MMA, move aside. Kickboxing’s dragons are here. Well, at least ONE Championship’s Age of Dragons is here, and it focuses heavily on the promotion’s kickboxing and Muay Thai divisions. There will even be two kickboxing titles on the line when ONE touches down at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China, for the show on Saturday, Nov. 16.
The headliner serves as the first title defense for flyweight kickboxing champion Ilias Ennahachi. The Dutch-Moroccan striker captured the crown in August with a stunning left-hook knockout of Petchdam Petchyindee Academy. His challenger is a familiar foe. Wang Wenfeng has shared the ring with Ennahachi on two previous occasions, and the pair split the results. Now, the decorated Chinese fighter gets a title shot in his promotional debut.
The co-main event will decide the promotion’s light-heavyweight kickboxing champ. In one corner stands Tarik Khbabez. The Dutch-Moroccan kickboxer carries a six-fight winning streak that includes four previous ONE wins into action against Roman Kryklia. The Kunlun Fight heavyweight champion has won his last eight fights, but this will mark his ONE debut.
In additional highlights from the lineup, Yodsanklai Fairtex returns against Sasha Moisa in a Muay Thai bout, Bo Meng makes her promotional debut in an MMA showdown with Laura Balin, top female kickboxer Jorina Baars tangles with Christina Breuer, and Yusup Saadulaev collides with Daichi Takenaka in a featured preliminary-card encounter.
Age of Dragons has a 7 a.m. ET start time on Nov. 16. The entire card can be viewed via ONE’s app.
Flyweight kickboxing titleholder Ilias Ennahachi defends his strap against Wang Wenfeng. Does Wenfeng have a strong chance of walking away with the belt?
Actually, he does. The decorated kickboxer and Muay Thai stylist already holds a decision win over Ennahachi from their encounter under the Kunlun Fight banner. The pair battled for three entertaining rounds in a very close fight. Ennahachi landed some big punches in the final frame, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Wenfeng’s slight edge through much of the remainder of the contest. Granted, Ennahachi has also taken one win over Wenfeng, but it came early in Wenfeng’s career.
Wenfeng had very clean and disciplined technique throughout his second fight with Ennahachi. He usually tried to throw combinations of at least three strikes, whereas Ennahachi would leap in to throw just one punch or kick at a time. The Chinese fighter’s punches and kicks were all packed with immense power, but he attacked mostly to the body and legs. Ennahachi drilled Wenfeng in the face with a couple of punches in round three, but they hardly fazed Wenfeng.
Ennahachi has been knocked out on a couple of occasions, and Wenfeng is certainly capable of fight-finishing power. However, the Chinese star rarely uses it for a finish. Meanwhile, his own eye for avoiding head kicks has kept him out of trouble. Wenfeng has even kept his losses close, with a split verdict suffered against Alex Dass and a majority decision dropped to Saeksan Or. Kwanmuang. Even if Ennahachi takes the decision, it will require the Dutch-Moroccan kickboxer to keep his foot fully on the gas pedal throughout the contest.
One thing’s for sure: this rubber match will be a treat for the crowd.
At light heavyweight, the kickboxing belt is up for grabs between Tarik Khbabez and Roman Kryklia. Is there a clear favorite here?
This is another affair where the two combatants are not strangers to each other. Khbabez and Kryklia collided in the 2015 tournament final of a SUPERKOMBAT grand prix. In that contest, Khbabez claimed the decision victory over Kryklia, who typically fights in the heavyweight division.
Kryklia stands at more than 6-foot-6 to Khbabez’s 6-foot, but the Ukrainian’s length didn’t serve to help him much. He tried to use it early to connect with knees, but largely abandoned this technique after the first stanza. Instead, he often had to fend off Khbabez, who pressed forward and found a home for his punches with a higher frequency than Kryklia. If anything, height seemed to hinder the big man’s ability to land against his aggressive opponent.
If the first meeting is any indication, we are in for a slugfest in this bout. Khbabez charged out of the gates in their prior meeting and had coaxed Kryklia into a brawl by the second round. If the Dutch-Moroccan fighter can utilize a similar strategy and again frustrate Kryklia, we could be in for a repeat of the first fight’s result.
Khbabez lost three of his next four outings after defeating Kryklia, but he’s recovered to show that he’s a solid light heavyweight. His recent run includes victories over Ibrahim El Bouni, Andrei Stoica and Anderson “Braddock” Silva. The 27-year-old has established himself as a threat, and he’ll further prove himself by out-dueling Kryklia this weekend.
The lineup includes several more bouts in the kickboxing and Muay Thai realms. Are any of these contests particularly important?
Yodsanklai Fairtex’s Muay Thai affair against Sasha Moisa could be a key fight for the legend. Yodsanklaiis coming off a somewhat surprising loss to Samy Sana and needs a rebound win. Moisa is a world champ out of the Ukraine, but he’s not nearly in the same league as his Thai counterpart. Moisa suffered a loss earlier this year against Jo Nattawut and should be easy pickin’s for Fairtex.
Jorina Baars, the current No. 2 pound-for-pound female kickboxer, is also set to compete at this show, but she draws Christina Breuer. This is Baars’ promotional debut, which makes it a big deal. However, it seems like little more than a showcase fight for the undefeated star.
The prelim contest between Enriko Kehl and Armen Petrosyan — that would be Giorgio’s brother — probably doesn’t hold much significant, but it’s also a decent scrap for the early part of the show. Both men have struggled to string together wins, but that could make them more motivated when they lock horns.
Should MMA fans care about this card?
If they’re looking for an introduction to the world of kickboxing and Muay Thai, then sure. If not, then it’s a possible skip. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some worthy action here, but it’s only going to appeal to the more hardcore crowd.
The biggest MMA match-up on the docket features the promotional debut of Bo Meng, who has had two bookings against Mei Yamaguchi fall through. Unfortunately, ONE has decided that the alternative is to stick Meng in against Laura Balin, who is winless under the ONE banner and has just one victory through her last four fights overall. Meng, who has five submission wins, should be able to coax a tapout from Balin, just like Yamaguchi, Ayaka Miura and Jingnan Xiong all have done.
The shallow nature of the strawweight division makes the clash between Li Tao Miao and Jeremy Miado at least somewhat intriguing. Miado has suffered too many recent losses to be considered a part of ONE’s title mix, but Miao is on a run that includes a finish of Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and a nod over Pongsiri Mitsatit. If he adds a win over Miado, which is likely, then he could find himself on the short list of contenders for what is in reality ONE’s 125-pound weight class.
There’s also one fight on the prelims that could be considered an MMA sleeper within this bill. That would be the featherweight contest between Yusup Saadulaev and Daichi Takenaka. The 34-year-old Saadulaev has compiled a 6-2 mark with ONE and an 8-2 overall record since dropping his first two ONE appearances. Takenaka has only lost one fight in his entire career. It’s almost baffling that this isn’t the “headlining” fight among the MMA offerings.
Kickboxing (FlyW Championship): Ilias Ennahachi vs. Wang Wenfeng
Kickboxing (LHW Championship): Tarik Khbabez vs. Roman Kryklia
Muay Thai (72 kilograms): Yodsanklai Fairtex vs. Sasha Moisa
MMA (Women’s AtomW): Bo Meng vs. Laura Balin
MMA (StrawW): Li Tao Miao vs. Jeremy Miado
MMA (Women’s AtomW): Ritu Phogat vs. Nam Hee Kim
Kickboxing (Women’s FW): Jorina Baars vs. Christina Breuer
MMA (FW): Kai Tang vs. Edward Kelly
MMA (BW): Yusup Saadulaev vs. Daichi Takenaka
Kickboxing (73 kilograms): Enriko Kehl vs. Armen Petrosyan
MMA (StrawW): Hexigetu vs. Ramon Gonzales
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