If you’re at all an MMA fan then Christmas just came early and you likely know that One Championship’s Tokyo card A New Era slated for March 31 is a stacked upon stacked card that borders on the absurd four world title fights on the bill and a slew of superstars on the undercard.
Grappling star turned MMA prospect Gary Tonon is on the undercard and so is our very own killer from Baguio Danny Kingad but their shine is just so eclipsed by the supernova names that we can’t even get to them on this list. Its seven-fight main card is just that much crazy amazing.
It airs on the free app and on the ONE Youtube Channel starting at 4pm, Philippines time. Meantime, let’s take a look at the fights you shouldn’t miss.
MEI YAMAGUCHI VS KSENIYA LACHKOVA
MMA WOMEN’S ATOMWEIGHT
You might think Japanese veteran Yamaguchi would walk right through the Russian girl, but Lachkova is no pushover, being a Pankration World Champ with a 10-2 MMA record. You bet your ass V.V. isn’t going to let a little thing like combat sambo and a never-been-KO’d fighter get in the way of a victory over her home turf and countrymen so we say this is going to be a barnburner of a match in the women’s atomweight division. Plus it was way back in May 2015, when Yamaguchi carved a bit of glory for herself when she won the Deep Jewels Featherweight World Championship and she’s already said nobody’s going to ruin her homecoming fight.
RODTANG JITMUANGNON VS HAKIM HAMECH
MUAY THAI SUPER SERIES (FLYWEIGHT)
Guys, if you don’t know who “Iron Man” Rodtand is then you just don’t like striking sports. Last time around the Thai showcased his usual indomitable spirit with two wins in the ONE cage but he took way too many hits against Fahdi “The Gladiator” Khaled and you can be sure the French-Algerian juggernaut Hamech has studied the chinks in Rodtang’s aggressive style. Hamech even journeyed to the hallowed halls of Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket for this training camp and polish his swords as well as his two-time Muay Thai World Champion mind set. We’re actually more interested in this match than the rematch with Yodsanklai versus Souwer. Does anyone really think Souwer can outmatch his old rival?
DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON VS YUYA WAKAMATSU
MMA FLYWEIGHT GRAND PRIX QUARTER-FINALS
Ah, the question of “Mighty Mouse” finally getting his feet wet in the ONE cage, born of that first “trade” in MMA history: will the vintage dominant DJ show up or the latest one where a star going through the motions copped a very thin split decision loss to current UFC champ Henry Cejudo? Wakamatsu isn’t just some Japanese tune-up fight for DJ which means he comes with legit KO power and DJ does have a propensity to take a hit too soon (remember his fight against John Dodson?), plus it bears remembering that flyweight in ONE means 135 lbs and not 125 lbs and you get an interesting scenario where DJ might just really need to use his wrestling to win and win like his trade was worth it. Other than that, Might Mouse should be able to kick this door in and announce his arrival as still one of the pound-for-pound greats.
EDDIE ALVAREZ VS TIMOFEY NASTYUKHIN
MMA LIGHTWEIGHT GRAND PRIX QUARTER-FINALS
Jesus, I don’t think Nastyukhin stands a chance against The Underground King and am sure the betting lines reflect that. That is, unless Eddie becomes the reckless and emotional fighter he was back in the McGregor fight, but that is still a big “if.” If and when Alavarez does bulldoze through the Russian, he will go on to meet fellow American Lowen Tynanes (dude smashed Honorio Banario in his return to the cage last time round like he never left) in the lightweight grand prix and then that gets beautifully way more interesting. Tynanes’ 10-0 and solid all-around skills versus Eddie’s two-league championship monstrosity? Maaaan, that would be a spectacle to behold.
ANGELA LEE VS XIONG JING NAN
MMA WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
There’s nobody left for Angela Lee to fight and so she’s gunning for greatness like Martin Nguyen and Aung La N Sang by capturing a second belt at the expense of Xiong Jing Nan. Moving up in weight to challenge for Nan’s Strawweight World Title might be a done deal on paper and Lee’s chance at real history-making moves since her ground game is like an excellent recipe that cannot be gainsaid, if Jing Nan can actually derail Lee’s hype train with her brutality and power, then she can cement her place as the Chinese powerhouse and steal the thunder out of the Singaporean’s ascent, just like Holly Holm did with Ronda Rousey.
AUNG LA NSANG VS KEN HASEGAWA
MMA MIDDLEWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
A rematch, these guys battled it out last June at ONE Spirit of a Warrior and Hasegawa folded in the later rounds to cop a decision loss to N Sang. Hopefully the Japanese has studied N Sang better and can give us a better show against the Burmese Python and secure the middleweight title for the Land of the Rising Sun. Why this bout should be fireworks is that it’s tough enough defending one belt but to do it as a double champ? You should have seen how brawly it got in their last outing and if that’s any indication then nobody should be overlooking his title fight.
KEVIN BELINGON VS BIBIANO FERNANDES
MMA BANTAMWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
This trilogy fight should be the deciding factor of the bantamweight rivalry that has stretched back to 2016, when the Brazilian chickenwinged The Silencer fighter like he planned to have a winner-winner dinner in Baguio. Belingon’s five straight wins since had earned him an interim belt and another shot at Bibi for the unification and boy was it a close decision result, leaving Bibi perplexed and protesing. Now at 38 years old, Fernandes is no doubt feeling the age in his bones even as he can look back at his legacy of blood helping establish ONE as a force in Asian MMA, but that’s what will make him definitely more dangerous. And Belingon should be aware of that even as this is the fight where he’s actually defending his throne against The Flash as a challenger for the first time. With Team Lakay already having lost two of their four belts in ONE early this year, that should put an extra amount of fire in Belingon’s stride for the title to remain on Philippine soil and the old headhunter’s adage of being able to keep what you kill.
EDUARD FOLAYANG VS SHINYA AOKI
MMA LIGHTWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
How Aoki earned this title rematch is that he destroyed three guys for a straight win streak all in the first round and then in his quiet way called down the Mountain King Folayang into the cage and in his hometown to boot. Folayang almost quit the sport at one point after he got KO’d by the sniper overhand of Martin Nguyen, but like Aoki he has persevered and has now regained his former glory.
And that’s why this fight is intriguing, because these fighters share a common thread of being able to overcome and come back through the toughest of challenges. If adversity truly culls the weak and rewards the strong, then both Landslide and Tobikan Judan have an equal chance at the title, with each other’s game plan to victory as they were when they first met: the suffocating labyrinth of the ground game for Aoki, the pugilistic dominance of Folayang both in stand-up and in the ground-and-pound. Damn this is exciting.
ONE Championship: A New Era happens at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan on March 31. Airs free on the ONE app and on their YouTube channel.