ONE: ‘A New Era’ preview (part 1) – the title fights
This weekend, ONE Championship will put on arguably the biggest show in the company’s history as the Singapore based promotion lands in Japan for the first time in history.
Not only will the card serve as ONE Championship’s debut but the show is expected to be the first of many marquee events that the promotion pushes heavily into the United States thanks to a new TV deal with Turner Sports.
The focus on the United States comes largely from several high profile free agent signings including former UFC champions Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, who will both compete on the upcoming card this weekend.
Crazy enough, Johnson and Alvarez are both main card fighters but they are nowhere near the top of the show because ONE Championship pulled out all the stops for this event with four title fights headlining the show.
The main event will feature a lightweight title rematch between current champion Eduard Folayang and Japanese superstar Shinya Aoki. Throughout his career, Aoki has been one of the most popular current fighters from Japan so it makes sense that ONE would have him headlining the debut card in his home country.
22-year old ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee will move up in weight to challenge strawweight champion Xiong Jing Nan in the co-main event. Lee has an opportunity to join Aung La Nsang as a two division champion if she can tackle Xiong and take away her strawweight championship.
Speaking of Aung La Nsang, the reigning light heavyweight and middleweight champion will face off with Ken Hasegawa for the second time this weekend. Their first fight was hailed as a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate in 2018 and now Aung La Nsang will again put his middleweight title up for grabs when he faces Hasegawa in Japan.
Finally, a bantamweight trilogy will close out the title fights as current champion Kevin Belingon will meet Bibiano Fernandes for the third time. Belingon eked out a decision win over Fernandes in their last meeting to become champion but the Brazilian was quick to request a rematch and now he’s got it.
In part one of our preview of ONE: ‘A New Era’, we will examine the four title fights at the top of the card heading into Sunday’s event from Japan.
Eduard Folayang vs Shinya Aoki (For Folayang’s lightweight title)
It has been two and a half years since Eduard Folayang dethroned Shinya Aoki and become ONE lightweight champion. On that night, Folayang executed a strong game plan combining takedown defense and devastating striking to get the better of the submission specialist from Japan. In the end, Folayang landed a vicious TKO from knees and punches that earned him the victory.
Folayang went on to defend the title one time before he suffered a stunning upset loss to current ONE featherweight champion Martin Nguyen. Since that time, Folayang has won his last three fights in a row including a victory over Amir Khan to crown a new champion after Nguyen vacated the belt last year.
Meanwhile, Aoki made an ill fated attempt to move to welterweight for a single fight where he was soundly mauled by Ben Askren before returning to lightweight. He’s won his past two fights in a row including a lighting quick submission over Ev Ting in his most recent outing.
The book on this fight is rather easy to read — Folayang wants to keep it standing and Aoki will do everything in his power to drag the action down to the ground. The winner will be determined by whoever can implement their game plan.
Folayang isn’t typically known as a pure knockout striker but he’s very good at keeping the distance and landing combinations to do damage round after round. Obviously the key for him will be hitting and moving before Aoki can grab onto a leg or wrap around his body and just pull him down to the mat. If Aoki can get this fight to the ground early, it could be a very bad night for Folayang. The longer the time ticks away on the clock, however, it tends to favor Folayang as it will get harder and harder to wrap him up in a submission.
Xiong Jing Nan vs. Angela Lee (For Nan’s strawweight title)
With an undefeated record and serving as one of the faces of ONE Championship, Angela Lee definitely has a lot riding on this opportunity to move up a division and capture a second championship.
Her opponent Xiong Jing Nan is the defending title holder and yet it feels like she’s walking into this fight as a decided underdog.
While Xiong hasn’t received the same level of fanfare as Lee during her career, the Chinese born slugger is no slouch. She packs a serious punch and will absolutely batter an opponent over the course of five rounds if given the chance to exchange on the feet. Xiong is known for her power but realistically she’s not much of a one-shot knockout kind of fighter.
Instead, Xiong will chip away at her opponents round after round until she’s bloodied and bruised them up to the point of no return. Xiong will have to rely on that volume game once again in this fight while doing her best to avoid Lee’s potent ground game.
Lee is a high level grappler with an arsenal of slick submissions at her disposal. Lee has worked tirelessly on improving her striking over the years so don’t be surprised if she opens the fight with a few exchanges on the feet before diving inside for the takedown.
Lee may be coming into the fight as the atomweight champion but she’s long said that her natural weight class was probably going to be strawweight as her career moved forward.
This might be the time she finally graduates to that bigger division as Lee has to be considered the heavy favorite to pull off this win and become a two-weight class world champion. That said, Xiong seemingly has nothing to lose because the pressure isn’t on her in this fight and that could allow her to really settle into a comfort zone in her attempt to pick Lee apart with her striking.
Aung La Nsang vs Ken Hasegawa (For La Nsang’s middleweight title)
Their first meeting was considered one of the best fights 2018 as Aung La Nsang defended his middleweight belt against Ken Hasegawa before earning a stunning fifth round knockout.
The most telling part of that first fight was Hasegawa’s incredible toughness and durability as he seemingly took the Myanmar native’s best shots and just kept finding a way to come forward. Hasegawa definitely landed some shots of his own but his chin kept him upright far longer than most would have predicted.
To ensure he improved upon that performance, Hasegawa relocated to the United States for this fight camp as he began working exclusively out of the Serra-Longo fight team in New York. There Hasegawa was training under former UFC champion Matt Serra and veteran boxing coach Ray Longo, who have worked with numerous top ranked fighters over the years including Chris Weidman, Al Iaquinta and Aljamain Sterling.
There’s little doubt that Hasegawa prepared to his fullest to get ready for this rematch but will that be enough?
It all depends on his strategy this time around because he can’t allow Aung La Nsang to control the pace and the distance. Aung La Nsang is a brutally hard hitting fighter with knockout power in every limb and he’s shown the ability to dig deep into the fourth and fifth rounds to get the finish if that’s what’s require dof him.
Aung La Nsang has shown incredible growth over the past couple of years while working with the Hard Knocks 365 team in Florida under the tutelage of striking coach Henri Hooft and wrestling coaches such as Greg Jones and Kami Barzini.
On paper, Aung La Nsang is definitely considered the favorite to win — he did a ton of damage to Hasegawa the last time around and has only gotten better since then. On the flipside, Hasegawa will enjoy fighting in front of a hometown crowd this time and the real key for him will be showing the improvements and adjustments he made after falling to the middleweight champion in their first meeting.
Kevin Belingon vs Bibiano Fernandes (For Belingon’s bantamweight title)
Kevin Belingon and Bibiano Fernandes will battle it out for the third time with the ONE bantamweight title on the line. Fernandes made quick work of Belingon the first time around with a opening round submission before the Team Lakay fighter earned his way back with the split decision win in their last fight.
The improvements that Belingon made from the first fight to the rematch made all the difference.
He was fast and powerful on his feet, taking chances with all sorts of creative striking combinations that kept Fernandes on his toes. Belingon was deadly with his kicking game and he made Fernandes pay every time he shot inside with a sloppy attempt to drag him to the ground. Perhaps the biggest factor for Fernandes in the rematch was his ability to fight out of bad positions on the ground with a world class grappler looking to submit him.
Fernandes had Belingon in several bad spots during the course of the five round fight but he just couldn’t put him away. Belingon was explosive on the mat and learned how to constantly scramble out of those submissions, which paid dividends as Fernandes started to tire late in the fight.
To retain the title, Belingon has to display more of the same and probably more by not allowing Fernandes to take him down so many times. He was masterful with his escapes in the rematch but Belingon would surely rather avoid going to the mat at all instead of constantly fighting out of Fernandes’ submissions.
For the Brazilian to get back the title he defended on seven occasions, Fernandes has to find a way to put Belingon on the ground and keep him there. Fernandes is no slouch on the feet and he’s more than capable of hurting Belingon during those exchanges but if he can drag him down early before the fighters start sweating too much, he could once again wrap up a quick win before the opening round bell even sounds.