After previously being forced to postpone the event, ONE Championship: Empower goes down on Friday, Sept. 3. The fight card will exclusively feature women fighters spread out over nine fights. Seven of those fights will be MMA, one will be kickboxing and one will be Muay Thai. As a true fan of MMA, seeing women solely given this platform is amazing for the sport as a whole.
In the headliner, the women’s strawweight championship will be on the line. Reigning champion Jingnan Xiong will defend her belt against Michelle Nicolini. Although Xiong has defended the belt five times, Nicolini offers a new challenge that could end the reign of terror from the champion.
Before the main event, the atomweight world grand prix will host the quarterfinals to see who ends up in the semifinals. The eight fighters remaining are Denice Zamboanga, Seo Hee Ham, Alyona Rassohyna, Stamp Fairtex, Bo Meng, Ritu Phogat, Itsuki Hirata and Alyse Anderson. Also, two fights on the prelims will determine the tournament alternates in case of an injury. Throw in a kickboxing and Muay Thai fight, and we end up with quite the entertaining fight card.
The event airs at 8:30 a.m. ET on on YouTube in the U.S. Let’s take a look at the preview and predictions.
The strawweight championship is on the line in the main event; does Xiong Jing Nan retain her title or does Michelle Nicolini take the belt home?
Since winning the title in January 2018 against Tiffany Teo, Xiong has dominated the strawweight division. After failing to become a double champion, Xiong beat Teo again in her return to ONE’s strawweight division (125 pounds). Holding a record of 15-2, Xiong now faces her newest challenger, Nicolini.
Nicolini joined ONE Championship in November 2016 as a credentialed grappler. She started her ONE tenure with three straight first-round submissions over three different divisions. Nicolini found her home at strawweight after beating Angela Lee over two years ago. She now has the opportunity to dethrone the champion and capitalize on the wide platform this event holds.
No stylistic match-up is more interesting than a striker versus wrestler. Although both fighters have evolved, they tend to end fights with their original martial arts. Nicolini is a BJJ specialist that has won five of her six wins by submission. On the contrary, Xiong has a unique striking style that has produced 10 knockouts over her career.
Nicolini earned this title shot by beating Lee, but that was two years ago. Although ring rust may not be the determining factor, returning to fight the champion is concerning. Xiong’s last loss was to Lee by submission, which gives Nicolini a path to victory. If this fight ends up on the ground, Nicolini will have the opportunity to display her world-class BJJ. All things considered, Xiong should be able to use her experience advantage, keep her distance, and overwhelm Nicolini with her striking.
The atomweight world grand prix gets underway with the quarterfinals; which woman makes the most impressive statement in victory?
Itsuki Hirata is the fighter to watch in this tournament. Hirata’s combination of youth and talent makes her the biggest prospect in the tournament. Before her first pro fight, Hirata won three exhibition bouts, all by submission. Holding a record of 4-0, Hirata won all four fights with a finish (two knockouts and two submissions). Hirata now has the chance to win the grand prix and use the platform to expand her fanbase.
In the quarterfinals, Hirata will take on Alyse Anderson with the opportunity to advance to the semifinals. Holding a record of 5-1, Anderson is 26 years old and trains at MMA Masters. Although Anderson is talented in her own right, Hirata should be able to get the win. Hirata has a judo background that gives her the ability to take her opponent down in unique ways. Not only does she have grappling skills, but her ability to finish fights makes her dangerous. At 22 years old, Hirata should be able to make a statement with a dominant finish.
The main card kicks off with an atomweight kickboxing bout between Anissa Meksen and Cristina Morales; how does the fight unfold?
Meksen and Morales features two kickboxing champions making their ONE Championship debut. At 28 years old, Morales holds a 47-7 record and last fought nearly two years ago. On the other hand, Meksen has won multiple world titles in different disciplines. After previously fighting for GLORY, Meksen joined ONE Championship with the hopes of dominating the competition and gaining worldwide recognition.
This fight has the potential to be the fight of the night. Not only are both fighters talented, but they also have the same style. Meksen and Morales are both powerful and put relentless pressure on their opponents. The main difference is that Meksen has a more reliable chin and more experience. Although Morales is dangerous, Meksen is on a different level and should get the win. Do not miss this fight because their styles create an intriguing match-up.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
In the co-main event, Denice Zamboanga meets Seo Hee Ham and it is not being talked about enough. At 24 years old, Zamboanga holds a record of 8-0, three with ONE Championship. On the other side of the cage, Ham is 23-8 with experience in the UFC and Rizin. Zamboanga is the more active fighter with Ham’s last fight nearly two years ago. With a spot in the semifinals up for grabs, you can be assured both fighters will do whatever it takes to win.
Zamboanga comes in as the No. 1 contender in the grand prix. After previously having a child, Zamboanga is ready to fight for the title. Before getting to the championship fight, Zamboanga will have to go through ONE newcomer Ham. Zamboanga has used her grappling and power to dominate her opponents. On the contrary, Ham is highly experienced and continues to rack up quality wins. Both fighters have reliable cardio that could lead to intense action into the third round.
Zamboanga is set to be tested, and Ham needs to make a statement in her ONE debut. Both fighters appear equally skilled on paper and maintain different fight styles. Although the main event will be the focus, underestimating this match-up would be a mistake. Make sure to set a reminder because you do not want to miss this event.
Main Card, 8:30 a.m. ET (B/R Live)
SW Championship: Xiong Jing Nan vs. Michelle Nicolini
AW Grand Prix Quarterfinal: Denise Zamboanga vs. Seo Hee Ham
AW Grand Prix Quarterfinal: Alonya Rassohyna vs. Stamp Fairtex
AW Grand Prix Quarterfinal: Bo Meng vs. Ritu Phogat
AW Grand Prix Quarterfinal: Itsuki Hirata vs. Alyse Anderson
AW Kickboxing: Anissa Meksen vs. Cristina Morales
SW Muay Thai: Jackie Buntan vs. Daniela Lopez
AW Grand Prix Alternate Bout: Mei Yamaguchi vs. Julie Mezabarba
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