This morning, while many American citizens were hard at work—or just goofing off while earning a paycheck—Asian promotion One Fighting Championship was hosting a night of fights halfway around the globe.
The event, titled “Pride of a Nation” and available in the United States via internet streamed pay-per-view at 8:30 a.m. ET, featured a bantamweight that almost signed with the UFC, a trio of Gracies, three former UFC champions and another UFC veteran, and some of the best fighters from the host nation of the Philippines.
It was one of the most significant shows in Asian MMA since the demise of Pride and the disappearance of Dream and Sengoku. But what did we learn from this event? Well, let’s take a look…
There’s no denying that Rolles Gracie’s only Octagon appearance was atrocious. But in the time before and the time since, Rolles has been extremely effective, as well as undefeated. Rolles had his way with Bonello for more than two rounds at One FC 5. He timed his takedowns perfectly, controlled much of the match from top position, and was not plagued by the lack of cardio that turned his UFC debut into a complete disaster. Despite that poor showing against Joey Beltran in the Octagon, perhaps the UFC should have put more trust in the Gracie name. However, UFC’s loss appears to be One FC’s gain, and the partnership gives Rolles the opportunity to continue to repair the damage done in his lone UFC outing.
Maybe that earthquake off the shore of the Philippines was a sign. Or maybe that’s the real reason Tim Sylvia couldn’t continue in his tetralogy fight with fellow former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski. Sylvia, who has been petitioning the UFC for another shot, failed to do anything to demonstrate that he’s committed to making it happen. He was far from being in top shape coming into the fight, and both his and Arlovski’s performances left the impression that neither former champ can still hang in the upper echelon of the division. In the end, Arlovski threw a soccer kick to Sylvia’s head, a move that is only legal when the referee says it is—talk about an odd rule—and Sylvia, despite seeming to be fine, refused to continue, instead opting to take the DQ win where he otherwise likely would have been headed for a TKO loss. We all know Sylvia blew his chance to prove something to UFC President Dana White after his Strikeforce snubbing, but the question is whether Sylvia is delusional enough to think that a win, regardless of circumstances, adds to his argument for another trip to the Octagon.
There was a time when the UFC’s strategy for the Filipino market involved Brandon Vera. Maybe the UFC should have turned to Team Lakay instead. The camp had three of its biggest names on the One FC 5 card, and two of them delivered. Although Kevin Belingon lost a unanimous decision to South Korean fighter Soo Chul Kim, his teammates claimed victories and title bids.
In the co-headliner, Eduard Folayang, the Philippines’ MMA equivalent to boxing legend Manny Pacquaio, coasted to a unanimous decision win over Felipe Enomoto. Folayang came close to ending the fight in the second round, but Enomoto was saved by the bell. The win earns Folayang a shot at the promotion’s 155-pound title on Oct. 6 in Singapore against champion Zorobabel Moreira.
Meanwhile, Honorio Banario scored a third-round TKO of Andrew Benibe in the opening bout of the night. The victory secures Banario his own Oct. 6 title clash, as he’ll fight fellow One FC 5 victor Eric Kelly for the 145-pound crown.
The former UFC lightweight champion showed glimmers of hope in the opening stanza of his fight with Eric Kelly, but the second round brought a cruel dose of reality, as Kelly hurt Pulver and then finished him. Pulver talks about retirement, but for fighters like him, it’s sometimes hard to put down the gloves. Until he does, his fans will be left in the same situation that fans of fighters like Chuck Liddell know all too well—the feeling of impending doom even during moments of the fight where the beloved veteran is doing well.
One FC managed to ink Bibiano Fernandes, seducing him away from what appeared to be an inevitable signing with the UFC. Fernandes picked up a unanimous decision win over Gustavo Falciroli at One FC 5 and is one of the crown jewels of One FC’s roster, alongside Shinya Aoki.
But what’s even better for the promotion is that it used its fifth event to set up its sixth with a pair of fights featuring popular Filipino names. The promotion pitted Eric Kelly against Jens Pulver, creating a situation where Kelly could instantly add a big name to his resume, and once Kelly secured victory, the promotion revealed that he would fight fellow countryman Honorio Banario on Oct. 6. One FC also used Eduard Folayang’s victory as an opportunity to award him with a title shot on the same upcoming event.
Fights like these, plus proper usage of stars such as Fernandes and Aoki can only help One FC rise to claim the Asian MMA throne. Meanwhile, in order to keep up international momentum, the organization needs to find a more effective way of promoting its events. Fans in the United States didn’t feel as much anticipation for this event as they should have, and an 8:30 a.m. ET start date for the stream on a work day definitely didn’t help. Whereas One FC’s matchmaking improved with this event and its ability to set up fights for its upcoming show also benefits growth, the promotion still has work to do in terms of getting fans properly hyped up for an event. Once it gets that part of the equation right, One FC will truly have a chance at taking off as a major promotion.
Photo: Rolles Gracie (Andreas Sema/Sherdog)