ONE Championship travels to the Cotai Arena in Macao, China, on Saturday, Aug. 5, for ONE Championship: Kings and Conquerors.
Long-reigning bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes seeks to make the sixth defense of his title when he goes up against American Andrew Leone. Fernandes’ dominance has been on display with eight straight wins to begin his tenure with the promotion. Leone racked up three straight wins before unfortunate injury after injury kept him out of the cage until now.
This card received a boost when the flyweight title-unification bout between champion Kairat Akhmetov and interim titleholder Adriano Moraes was rescheduled for this fight card following the cancellation of last week’s Jakarta, Indonesia, event, where the bout was originally scheduled to take place. Akhmetov earned a split-decision victory over five rounds in their prior meeting at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Champions nearly two years ago.
Rounding out the main card, unbeaten Japanese flyweight Hayato Suzuki makes his ONE debut against former title challenger Joshua Pacio. The human highlight reel, Timofey Natyukhin, takes on top lightweight Koji Ando, and former ONE lightweight titleholder Kotetsu Boku meets exciting Filipino fighter Eric Kelly.
The preliminary card features a battle of talented featherweights Herbert Burns and the debuting Magomed Idrisov. Also, former UFC fighter Leandro Issa returns to the promotion against former Cage Warriors champion Toni Tauru.
The event airs live at 8:30 a.m. ET via ONE Championship’s streaming service.
Bibiano Fernandes is back once again to defend his bantamweight title. Will Andrew Leone be his toughest test yet?
The answer is pretty simple: No. Leone won’t be able to defeat Fernandes. Just like the champ’s last eight opponents, Leone will try and fail to conquer the best fighter inside the promotion.
The ONE bantamweight king has continued to evolve as a fighter since joining the promotion in 2012. Fernandes has added layers to his striking game while also refining his grappling game with one of the best fighters in the world, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. AMC Pankration has long been the home to Fernandes, one of the best bantamweights outside of the UFC. He was once rumored to be headed to the Octagon. However, Fernandes wasn’t going to be paid what he deserved, much like top fighters Ben Askren and Mamed Khalidov. So, the great Brazilian fighter took his services to the upstart ONE Championship and has since become one of the company’s biggest stars.
Fernandes bested former Shooto champion Koetsu Okazaki to win the interim title in 2013. He earned the undisputed belt against fellow top bantamweight Soo Chul Kim in his next outing. Kim, who is unbeaten in 10 bouts since their meeting, holds wins over six UFC veterans. Fernandes topped former Shooto world champ and Bellator veteran Masakatsu Ueda, former Cage Warriors champion Toni Tauru, Spirit MC tournament champ Dae Hwan Kim and, most recently, decorated Australian champion Reece McLaren. Fernandes has lost just once in the last 10 years — against Dream featherweight champion Hiroyuki Takaya. Fernandes also holds a win over the aforementioned Takaya.
It’s hard to believe Leone will be the toughest challenge of the Brazilian’s career. Leone is a strong grappler with three solid wins inside the promotion over Koetsu Okazaki, Shinichi “BJ” Kojima and Geje Eustaquio. The American has won eight of his past nine fights, including big wins over UFC vet Kyung Ho Kang and the aforementioned Soo Chul Kim. Leone’s resume is strong, but his inactivity will play a factor in this fight. He has only fought three times in the last four years and hasn’t stepped foot inside the cage in over 17 months. He was scheduled to meet Adriano Moraes in an interim flyweight championship bout in August 2016, but an injury forced him off the fight card.
Fernandes will be best served to keep the fight on the feet and show off his improvements in the striking department. He is 10 years older than Leone and has far more experience, but Leone is good enough in the grappling exchanges to potentially put Fernandes in danger of a submission. What’s more likely is that Fernandes is able to control where the fight takes place. The champion has five rounds to work, which might just be enough to put away Leone.
Which fighter, besides Bibi Fernandes, will we be talking about after this event?
With a fight card of this nature, narrowing down the answer to only one fighter is difficult. There are even bouts on the prelims with some major implications on their respective divisions.
The middleweight clashes set to kick off the card could determine the next challenger to Aung La N Sang’s middleweight throne. Marcin Prachnio was previously scheduled to take on Vitaly Bigdash for the title earlier this year, but an injury gave Sang the opportunity of a lifetime. If the Polish fighter picks up his fourth win inside the promotion, he will surely be next in line for the middleweight title.
Another fighter that could break out at this event is Russian featherweight Magomed Idrisov. Considered to be one of the best featherweights in Russia, Idrisov makes his promotional debut following a brutal first-round knockout of top featherweight prospect Ivan Buchinger at M-1 Challenge 73. The Russian has won seven straight since losing his MMA debut to the much larger Artur Astakhov, who is now competing at light heavyweight.
First, Idrisov will need to get past top Brazilian featherweight Herbert Burns, the younger brother of UFC fighter Gilbert Burns. The younger Burns was undefeated inside the promotion and in his career prior to his long-awaited return to the cage against Movlid Khaibulaev. Burns public contract dispute with the promotion kept him outside of the cage for nearly 17 months after racking up five straight wins inside the circular cage. This is a high-level bout with the winner likely moving into contention for the featherweight title.
The biggest potential winner on this fight card, however, is the man to lay claim to the undisputed ONE flyweight championship. The champion, Kairat Akhmetov, makes his much-anticipated return to the promotion after nearly two years outside of the cage. Akhmetov was injured shortly after winning the title against Adriano Moraes in 2015, but never made his way back to the cage despite being healthy for the past year. He meets Moraes again, after the Brazilian picked up two wins and the interim belt with a submission over Tilek Batyrov.
Akhmetov, 29, is undefeated in 23 fights with 18 stoppages. He is an incredible athlete with superior wrestling to many of his past opponents. It’s an advantage he was able to use in the opening rounds in his first meeting with Moraes. Despite his incredible record, Akhmetov’s only fight inside the promotion, and only his second fight outside of his home country of Kazakhstan, came against Moraes. The undefeated champion is still largely untested against top competition in his MMA career.
Moraes has been outside of the cage for nearly 12 months after picking up back-to-back submission victories over Batyrov and Eugene Toquero. The former Shooto Brazil champion has six wins inside the promotion and just two losses, both of which came by split decision. Moraes has an opportunity to right a wrong on Saturday night. However, Akhmetov’s wrestling and strength will once again be a major test for the 28-year-old.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
To narrow this down to just one fight is extremely difficult, too. Instead of opting for a fight that has greater meaning in a division’s title picture, such as Pacio/Suzuki, I’ll go with the fight I believe could be the most exciting.
Former ONE lightweight champion Kotetsu Boku has won three of his past four bouts inside the promotion, including stoppages of Timofey Nastyukhin, Major Overall and Vincent Latoel. Boku hit some roadblocks in prior promotional battles, but three of those four setbacks came against current or former champions Eduard Folayang, Shinya Aoki and Jadamba Narantungalag. The former Shooto Pacific Rim belt holder and GCM Cage Force lightweight tournament runner-up has stopped all five of his wins inside the promotion. He is an exciting striker with an often overlooked boxing and low-kick game.
If there is one thing that could be said about Eric Kelly, it’s that the man is never in a boring fight. He’s stumbled down the rankings lately, but the former featherweight title challenger has his fair share of wins inside the promotion. Despite losing back-to-back fights in 2016, Kelly has five wins inside the circular cage. He picked up big submission victories over former UFC champion Jens Pulver, Rob Lisita and Mitch Chilson, as well as decision wins over Bae Yong Kwon and Hiroshige Tanaka. Kelly is a fight-finisher with nine submissions and one knockout in his 12 pro wins.
When two aggressive fighters clash, it usually leads to a finish. We most certainly could be in store for a dramatic fight-ending submission or knockout in this pairing of fighters who have 23 finishes between them. This clash of styles is likely to produce excitement. However, a win for Boku, which would mark his fourth victory in his last five fights, could put him in title contention once again. Expect drama, but ultimately the former champion will get his hand raised following a knockout.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 8:30 a.m. ET)
BW Championship: Bibiano Fernandes vs. Andrew Leone
Fernandes by decision
FlyW Championship: Kairat Akhmetov vs. Adriano Moraes
Moraes by decision
LW: Timofey Nastyukhin vs. Koji Ando
Ando by decision
LW: Shannon Wiratchai vs. Rajinder Singh Meena
Wiratchai by knockout
StrawW: Joshua Pacio vs. Hayato Suzuki
Suzuki by submission
FW: Eric Kelly vs. Kotetsu Boku
Boku by knockout
BW: Lei Chen vs. Saiful Merican
Chen by decision
Women’s AtomW: Rika Ishige vs. Jomary Torres
Ishige by submission
BW: Toni Tauru vs. Leandro Issa
Issa by decision
FW: Herbert Burns vs. Magomed Idrisov
Idrisov by decision
MW: Marcin Prachnio vs. Gilbert Galvão
Galvão by decision
MW: Leandro Ataides vs. Michał Pasternak
Pasternak by knockout
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