What’s Next for the Big Winners at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS

What’s Next for the Big Winners at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS
PHOTO: What’s Next for the Big Winners at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS

Is there any other city crazy for mixed martial arts than the city of Yangon? If you were sitting cageside live at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium last Friday night, you would have been hard-pressed to think of an event with an atmosphere as incredible as the one at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS.

From hometown hero Aung La N Sang’s thunderous cage entrance to the whacky walk out costume of ONE Strawweight World Champion Yoshitaka Naito, the evening was filled with action and excitement — and of course, noteworthy performances from our ONE Championship athletes.

As always, in mixed martial arts there are winners and there are losers. Let’s take a look at what’s next for the biggest winners at ONE: STATE OF WARRIORS.

Yusup Saadulaev

Def. Jordan Lucas via Rear Naked Choke

Saadulaev has had ups and downs in his career, but it seems he has discovered a groove recently, culminating in a highly-impressive submission victory over young Australian prospect Jordan Lucas.

With ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat Gafurov escorting him to the battleground to the tune of Awolnation’s “Sail”, Saadulaev entered the cage and looked to take the youngster down from the get-go. setting his shots up perfectly with his strikes.

Although Lucas, a former BRACE featherweight champion, was determined to get a win, Saadulaev made sure his experience shone through, which ultimately made the difference.

The result was a spectacular modified rear naked choke victory — a “black belt” move as praised by commentators Peter Davis and Mitch Chilson. As Saadulaev tightened his grip around the young Lucas’ neck, you could see the resolve slip away from the Australian prospect’s gaze after being forced to tap out.

It was Saadulaev’s fourth straight victory, and it seems a big fight may be on the horizon. Rematches with Kevin Belingon, Adriano Moraes, and Koetsu Okazaki are certainly compelling.

Kevin Belingon

Def. Muin Gafurov by Unanimous Decision

After two whole years without the sweet taste of victory, Kevin Belingon returned to the ONE Championship cage looking to prove to the world that he is still in the mix. The fact that he did it against one of his division’s most talented fighters in Muin Gafurov just made things a little bit sweeter.

Knowing Gafurov was a threat both in the clinch and on the ground, Belingon knew the game plan was to use his lightning quick strikes to keep his opponent outside of range. The Filipino bantamweight standout stuck to his guns, utilizing a series of well-placed inside and outside leg kicks to force Gafurov to think twice about shooting in for a takedown.

For three rounds Belingon lulled Gafurov into somewhat of a trance, forcing the younger man to engage in a virtual chess match inside the cage. In the end, Belingon ran away with the judges’ decision, employing the cleaner, more powerful blows all throughout the bout.

Belingon challenged current ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano Fernandes last January, and while it didn’t work out for him then, this victory puts him right back in the mix.

A rematch against Yusup Saadulaev could be interesting, given the way Saadulaev performed against Jordan Lucas. But the best matches to be made for Belingon may be against his countrymen — Mark Striegl of Evolve MMA and Filipino-Australian fighter Reece McLaren.

Aung La N SangDef. Michal Pasternak by Unanimous Decision

Few fighters can command a hometown crowd like the “Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang. It’s absolutely amazing to experience just how much Yangon loves their martial arts hero. He’s a cultural icon back home to his friends and family, and is in a great position to lead the charge of MMA in the country.

Michal Pasternak surely was not an easy opponent, but watching the two go at it inside the ONE Championship cage, you get the feeling that it was the Aung La N Sang show from the beginning. Every strike the hometown hero landed was meet with loud cheers that reverberated throughout the stadium like a war cry.

Pasternak for the most part, hung tough with Aung La N Sang, but was clearly overmatched against the more talented fighter. Aung La N Sang’s brute strength played a huge factor as each strike he landed had a visible effect on Pasternak, who danced and prodded away from Aung’s power most of the fight. The “Burmese Python” also controlled the majority of exchanges on the ground, earning him the unanimous decision.

Although he called out ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash in the post-fight interview, Aung La N Sang didn’t look particularly settled in the match. Perhaps another fight against a top contender at home is in order to ensure he’s ready for a shot at the title. 

Yoshitaka Naito

Def. Joshua Pacio by Rear Naked Choke

Although Yoshitaka Naito was able to come away with a submission victory from seemingly out of nowhere, the real story is in the stellar performance of 20-year-old Joshua Pacio, who dominated the champion for two and a half rounds before succumbing to sheer exhaustion and a rear naked choke that seemingly came out of Doraemon’s magic pocket.

Pacio battered Naito from the start of the bout, beating the champion to the punch on almost every occasion while stuffing numerous takedown attempts that he could see coming from a mile away. Naito’s only game plan was to take the fight to the mat, and it became painfully evident that it was going to be easier said than done.

Every opportunity afforded to him, Naito shot in for a single leg, hoping to drive Pacio to the ground where he could spin a web of Brazilian jiu-jitsu around his younger foe. Towards the end of the third round, Naito caught Pacio in a brief mental lapse and that was literally all that it took to latch onto a rear-naked choke to seal the deal.

Naito was lucky to escape that one, and did acknowledge that it was the “best fight ever” of his career. After winning the title from former champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke earlier this year and then going three gruelling rounds with Pacio, Naito has definitely earned himself a vacation.