Despite a flurry of late card changes, ONE FC 12 went off without a hitch on Friday night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as Russian bantamweight Yusup Saadulaev dropped Brazilian prospect Adriano Moraes from the ranks of the unbeaten with a back-and-forth split decision victory.
Saadulaev (11-3) and Moraes' makeshift headlining bout was contested at a 134-pound catchweight after Moraes' inital opponent, Josh Paiva, withdrew on extremely short notice.
The night's original main event intended to feature Adam Kayoom against Nobutatsu Suzuki for the ONE FC inaugural welterweight title, however Muay Thai champ Kayoom was forced to withdraw with a rib injury. Suzuki was then slated to fight undefeated Vitor Pinto, yet Pinto was also forced to drop out after failing his pre-fight medicals the day before the event.
In their stead, Saadulaev and Moraes (9-1) put on a wild display of grappling technique over the course of 15 tightly contested minutes. Saadulaev worked takedowns throughout much of the opening two rounds, however a frenetic scramble late in the second led to Moraes claiming top position in half guard. From there Moraes unloading a steady stream of punches, while Saadulaev hunted for a knee bar from the bottom.
Saadulaev again found himself in a precarious position early in the final frame, as a failed belly-to-belly suplex attempt led to Moraes seizing mount. But Saadulaev stayed active, and with the clocking ticking, reversed beautifully into side control, ultimately ending the round, and the fight, on top.
"I feel exhausted now," Saadulaev said after the official result.
"I was (surprised). I was thinking as soon as I get on the ground, I would finish him easy. But we found out he was a really tough, tough guy."
In the night's co-main event, Brazilian BJJ black belt Leandro Ataides (6-0) stayed perfect, but it wasn't with his grappling. The Evolve MMA product knocked the lights out of French middleweight Brayan Rafiq (8-3), unleashing a nasty trio of right hands that sealed the deal midway through the opening frame. The finish marked Ataides' fifth straight since kicking off his career with a decision victory.
Elsewhere on the main card, American Kickboxing Academy prospect Tony Johnson (7-2) fell just short against Australian heavyweight Chris Lokteff (12-1), losing a tight split decision after fading late into the contest.
Lokteff tagged Johnson repeatedly throughout round one, including a huge right hand that put the American on wobbly legs. Johnson survived though, and made a hard charge in the second frame, planting Lokteff on the mat, unloading a slow succession of punches, then taking his back and nearly sinking in a fight-ending rear-naked choke.
Lokteff somehow gutted through the submission attempt, and after Johnson fatigued, the Australian rocketed to his feet and uncorked a brutal series of soccer kicks to his downed opponent. Loketff carried that late momentum into the third round, stopping each of Johnson's takedown attempts and peppering him with strikes to take the judges' decision and extend his winning streak to four straight.
For more on the event, complete ONE FC 12 results can be seen here.