It was only fitting that ONE Championship’s debut in Japan would feature one of the country’s favorite sons in a starring role.
At age 35, MMA legend Shinya Aoki (43-8, 1 NC) added to his impressive list of accolades, recapturing the ONE lightweight (170-pound) championship by defeating Eduard Folayang (21-7) in the main event of ONE’s “A New Era” event Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.
This was the second meeting between the two and while their November 2016 encounter saw Folayang end Aoki’s first ONE lightweight reign via third-round TKO, this ending was more in line with Aoki’s recent performances.
“Tobikan Judan” waited until about a minute in to shoot for his first takedown, tying Folayang up against the cage and tripping him to the mat. He quickly transitioned into position for an arm-triangle choke, holding on tightly until Folayang faded and passed out at the 2:34 mark of round one. Just like that, Aoki was a champion again.
2018 was a bounce back year for Aoki as he recorded three straight first-round submissions to get another crack at Folayang. In his post-fight interview, he was his usual bombastic self.
“Being 35, doing what I love to do, having all the troubles, but still doing what I love to do, aren’t you guys jealous of me?,” Aoki said via a translator. “And still tomorrow, I will still go on like this, every day.”
“I have gold printed on my buttocks and real gold on tomorrow too,” he added.
In the evening’s co-main event, ONE strawweight (125-pound) champion Xiong Jing Nan shut down Angela Lee’s dreams of becoming the promotion’s first female fighter to hold titles in two divisions by stopping the atomweight (115-pound) champion with strikes early in round five.
Going by ONE’s scoring system, in which a fight is judged in its entirety as opposed to round-by-round, it looked like “Unstoppable” was well on her way to winning a decision over Jing Nan. Outside of a few impressive flurries by Jing Nan, Lee controlled much of the fight with her grappling.
On more than one occasion, Lee closed the distance and bullied Jing Nan against the cage to set up takedowns and slams. However, as the fight went on, Jing Nan began to throw her hands more freely and it was clear that Lee respected the strawweight champ’s power.
Lee almost had Jing Nan dead to rights in round four, advancing to side control on the mat with plenty of time to work. She used a reverse triangle to set up a deep armbar, but somehow Jing Nan managed to avoid tapping out. The effort left Lee visibly tired heading into the fifth round.
It was in the final frame that Jing Nan showed off her killer instinct, cracking Lee with a straight right to the body that had her bent over in discomfort. Jing Nan followed up with kicks to the body and punches to the head until Lee turned away, signaling that she was done. The official time of the stoppage was 1:37 of round five.
Jing Nan (14-1) has now successfully defended the strawweight championship three straight times and won nine consecutive bouts overall. Post-fight, she acknowledged that she had been in a battle.
“Angela Lee’s a good athlete and you see my cut, so it is a tough fight,” Jing Nan said via a translator. “But also you can see my progress, I really like to train to fight.”
The 22-year-old Lee lost for the first time in her 10-fight pro career.
Burmese star Aung La N Sang kept his good times rolling with a third straight successful defense of the 205-pound title and his sixth straight win overall by once again toppling Ken Hasegawa. The two met in an entertaining tilt last June that ended with N Sang putting Hasegawa away in the fifth. He wouldn’t need nearly as much time in their rematch.
N Sang scored first blood with a just over a minute remaining in round one, earning a flash knockdown with a quick right hand. That didn’t deter Hasegawa from coming forward in round two, but he was gradually broken down by N Sang’s on-point body and leg kicks. Another straight right floored Hasegawa and there was no letting up by N Sang as he followed with ground-and-pound to secure the win 4:41 into the second round.
Post-fight, offered a message of peace for his native Myanmar.
“I pray and I wish for peace in Myanmar,” N Sang said. “Together, if we work together, we can achieve anything.”
N Sang, who also holds a title at 185 pounds, then agreed to a future light heavyweight championship bout against ONE heavyweight titleholder Brandon Vera.
The first championship bout of the evening saw a title change hands, though likely not in a manner that was satisfying to either fighter. Kevin Belingon was defending his bantamweight (145-pound) title in a rubber match against Bibiano Fernandes after taking the belt from Fernandes via split decision last November in a rematch.
Belingon came out fast, swarming on Fernandes, who remained calm and defended well. Later in the opening round, Fernandes rocked Belingon with a hard punch and then later ended the period with ground-and-pound while taking Belingon’s back.
Fernandes opened round two the same way he closed round three, taking Belingon down to the mat. Unfortunately, there was an immediate break in the action as Belingon landed what looked to be an illegal elbow to the back of Fernandes’s head. Fernandes was given plenty of time to recover, but could not regain his bearings and the referee was forced to disqualify Belingon (20-6). Had the bout passed the halfway mark, the judges would have been asked to render a decision, but the foul occurred just 81 seconds into round two.
Definitive win or not, Fernandes (23-4) is once again the ONE bantamweight champion and now holds a 2-1 series lead over Belingon (he defeated Belingon by submission in their first meeting in January 2016).
Two former UFC champions made their ONE debuts to kick off the MMA portion of the card, with Eddie Alvarez facing Timofey Nastyukhin and Demetrious Johnson facing Yuya Wakamatsu. While both Americans entered with their share of fanfare, they exited with vastly different results.
From the start, Nastyukhin (13-4) stalked Alvarez (29-7), not shaken in the slightest by Alvarez’s extensive accomplishments. He traded comfortably with Alvarez, getting the better of the exchanges and taking his time finding the range. When he did, the bout immediately went downhill for Alvarez as he was stung and backed up against the fence by a series of straight punches from Nastyukhin. An overhand right blasted past Alvarez’s defense, putting him down for the count 4:05 into round one.
Alvarez’s fellow American star Johnson (28-3-1) had a much better start to his ONE run as he outworked Wakamatsu (10-4) en route to a guillotine choke submission win at the 2:40 mark of round two. Wakamatsu, a standout from Japan’s Pancrase promotion, hung tough with “Mighty Mouse” through the first five minutes, but could only stay upright for so long before Johnson took control with his wrestling.
Johnson landed knees to a grounded Wakamatsu — something that would have been illegal under the unified rules back in the U.S. — and then attacked with a guillotine to finish the fight.
Alvarez and Johnson’s debuts were part of a pair of ONE tournaments. This is the end of the lightweight grand prix road for Alvarez, while Johnson advances to the semi-finals of the flyweight bracket. Nastyukhin will face unbeaten Hawaiian Lowen Tynes in the lightweight semi-finals, while Johnson awaits the winner of the Tatsumitsu Wada-Ivanildo Delfino flyweight matchup.
The main card opened with a kickboxing bout between world champions Andy Souwer and Yodsanklai Fairtex. In rematch 11 years in the making, it was Yodsanklai who scored the biggest shot in the second round, landing a straight right that put Souwer down against the cage. Dazed, Souwer was unable to answer the referee’s count (although there was some protest after) and the bout was waved off 51 seconds into round two.
With the win, Fairtex avenged a decision loss to Souwer dating back to March 2008.