lock up a fight-ending submission. Tynanes can be described in much the same way. The Hawaiian is a strong wrestler who has taken his boxing skills to another level with each and every win.
Both fighters are known to leave it all in the cage, and this is exactly why this fight is primed to be the most exciting of the night on a stacked card. Ando works at an extremely high pace, an attribute that will earn him a decision victory on Friday no matter where the fight takes place.
Fight Card Predictions
BW: Muin Gafurov (10-0) vs. Reece McLaren (8-3)
Gafurov by decision
BW: Gianni Subba (7-1) vs. Geje Eustaquio (7-4)
Subba by decision
LW: Vaughn Donayre (8-4) vs. Honorio Banario (8-6)
Donayre by submission
StrawW: Joshua Pacio (10-0) vs. Rabin Catalan (4-3)
Pacio by submission
FW: Martin Nguyen (5-1) vs. Kai Wen Lei (5-2)
Nguyen by decision
Women’s AtomW: April Osenio (0-1) vs. Natalie Hills (2-3)
Hills by submission
BW: Sunoto Peringkat (3-2) vs. Bernard Soriano (2-1)
Peringkat by decision
FlyW: Danny Kingad (3-0) vs. Muhamad Haidar (0-0)
Kingad by decision
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