ONE: ‘A New Era’ preview (part 2) – the best of the rest
While the term ‘stacked’ gets thrown around a lot in mixed martial arts these days, that’s no promotional hyperbole when talking about ONE: ‘A New Era’, which is by far the best show the organization has ever put together.
Just to give you an idea of how deep this card goes — multi-time grappling champion and highly touted prospect Garry Tonon is the third fight on the undercard.
In part one of our previews of ONE: ‘A New Era’, we took a look at the four title fights at the top of the show.
Now in part two of our extensive preview, we will look at the best of the rest of the card including the first appearances for both Johnson and Alvarez, who are competing in the opening round of their respective ONE Grand Prix tournaments.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Yuya Wakamatsu (Flyweight Grand Prix Quarter Final)
Johnson has long been hailed as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet and while an argument could be made about the level of competition he faced at flyweight in the UFC, there is no doubt about the skill set he brings into this fight.
Johnson is the definition of a well-rounded mixed martial artist. He combines blinding speed with power on the feet and a world class grappling game. Johnson is fully capable of putting an opponent’s lights out by knockout or he could drag just about anybody to the ground and wrap up a submission.
Johnson also adapts to any given situation perhaps better than any fighter in MMA history. He’s willing to strike with the best standup fighters and grapple with the best wrestlers and then beat them both at their own games. If something isn’t going right, however, Johnson has no problem switching up his game plan and then attacking with a whole new strategy.
His opponent — 24-year old Japanese flyweight Yuya Wakamatsu — comes into this fight off a defeat while bouncing back and forth between wins and losses over his past four contests. It’s not a stretch to say Wakamatsu will be vastly overmatched going up against Johnson in this fight, which is why he’s probably the biggest underdog on this entire card.
What Wakamatsu has going for him is punching power for a flyweight with nine career victories by TKO or knockout. Wakamatsu has to know the more he allows Johnson to dictate where this fight take place, the less chance he has to win. That means Wakamatsu shouldn’t be afraid to come out swinging and looking to put Johnson away early.
If he tries to approach this fight any other way, it’s not likely going to go very well for him.
Eddie Alvarez vs. Timofey Nastyukhin (Lightweight Grand Prix Quarter Final)
Former UFC champion Eddie Alvarez begins his new career with ONE Championship as part of the first ever ONE Lightweight Grand Prix.
Alvarez has said a big part of his reason for signing with ONE Championship — beyond the money — was adding another title belt to his already stellar resume. While he will be the odds on favourite to eventually compete for that championship after the Grand Prix is completed, he didn’t get a pushover in his first fight against Timofey Nastyukhin.
Now Nastyukhin will definitely face the toughest test of his career, which is saying a lot considering he’s fought the who’s who of lightweights in ONE Champions. At his best, Nastyukhin is a devastating knockout striker with wins over Eduard Folayang and Amir Khan. Unfortunately, Nastyukhin is also wildly inconsistent at times, taking chances in an effort to win fights and then watching it backfire on him.
Still, Nastyukhin has the abilty to put Alvarez’s lights out and if the 35-year old Philadelpha native comes into this fight thinking he’s just going to walk through to the semifinals of the Grand Prix, he could be in trouble.
Alvarez’s abilty to take damage to dish out even more of his own makes him a threat to anybody in this division. He’s got plenty of knockout power, a very underrated ground game and likely the best boxing that you’ll witness in this tournament.
Alvarez just has to avoid any big mistakes and not look past Nastyukhin because that could definitely cost him.
Senzo Ikeda vs. Danny Kingad (Flyweight Grand Prix Quarter Final)
Danny Kingad will face late notice replacement Senzo Ikeda in his opening round matchup in the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix after Andrew Leone suffered an injury that knocked him out of the contest.
In many ways, Kingad actually has a tougher test on his hands now from the veteran Pancrase fighter, who comes in with four wins in a row including a knockout over fellow Grand Prix competitor Yuya Wakamatsu.
Ikeda is a well-rounded fighter with a mix of decisions, knockouts and submission on his resume. Perhaps his best attribute in this fight is that Ikeda is impossibly tough to put away, which means he could definitely drag Kingad into deep waters.
Kingad obviously has the advantage that he’s been training for this fight for months despite the change in opponents. The Team Lakay fighter has also looked better than ever in his last four wins while beating some top competition in the ONE flyweight division.
Kingad is a potential dark horse in this tournament but he didn’t get an easy draw with Ikeda standing across the cage from him.
Kairat Akhmetov vs. Reece McLaren (Flyweight Grand Prix Quarter Final)
Kairat Akhmetov is no stranger to facing high level competition in ONE Championship with four of his past five fights coming against current champion Adriano Moraes or former champion Geje Eustaquio. Akhmetov has split those fights with a 2-2 record but obviously that means he’s definitely one of the elite flyweights on the roster.
Akhmetov is a former Greco-Roman wrestling champion so he’s definitely a high-level grappler, especially when he can latch onto a body lock and work from inside. He’s shown plenty of striking ability as well in the past and that might come in handy with his fight this weekend.
His opponent Reece McLaren is well known for his submission skills with two of his past three wins coming on the ground. McLaren has competed at bantamweight as well in the past but his body size is much better suited for the flyweight division.
McLaren has faced a ton of good competition throughout his career so he’s not afraid of what Akhmetov brings into the fight. McLaren has also really started to turn the corner in his career since moving to flyweight while believing that he probably should have already fought for the title if not for the back-to-back fights between Moraes and Eustaquio in recent months.
As much attention that will be paid to the title fights and some of the earlier matchups on the card, this flyweight clash between Akhmetov and McLaren could be a show stealer on the prelims.
Garry Tonon vs. Anthony Engelen
One more name to watch at ONE: ‘A New Era’ will be multi-time grappling champion Garry Tonon as he makes his fourth appearance in ONE Championship after rattling off three straight wins to start his career.
Tonon was considered one of the best BJJ practitioners on the planet for several years — he even twisted former lightweight champion Shinya Aoki into knots when they met in a grappling match in ONE Championship. Tonon has made a successful transition while working with head coach John Danaher to get him ready for what he can expects while moving over to mixed martial arts.
Tonon will face his toughest test to date when he meets Anthony Engelen on the undercard this weekend in Japan.
Engelen is a ‘go big or go home’ kind of fighter, which means he always leaves everything in the cage. He will typically either destroy his opponents or get destroyed himself. What that means for this fight is that Engelen will absolutely go headhunting for Tonon knowing that spending much time on the ground will probably spell his doom.
Engelen is definitely capable of putting Tonon’s lights out so the New Jersey native can’t take many chances as he’s done in some of his past fights while getting his feet wet in MMA competition.
This fight might not make it two minutes but chances are it will be an exhilarating 120 seconds of action until Tonon either wraps up another submission or Engelen pulls off the upset with a highlight reel knockout.