In the absence of UFC 151, mixed martial arts' top East Asian promotion takes center stage in the MMA community tomorrow in the Philippines. Top prospects from the region, members of the Gracie family as well as three former UFC champions fill the card in what promise to be reasonably entertaining and meaningful bouts.
Can Phil Baroni make one last grab at greatness? Will Bibiano Fernandes' move to ONE FC over UFC prove fruitful? Will Andrei Arlovski even the score with Tim Sylvia? I try to answer these questions and more with predictions for tomorrow's event.
What: ONE FC 5: Pride of a Nation
Where: SMART ARANETA Coliseum in Quezon City, Philippines
When: Friday, the four-fight free Internet stream preliminary card starts at 8 a.m. ET, the seven-fight Internet pay-per-view card starts at 10:30.
A fight like this provides a good illustration of why Fernandes signed with ONE FC over UFC. Sure, the money is better at the top of the UFC and the competition is better. But bantamweight is a burgeoning weight class. A guy like Falciroli isn't a world beater by any stretch, but is still going to be a reasonably tough match-up for Fernandes. Their strengths counteract one another (although if Falciroli can pull off any of the patented Roberto Godoi spine cranks I will be delighted), but Fernandes is a little more refined where it counts. He's also faced and defeated better competition. Fernandes is going to have a moderately tough challenge in a fight that pays well at the top of the card. In the deep, uncertain waters of the UFC, he probably wouldn't even sniff a moment like this.
I just can't get behind Folyang. Filipino MMA are rightly excited by him, but there are too many questions about whether his skill set is lopsided and if the caliber of opposition he's faced. Enomoto is not someone I'm particularly high on, especially relative to his brother Yasubey. His game is disorganized, to put it mildly. But he probably has enough to edge out Folyang over the distance. I admit this one is close and hard to call, but until Folyang demonstrates he can take his game to a more promising level, Enomoto is the go-to guy.
I'll just be honest and say I really don't know which way to go here. It's very, very hard to tell what either fighter has left. Sylvia's been good if somewhat inconsistent facing regional fighters or UFC washouts. Arlovski had an extraordinarily tough run in Strikeforce and has had something of a rebound in Pro Elite. Either guy is a decent pick if for no other reason than no matter which way you turn you logic is flimsy. I'll go with Sylvia, albeit with extreme reluctance. He beat Arlovski twice during his peak years and doesn't have as much mileage on him. But really, I don't know. Chances are you don't either.
I'd like to give Pulver the benefit of the doubt. He wasn't able to compete with the WEC's best, but he's done ok on the regional circuit. Besides, his last loss was to Tim Elliot who ended up giving John Dodson all he could handle in the UFC. He's been inconsistent outside of the big leagues, but hasn't been abysmal. Kelly, by contrast, is undefeated and has looked good against South East Asian prospects, but what that means is entirely unclear. A Pulver loss win wouldn't surprise me or anyone else, but gauging the abilities of an aging fighter long past his prime and a fighter sheltered from elite competition is a daunting task.
Bonello is a bit of a spaz and anyway undersized for Gracie. He also isn't a true heavyweight. Oh, and he doesn't compete much anymore. I'm not high on either guy, but this seems like it's Gracie's fight to lose.
This is Gracie's toughest fight outside of Vagner Rocha in Bellator. Cha isn't particularly well known even to hardcores and loses to elite competition more often than not, but Gracie isn't elite. At 32, he likely won't ever be. He has a formidable but entirely lopsided skill set. His South Korean opponent doesn't have the best submission defense, but has faced and defeated significantly better fighters.
You're seeing this sort of fight a lot: two guys with some ability that is basically hard to grade because it lacks anything referential that is gradable. Belingon is a good prospect out of the Philippines, but lacks any sort of signature win. Kim's a middler without any real strong suit. I'll go with the prospect who has slightly more upside.