As a UFC fighter, Brandon Vera was never able to capture gold in either the heavyweight or light heavyweight divisions, despite once publicly stating he was going to be the first fighter in the organization's history to do so.
Despite those missed goals, Vera, now 37 years of age, earned the inaugural heavyweight title for ONE Championship on Friday, besting Paul Cheng with a thunderous knockout finish in short order at ONE Championship 35 in Manila, Philippines.
Cheng, a week-of late replacement for Chi Lewis-Parry, charged in against Vera, but never came close to landing anything of significance. In fact, Vera was able to set up the finish using Cheng's aggression against him. As Cheng barreled forward, Vera leaned back and fired a left hand that sent Cheng crashing to the mat. As Cheng tried to stand and reengage the fight, Vera blasted him with a left high kick that sent him back to the canvas, unable to properly defend himself. A follow-up hammerfist from Vera was all that was needed to close the show. The end came officially at just 26 seconds in round one.
With that, Vera becomes the first ONE Championship heavyweight champion. "I'm going to share this belt with the whole motherland. I love you guys. I cannot wait to be back. You have a heavyweight world champion," Vera told the crowd in his post-fight interview. "There's nothing to compare the feelings that I have right now. I don't know how to explain it."
"I am an owner of Alliance Training Center, one of the top five gyms in the world. It's time for Asia to expand its hand and feet into mixed martial arts," Vera said, without offering specifics of what he meant. "We're going to start making dreams come true for everybody."
In the co-main event, Australian Reece McLaren, another late replacement, weathered an early storm to defeat Mark Striegl in a hard-fought battle.
Striegl kicked things off by eating a body kick and attempted multiple single legs, ultimately settling for a double against the cage. McLaren spent significant time on his back in the first frame before eventually getting to his feet, but was soon taken back down off a flying knee attempt. McLaren would again work to his feet and had moments on the outside where his athletic, quick strikes found a home, but spent much of the first frame on the defense.
By the second round, momentum slowly began to shift despite a setback within the frame. Striegl would attempt to pressure McLaren against the fence, but the Aussie had more success stopping and momentarily even reversing Striegl's wrestling attacks. McLaren, however, would be dropped by a punch, allowing Striegl to get on top, pass and work for a kimura or armbar. McLaren would eventually escape and spend the rest of the round pot shotting Striegl with outside leg kicks and straight crosses.
McLaren had the best offense of the fight attempting not one, but two guillotines in the third round. The first of those attempts temporarily moved to him to mount before Striegl was able to create a scramble and move to turtle. McLaren, however, was all over him, pushing Striegl to the fence, taking mount again, working from the back and landed heavy strikes the entire time. There was no referee stoppage despite Striegl taking an unanswered beating, leaving McLaren to close the show on his own, and that he did, battering Striegl enough to lower his defenses. That gave McLaren the room he needed to secure a rear naked choke. The submission produced a quick tap from Striegl, ending the contest at 3:33 of the third frame.
Eugene Torquero stopped Li Wei Bin after constant pressure for full two rounds eventually prompted a corner stoppage. Torquero and Li wrestled with Toquero working from the back for long portions of the first round. Torquero was briefly able to drag Li to the ground, but the two separated before the end of the bell.
in the second round, Li was able to reverse matters and plant Toquero on his back early, but couldn't do much with it before fortunes and positions were reversed. Torquero was able to reverse position and hold Li in turtle while he pounded from on top, although the degree to which it's effective is debatable. What isn't is that Li's corner saw enough and didn't allow him to continue to the third round.
Elsewhere on the main card, Irina Mazepa was able to secure a unanimous decision victory over Ana Julaton. Julaton, despite having a striking background, decided to largely wrestle Mazepa, which proved an unsuccessful strategy as the Russian was able to both stop the takedown attempt and score with her strikes on the outside, especially the outside lead leg kick.
Angela Lee scored a rear naked choke victory over Lena Tkhorevska in a back and forth battle that saw both competitors attempt all manner of dominant positions, heel hooks and other submissions. Eventually, however, Lee was able to use her superior positional control skills to work to the back, secure the choke and win the contest. The end came at 3:26 of the second round.
Full ONE Championship 35 results are available here.
ONE Championship 35 took place at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. The event was marred by the death of Yang Jian Bing, a Chinese flyweight who was scheduled to face Geje Eustaquio on the card. Prior to the weigh-ins on Thursday, however, he was rushed to the hospital for severe dehydration related to weight cutting complications, prompting ONE Championship to cancel his bout with Eustaquio from the card. He was later pronounced dead on Friday "due to cardiopulmonary failure," the organization said in a statement. Further details about the circumstances regarding Bing's death are being collected.