ONE Championship delivered a solid show for its Japanese debut.
There were big wins from Japanese legend Shinya Aoki, who reclaimed the lightweight title after sleeping Eduard Folayang. Demetrious Johnson was pushed hard in the opening round, but came back to submit Yuya Wakamatsu.
Angela Lee’s attempt to become ONE’s first two-division women’s champion was shut down in spectacular style by Xiong Jing Nan, while Timofey Nastyukhin wrecked Eddie Alvarez in the opening round.
ONE: A New Era also set up some intriguing storylines for the next few months ahead. Let’s try and make sense of them.
Team Lakay: Hero to Zero
After finishing 2018 with a historic five ONE Championship titles, the famed Team Lakay of Baguio City now has none. Four months into 2019 and all five of those titles have moved on. In Tokyo last night the last remaining two were on the line.
Kevin Belingon vs. Bibiano Fernandes was shaping up to be another classic before an illegal elbow bought an end to proceedings. With Fernandes unable to continue, Belingon was stripped of his title and a new champion was crowned in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
It’s a disappointing end to Belingon’s reign, but ONE Championship boss Chatri Sityodtong has promised an immediate rematch.
That will likely not be the case for Eduard Folayang. After an impressive title run, the Team Lakay stalwart was slept by submission ace Shinya Aoki in the first round and must now claw his way back into the title picture.
There’s now some serious naval gazing to be done by the Team Lakay crew, but let’s not forget they remain a formidable force in the world of Asian MMA.
Lightweight GP Intrigues
Eddie Alvarez received a rude shock in his ONE Championship debut, getting shut down in the first round by Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin. The last quarter-final bout of the Lightweight World Grand Prix was billed as a slugfest and boy did it deliver.
Nastyukhin quickly settled into his striking combinations and continued to find a home for his straight right hand.
Alvarez returned fire, but it was not nearly enough. During one wild exchange the Russian tagged Alvarez and seized the moment, ending the contest at the 4:05 mark of round one.
Nastyukhin improves his record to 13-4 and now advances to the semi-finals of the Lightweight GP to face Lowen Tynanes.
With a handful of the lightweight division’s best tied up in the tournament, one potential option for Alvarez is a showdown with Ev Ting. That chatter is already underway on social media. Good times ahead.
Mighty Mouse in the House
Yuya Wakamatsu is certainly no slouch. He pushed former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson hard in the opening round. But DJ’s experience is unrivaled and it wasn’t long before Johnson said enough is enough.
After grabbing a hold of Wakamatsu’s neck in the second round, Johnson secured a deep guillotine choke to force the tap.
The win saw him progress to the semi-finals of the Flyweight GP, where he’ll face an opponent to be determined later. Whoever it is will face a man who is now adapted to life inside the ONE Championship cage and ready to continue his march towards the flyweight title.
Where to for Angela Lee?
The fact that Xiong Jing Nan stopped the “Unstoppable” Angela Lee should not have come as a total shock. Xiong is one hell of a tough strawweight, with experience to boot. She pushed Lee deep into the championship rounds and it was there she poured on the damage. A very intelligent strategy given that Lee competed just once in the past two years.
Lee herself said how much stronger and more comfortable she is at strawweight, so going back to 115lbs might not be an option. Should she stay at 125lbs and get back into title contention, there’s Tiffany Teo and April Osenio in the wings. Whatever it is, don’t think for a second we’ve seen the last of her. She has vowed to come back even stronger.
“If life is a series of challenges and lessons, then this is definitely one of them,” she said in an Instagram post.
“I put it all on the line and gave it all I had in that fourth round, trying to finish her with the triangle/armbar. When it came to the fifth round, I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. No excuses,” she added.
“I promise to learn from this and come back stronger. Defeat is a mindset and I choose to remain strong.”
How can you not love Garry Tonon. He’s a great ambassador for the sport and also very good at it. At ONE: A New Era Tonon closed quarters on Engelen early, taking him down with a swift double leg in the opening moments of the featherweight contest.
The only question now is what’s next for The Lion Killer? Tonon has a message those looking for a shot. Hurry up. “This is just the beginning,” he said on Twitter.
“You guys better try to kill this monster while it’s small. One day in the future I’ll be unstoppable.”