By Dwight Wakabayashi
ONE Fighting Championship makes its return to the Philippines Friday with a jam-packed fight card with some of the biggest names in mixed martial arts from all around the world. The card is headlined by a fight for the ONE FC featherweight title between champion Honorio Banario and the challenger, Japanese star Koji Oishi.
The main card will also feature an interim bantamweight title fight between Bibiano Fernandes and Koetsu Okazaki, as well as the bantamweight grand prix final between Japanese veteran Masakatsu Ueda and Filipino star Kevin Belingon. ONE FC has put together the most intriguing fight card in its history with names like Phil Baroni, Tim Sylvia and Kamal Shalorus all in action on the card.
The action will start early in North America – the preliminaries get underway at 6:30 a.m. ET. Here is my ONE FC full card preview with predictions for every fight.
Honorio Banario (8-1) vs. Koji Oishi (23-9-10) – featherweight title
The 23-year-old Banario comes in as the champion but this is quite the step up to fight a fighter the calibre of Oishi. The Japanese star is way ahead on the experience meter and has faced much tougher fighters in his career to date. Banario is most comfortable on the ground but his striking is getting better and better each time out.
Oishi is 35 years old and on his last legs in mixed martial arts, and that could be Banario’s only edge in this fight. Oishi is always in tough to find a finish and he will need to grind this fight out for the decision as well. His skills are more complete than Banario’s, but he is not as explosive as the champion is, and will need to stay out of danger and use Banario’s aggression against him to win this fight.
Oishi via decision
Bibiano Fernandes (13-3) vs. Koetsu Okazaki (8-2-1) – interim bantamweight title
With bantamweight champion Soo-Chul Kim on the sidelines, Bibiano Fernandes and Koetsu Okazaki get this opportunity to fight for the interim belt. Fernandes has been pegged as one of the top bantamweight fighters in the world for years now and he remains solid in the top five on most lists, despite not competing in the UFC.
Fernandes currently holds the Dream bantamweight title and spends some of his time training in Vancouver. He has a five-fight winning streak going and is more likely to find a submission finish than a knockout. Okazaki is a fairly inexperienced, 33-year-old Japanese journeyman, who gets this opportunity based more on his toughness and durability rather than his skill. His claim to fame is a tight loss to Masakatsu Ueda.
Fernandes via TKO, Rd 1
Masakatsu Ueda (17-2-2) vs. Kevin Belingon (11-2) – bantamweight grand prix final
Belingon used aggressive striking and power to earn his way to the finals with TKO victories over Yusup Saadulaev and Thanh Vu. This will be one of those fights pitting opposite styles as Ueda is a ground specialist. Ueda is coming off a submission win over Jens Pulver in April. Once again, there is a large difference in age between these two fighters, but in this one I think that Belingon’s youth and aggression will be too much for the veteran grappler.
Belingon TKO, Rd 2
Yasuhiro Urushitani (19-6-6) vs. Rey Docyogen (10-1) – flyweight
Urushitani is coming off a two-fight losing streak in the UFC with losses to Joseph Benavidez and John Lineker sending him out of the UFC and into ONE FC. Urushitani proved that he belonged with his counter-striking and grappling prowess and he will be much too strong for the Filipino Docyogen.
Urushitani via submission, Rd 2
Phil Baroni (15-16) vs. Nobutatsu Suzuki (9-1-2) – welterweight
Baroni is 1-1 in ONE FC and is coming of a decision loss to Hayato Sakurai at Dream 18 on New Year’s Eve. Baroni has only won two of his last eight fights and is definitely hanging on to the last threads of his career. His endurance is always a question and his trademark power is fading. Suzuki is getting long in the tooth as well and is coming off a loss to Keita Nakamura in his last fight. All of his wins have come via knockout and at the very least, this one should be a slugfest.
Baroni via decision
Eduard Folayang (12-3) vs. Kamal Shalorus (7-3-2) – lightweight
Shalorus comes to ONE FC off of three straight losses to some of the toughest fighters in the world in the UFC. He battled hard before being finished in the third round by both Jim Miller and Khabib Nurmagomedov, before falling to a quick submission by Rafael dos Anjos. He gets a large step down in competition against the green Folayang, and his game is too polished and experienced to lose this fight.
Shalorus via TKO, Rd 1
Andrew Leone (5-2) vs. Geje Eustaquio (4-1) – bantamweight
Two fighters looking for experience in this one and Leone has faced the tougher fighters in his career to date. Both fighters have not fought in 2013 and Leone is coming off a loss while Eustaquio has two wins in a row. I’ll take the fighter who has fought tougher guys.
Leone via decision
Lowen Tynanes (4-0) vs. Felipe Enomoto (6-5) – lightweight
Undefeated Hawaiian lightweight Lowen Tynanes will make his second appearance in ONE FC as he submitted Vuyisile Collosa at ONE FC 7 in February. He has been very active this year as he also fought and submitted Kris Armbrister in April to keep his streak going. Enomoto is 1-2 in One FC with two losses in a row dating back to August of last year. Both fighters are very early in their respective careers and offer very little history to go by in this fight. I’ll take the fighter in the winning streak every time
Tynanes via decision
Ryan Diaz (13-13) vs. Yusup Saadulaev (9-3-1) – bantamweight
Canadian Muay Thai champion and MMA journeyman Ryan Diaz has fought and lost to some of the very best in his career including Mark Hominick, Nam Phan and Reuben Duran, and that experience should give him a nice edge in this fight. He is a very good ground fighter but so is his opponent, and he may not want to go gas tank to gas tank against the younger man. Saadulaev has lost two in a row and three of his last four, and must be desperate to turn his career in the right direction.
Saadulaev via decision
Tim Syvia (31-8) vs. Tony Johnson (6-1) – heavyweight
The big boys will open the free portion of the card with former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia getting a chance to climb back up to MMA relevance against a returning Tony Johnson. Sylvia most recently lost a decision to Satoshi Ishii on New Year’s Eve, but he is 3-1-1 in his last five fights. Conditioning and focus is always in doubt when Sylvia takes the cage but his size, reach and powerful right hand should get him through with a win.
Johnson makes his return to fighting after an almost two-year layoff from fighting since he defeated Derrick Lewis at Bellator 46 in June 2011. He will stand and trade with Sylvia and entertain the fans in attendance, but he will get knocked out for his troubles.
Sylvia via KO, Rd 1