A personal account analyzing an upcoming bantamweight bout at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS in Yangon by ONE Championship lead commentator and Fox Sports Presenter Steve Dawson.
I am going to break a primary rule of journalism and make this story on other people about myself. Every rule is meant to be broken, or at least bent. If nothing else, the act of breaking well-conceived rules underscores their legitimacy.
I went to Baguio 10 months ago to shoot a documentary on Kevin Belingon, the fleet-footed, hard-hitting bantamweight from Team Lakay. I charted his career during the build up to a world title fight he had been craving against ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes.
Having spoken previously to the Brazilian Fernandes at some length, I was rather torn as to whom I wanted to win (a journalist is rarely devoid of partisanship; it is professional objectivity that leads his published opinion). Nonetheless, I was totally convinced about who actually would.
Styles make fights, and ability determines them. Fernandes was always the more likely victor, but in some ways I was grateful not to be available for commentary that night in China. Belingon’s journey to the title shot had been characterised by ups and downs. His character had therefore been tested enough and I had not relished being witness to another change in fortune.
Concurrently on the bantamweight spectrum, another fighter had caught my eye. I have a fondness for the standup game, and those who attack sweetly with balance and evasive movement catch my attention more than those who do not.
Muin Gafurov had been doing just that. Prodigiously young, Gafurov displayed all the skills I needed to see, luring me into labelling him a future world champion.
When Matt Hume conjured a matchup for the ages between him and Reece McLaren, I had little doubt that the now 20-year-old would overcome it.
Some fighters, I never speak to. Critics might label that to be poor practice for a commentator. But I think it serves me well on the whole. You remain detached, you observe rather than immerse. Nonetheless, I had spoken to Filipino bantamweight Mark Striegl and found him and his delightful wife to be worthy friends.
So when McLaren stunned Striegl in Manila last December, it was a startling moment. Not enough, however, to prepare me for the shock of McLaren beating Gafurov this past April in Manila.
And so, on Friday in Myanmar, Belingon faces Gafurov in a fight that both need to win. A future world champion really should not be losing twice in a row, even if Gafurov is still very young. Similarly, a roller-coaster career really ought not to take another dip, even if Belingon has faced a career’s worth of top-notch mixed martial artists.
And so, the partisan element of my character will be tested and shredded once more. It is precisely because you the reader do not care, that one should not make this kind of story about one’s self. But the fact is, as immersed as I am in these two careers, I find it hard to extricate myself sufficiently to find a winner. That is also why it is such a good match.
I have a feeling this will go the distance and that the decision will be split.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an author of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter & Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.