Ben Askren (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)Sparring Session: ONE FC 16 ‘Honor & Glory’ The MMA Corner Staff May 26, 2014 Events, Previews, Spotlight He dominated the Bellator welterweight division, marching through a tournament and capturing the crown by his seventh professional fight. After winning the title, he scored five more victories, including four successful title defenses. He never lost that belt. Ben Askren might not have endeared himself to fans with his grinding brand of wrestling, but he demonstrated complete dominance inside the Bellator cage before his contract with the promotion came to an end. He left as the champ after Bellator opted not to re-sign him. He migrated to Asia when the UFC also passed on pursuing his services. Now, Askren is ready to set foot inside the ONE FC cage at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore and prove that he is among the best welterweights in the world. Askren will do so opposite sambo champion Bakhtiyar Abbasov in the headlining bout of ONE FC 16: Honor & Glory. It might not be a title fight quite yet, but champion Nobutatsu Suzuki can certainly hear Askren’s footsteps approaching. Askren’s fight headlines a card that also features notables such as Caros Fodor, Jadamba Narantungalag, Honorio Banario and Eddie Ng. The card will air live via online pay-per-view. The action gets underway on May 30 at 5 a.m. ET. For this event, The MMA Corner moved the round table out of the room, swept the floors and strapped on the gloves for a one-on-one sparring session between writers Neil Rooke and Bryan Henderson, who share their opinions for all 10 bouts from the card. LW: Willy Ni (15-8) vs. Caros Fodor (8-4) Henderson: There was a time when Caros Fodor was riding high in Strikeforce, but that time seems like a distant memory as he heads into this fight with Willy Ni. Fodor entered the Strikeforce cage as a 2-1 fighter in 2010 and quickly put his name on the map over the following year and a half with five straight wins. The exclamation point on that streak came when he dropped Justin Wilcox via knockout in just 13 seconds. Then, Fodor encountered Pat Healy. Healy submitted Fodor in the third round of their fight, and the loss kicked off a rough patch in which Fodor lost his UFC debut to Sam Stout, then went 1-1 under the ONE FC banner. The former 7-1 prospect is now an 8-4 fighter who has lost three of his last four. Ni might laugh at the suggestion that Fodor has fallen on hard times. The Team No Mercy fighter could tell him a thing or two about the experience of seeing an impressive record torn to shreds. Ni debuted in 2003 at age 16 and went 14-1 through his first 15 fights. The bottom fell out after that. Beginning in 2006 with a loss to Johnny van Straten, Ni sputtered through a 1-7 stretch extending to late 2013. Now 27 years old, the Netherlands-based fighter has only fought twice since 2007, and his September 2013 loss to fellow ONE FC 16 fighter Vincent Latoel marks his lone appearance since 2009. The cynic in me looks at Ni’s record and long stretch of inactivity and sees nothing more than a showcase fight here for Fodor. The problem is that Fodor hasn’t exactly taken advantage of his new ONE FC digs. Yes, he managed to grind out a win over Seung Ho Yang in his promotional debut, but he faltered against Vuyisile Colossa in his sophomore ONE FC outing. Colossa was able to maintain the edge in the stand-up department against Fodor, and it was enough to grant the Muay Thai specialist a victory. Ni could very well follow suit, which makes this a more interesting fight than it might have seemed at first glance. Ni trains at Melvin Manhoef’s gym, which should provide him with the striking savvy to exploit the same holes that Colossa found in Fodor’s game. Unlike Manhoef, however, Ni is a grappler who has scored nine of his wins by way of submission and only three by some form of knockout. Yet, he might not want to take this fight to the mat against Fodor, an AMC Pankration product who has three submission wins as a pro and many more as an amateur. That leaves Ni with little option other than copying Colossa’s blueprint. Fodor, however, has the power to score a knockout and the grappling acumen to come away with the submission win. Fodor has been more of a grinder lately, but Ni does represent the quality of competition that the Washington native encountered and topped regularly earlier in his career. Despite the time Ni has spent training at Manhoef’s gym, it’s still difficult to picture him walking away with a victory, even against the sliding Fodor. Ni, who has lost to UFC veteran Dan Hardy, has suffered setback after setback against opponents with varying levels of experience and subsequent career success. Meanwhile, the wins on Ni’s record have often come against fighters under the .500 mark. As damaging as Fodor’s recent 1-3 stretch has been to his reputation as a prospect, he’s still the far superior fighter in this affair. It’s Fodor’s fight to lose, but the Strikeforce and UFC vet will put forth enough offense to earn the decision victory. Rooke: This fight, as my colleague suggested, appears to be a chance for Fodor, who at one stage was regarded as one of ONE FC’s premier signings, to get back into the swing of things. As a rule, though, just because a fighter has Strikeforce and UFC fights on their resume, it doesn’t make a win a sure thing. Fodor couldn’t find his ground against an eager Colossa, and he needs to make an impression when he tackles his first bout of 2014. Ni did not have a good run in 2007, and that’s putting things lightly. With a seven-fight losing streak on his hands, he comes across Fodor, who is going to be desperate to get another win under the ONE FC banner. Ni didn’t have a half bad start to his career, going undefeated in his first eight appearances and fighting at a relatively young age. With the majority of his wins coming by way of submission, I wouldn’t rule out Ni trying to wrap this up early on the ground, but he will have to be able to do it from his back—Fodor will start slow, but once he finds his range, he’ll take this fight to the mat. The difference in this fight is going to come down to who wants it more. It might sound like a cliché, but that’s the truth. Ni hasn’t had the taste of victory in over seven years and that can be tough to overcome. Granted, he hasn’t been that active over that time, and that’s another alarm bell. I wouldn’t expect these two to go the distance. Look for Fodor to drag Ni to the mat and finish with strikes in the first round. Fodor’s sole mission in this fight will be to make a statement, and it’s not going to look good if he doesn’t finish Ni. FW: Jadamba Narantungalag (8-3) vs. Honorio Banario (8-3) Rooke: This will mark the long-awaited return to competition for Jadamba Narantungalag, who suffered a broken ankle at Legend FC 11 back in April 2013. Narantungalag is a former Legend FC lightweight champion and is making the drop to featherweight for his ONE FC debut against Honorio Banario. Narantungalag has notable wins over Adrian Pang and the UFC’s Yui Chul Nam. In his return to action, he is going to be eager to show the fans exactly what they have been missing. Banario, who has dropped back-to-back fights to Koji Oishi, looks to get back to his winning ways, but his night isn’t going to be easy. In both of his fights against Oishi, the champion finished him with punches, and his other career loss came by way of submission. Banario is going to have the upper hand in the striking department, but don’t look for him to come out as aggressive as in his previous fights. If he can rush Narantungalag early, he stands a chance at knocking the former Legend FC champion out, but I can see Banario being cautious to open the fight because of his past two defeats. With the exception of his three career losses, Banario hasn’t met a fighter the caliber of Narantungalag, and that is going to show. Banario came out on top against Eric Kelly, who has an impressive resume, but we are going to see a side of Narantungalag that hasn’t been seen before. Narantungalag is used to fighting in a ring, so whilst a cage may be daunting at first, stylistically it will certainly play to his skill set, especially if he can use it to cut Banario off and drag him to the mat. With his devastating loss behind him, Narantungalag’s grappling prowess will see him walk out with the victory. Narantungalag will take Banario to the scorecards as he puts on a dominant display. Don’t expect Narantungalag to keep the action standing too much in this affair. He will be looking for the submission, but he won’t get it. Aggression and submission attempts will do enough to see him secure the bout and have him walk away with a decision in his return. Henderson: My colleague is extremely high on Narantungalag’s chances in this fight, and I can’t blame him. The 38-year-old Mongolian has notched victories over the likes of Akihiro Gono and the aforementioned Nam and Pang. Meanwhile, Banario has gone from featherweight champion to possibly the least successful of the Team Lakay products. Aggression is indeed a big part of Banario’s game, but a cautious approach might not be the answer. Remember, Banario found early success in both of his fights with Oishi through the use of combinations. Oishi got the best of Banario when the Filipino fighter wasn’t applying the pressure. Narantungalag’s MMA record can be misleading. A glance at his ratio of submission wins compared to knockout victories might suggest that he’s a pure grappler. That’s not necessarily the case, though. The Team Tungaa fighter holds the rank of black belt in Kyokushin karate and has dabbled in K-1 kickboxing, though his mark there sits at 4-6. In the grappling arts, he is a second dan black belt in judo and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’ll definitely lean toward his grappling edge, but he isn’t completely out of his realm should the two fighters remain standing. Narantungalag did suffer a knockout loss in his pro debut, but that defeat came nearly a decade ago to a prime Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. Narantungalag was able to best Nam, a striker, via submission. He also packed enough power to score a huge knockout of Kazunori Yokota. Those fights prove that he poses a similar threat to Banario as the Team Lakay fighter faced in Oishi. If Narantungalag is able to get this fight to the ground, he will be able to find the submission—Banario lasted all of 56 seconds on the ground with Bae Yong Kwon. The Mongolian fighter possesses enough striking prowess to fend off Banario’s attacks and counter with a takedown. Narantungalag won’t have to wait for the scorecards to earn the victory. He’ll wrap Banario up in a submission before the end of the second round. LW: Vincent Latoel (14-14-2) vs. Eddie Ng (7-1) Henderson: Shinya Aoki reigns over ONE FC’s lightweight division, and the race is on among the division’s lightweight title hopefuls to secure a shot at Aoki’s belt. With four wins and no losses under the ONE FC banner, Eddie Ng certainly qualifies among the top ONE FC lightweights eyeing a title bid. In order to remain on course, he’ll have to overcome Vincent Latoel, a veteran fighter competing out of the Golden Glory and Tatsujin Dojo camps. The 28-year-old Ng is among the brightest prospects from Evolve MMA, but his title aspirations may be hampered by the fact that Aoki is his teammate at the Asian gym. Ng, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie, reportedly joined Aoki in turning down UFC contracts to fight for ONE FC. He sports a balanced attack that has resulted in four submission wins, including three via armbar, and three victories by some form of knockout. He has only seen the second round in one of his four ONE FC appearances, and he has a history as a quick finisher throughout his entire pro MMA career, which dates back to 2007. Latoel’s career is far from stunning. He’s a middling 14-14-2 since debuting in 2001. However, his losses have come in difficult fights. Among those who have defeated Latoel, there’s Daniel Weichel, Tom Niinimaki (twice), Bendy Casimir, Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire and, most recently, Eduard Folayang. His last 11 fights have netted him a 3-7-1 mark. The 35-year-old fighter has scored a majority of his victories via submission, but Folayang was able to capitalize on Latoel’s subpar takedown defense to take the win. Latoel is also a bit rusty. He fought twice in 2013, but that pair of outings represent his only fights since 2009, and the only win in that span came against another fighter reemerging from a long period of inactivity. Latoel may have seven submission wins, but the more troubling fact is that 12 of his 14 losses have come by way of submission. If Ng can get Latoel to the ground—it doesn’t seem like it will be a difficult task—then this fight is all but over. Ng’s grappling capabilities far outweigh any defense Latoel can mount. The Evolve MMA product’s performance against Peter Davis, in which he scored a quick takedown, transitioned to mount and secured the submission, is evidence enough of what’s in store for Latoel. Look for the armbar finish to come for Ng in the first round. Rooke: There were a lot of people that didn’t think Ng would finish Davis in his last bout. Davis came in the red-hot favorite, but Ng was able to continue his perfect run of finishing fights early in the first round. It was supposed to be the biggest test of Ng’s career, and he not only passed it, but he did so convincingly. Latoel clearly has the experience edge over Ng going into the fight, with his number of fights being over four times the amount on Ng’s resume. Ask any fighter and they will tell you, experience does play an important part in a fight. However, Latoel’s career has been a mixed bag over the course of his almost 13 years as a professional. He currently sports a .500 record and is 1-1 in his ONE FC run. With his victory in the ONE FC cage coming over Willy Ni, it’s safe to safe that Latoel may be in for another hard day at the office when he faces Ng. Training out of Evolve MMA has given Ng a world of help with his overall MMA game and has allowed him to focus just on training and being the best fighter that he can be. That’s not to say that Latoel doesn’t call a great camp home, but as far as championship caliber in MMA goes, Ng certainly has the upper hand with his training camp. Ng doesn’t go the distance, and with almost all of Latoel’s losses coming by way of submission, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t add another such loss to his record on May 30. Look for Ng to secure an armbar in the first and put on yet another exciting display. WW: Bakhtiyar Abbasov (11-2) vs. Ben Askren (12-0) Rooke: This is the fight that the world has been waiting for. Not so much the match-up against Bakhtiyar Abbasov, but simply Ben Askren’s first fight outside of the United States and under the ONE FC banner. Most people thought that Askren would be shot straight into title contention with his credentials under the Bellator banner, but ONE FC has rightfully decided to give him a fight to showcase his abilities for his new fan base. The obvious advantage that Askren will have over his opponent comes in the wrestling department. There is no doubt about it that as soon as Askren wants to take the fight to the mat, that’s where it is going. What will be interesting is to see when exactly he takes the fight to the ground. I don’t expect Askren to want to shoot straight away. At the moment, Askren is at a superstar level in Asian MMA. Everybody wants to see him fight. The investment that ONE FC has put behind him is unlike that for any other fighter in the promotion, past or present. I suspect Askren will want to give the fans a peek into what to expect in future bouts, and I expect nothing less than a clinic to be on in Singapore. Abbasov comes into the fight riding a nine-fight winning streak, and most of those victories have been first-round stoppages. However, Abbasov hasn’t faced anybody with Askren’s credentials, and that is going to show as soon as the opening bell rings. Kudos to Abbasov for taking a tough fight, but he’s not going to be shocking the world on May 30. Askren will not only win this fight, he will do it decisively. Look for him to showcase different parts of his entire arsenal throughout the first round. It would be easy for him to take the fight to the mat in the opening seconds, but Askren, like all fighters, still wants to make a statement. As the final minute on the clock winds down before the two men would be off to their respective corners, you’ll see a TKO finish that sends Askren to a shot at Nobutatsu Suzuki’s welterweight title later in the year. Henderson: I’m not so sure about Askren’s willingness to stand with Abbasov for any length of time. Askren isn’t exactly the type of fighter who cares what fans think. If he were, he wouldn’t have spent the majority of his time in the Bellator cage riding his opponents en route to decision wins. The four-time NCAA Division I All-American does one thing very well—he wrestles. Does that mean that the fight will hit the scorecards? Not necessarily, but it won’t end in a quick finish. Askren hasn’t ended a fight in the first round since his Bellator debut, in which he submitted Ryan Thomas midway through the opening stanza. Even in their rematch, Askren waited for the scorecards. Abbasov is a highly decorated sambo practitioner who has won five fights via strikes and five contests by way of submission. He can be a threat to Askren wherever this fight takes place, but his history of first-round knockouts stands as the one reason why Askren will rely on his wrestling from the opening bell. There’s always the chance for a flash knockout that would send Askren’s superstar status into a downward spiral. On the ground, though, Askren has demonstrated that he can wear opponents down in dominant fashion while avoiding submissions. This fight preview isn’t so much about predicting a winner as it is about predicting what approach Askren will take to achieve victory. It would be a monumental upset should Abbasov emerge with his hand raised, though stranger things have happened in MMA. Askren won’t concern himself with making any other statement than the one he has made repeatedly throughout his career, which is that he wins fights, no matter what people think of his style. He has had a few recent third- and fourth-round finishes, so a late stoppage isn’t entirely out of the question, but look for Askren to put forth his wrestling clinic while grinding out the decision win. Quick Picks BW: Casey Suire (4-0) vs. Stephen Langdown (1-0) Henderson: The opening fight of the ONE FC card could be among the most intriguing battles of the evening. In one corner, there’s Casey Suire, an undefeated four-fight veteran who didn’t turn pro until his mid-30s. In the other corner, there’s social-media star Stephen Langdown, a fighter in his early 20s who was signed by ONE FC on the basis of a video of him training. Each man has one victory in the ONE FC cage, but the wins came in very different ways. Suire’s was a submission, adding to a pro record that included two additional submissions and a TKO victory. Langdown, making his pro debut, notched his win via strikes. Langdown has impressed in his brief career, but we haven’t seen how he handles takedowns and grappling. He should get tested in those areas by Suire. Langdown has youth on his side, but Suire’s experience and submission skills are difficult to overlook. If Langdown can keep Suire at arm’s length, this fight ends in a knockout win for the youngster. If he can’t, then Suire will find the submission. Given Langdown’s lack of overall experience, I’ll have to lean toward the latter of those outcomes. Rooke: Both fighters have made a successful ONE FC debut, and, as my colleague points out, both victories came in the very first round of their fights. This is Langdown’s second professional bout, whereas Suire has competed four times before. Experience is going to be the key in this fight. Whilst Langdown impressed in his debut, it’s going to be a much bigger test for him when he finds himself in a grappling contest with Suire. Look for Langdown to keep his distance for the opening exchanges as Suire looks to adapt to get the fight to where he is going to be most comfortable. I see this one going to the judges with Suire edging out a victory. Catchweight: Nik Harris (5-2) vs. Brad Robinson (2-0) Rooke: Brad Robinson is poised to make his ONE FC debut, and he does so sporting an undefeated record. Stepping up to face Robinson in a rematch from their bout in 2012 is welterweight Nik Harris, who is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. Harris was successful in his ONE FC debut in November, winning his fight by retirement when his opponent couldn’t continue. The weight difference may be a factor here, with Robinson coming in the bigger fighter. The last time the pair met, the cage was tiny and it didn’t allow for the pair to find their range properly. With more room, we will see the American utilize his grappling a lot better and walk out once again with the decision victory. Henderson: Tiny is an understatement—the cage for their first fight might as well have been a phonebooth. Regardless of the dimensions of the cage, Robinson is the far superior fighter. In their first fight, Harris sought to clinch with Robinson in the first two rounds, but Robinson got the better of Harris in the clinch, attempted standing guillotines and scored takedowns. Harris would benefit from staying on the outside and peppering Robinson with punches, as he did in the early third round of their first meeting. Robinson has a tendency to grind. Against Harris, he spent a significant amount of time in top control—and even mount—without doing a lot of damage. Even if Harris comes in with a different approach and attempts to keep this fight standing, Robinson is going to score takedowns and dominate from the top position. This one is headed the distance, and I, too, like the American for the win. BW: Raymond Tan (2-1) vs. Radeem Rahman (1-0) Henderson: Evolve MMA fighter Radeem Rahman is finally ready to return to action more than two and a half years after his pro debut. Rahman, who is credited as Singapore’s first pro MMA fighter, has a difficult test in front of him. He’ll face Raymond Tan, a bantamweight who stands 5-foot-11. Although Rahman destroyed Susovan Ghosh, the Indian fighter was able to take Rahman down at will, even when he was rocked. Tan, who will be the bigger fighter, has a strong clinch game and should have very little difficulty in planting Rahman on the mat. Once down, Rahman will have to contend with Tan’s ground-and-pound barrages—and that won’t end well for Rahman. Tan will emerge with the TKO victory. Rooke: Rahman’s training pedigree with Singapore’s Evolve MMA theoretically should have him ready for just about any opponent inside the cage. The problem that he is going to have, as my colleague suggested, is that Tan is the much bigger fighter. Training against bigger guys and fighting them are two completely different scenarios, and Rahman is going to see exactly what that is like when he and Tan lock horns. Look for Tan to take the action to the mat quickly and work in his strikes to finish this one up in the late stages of the first round. HW: Chi Lewis Parry (5-0) vs. Alain Ngalani (1-1) Rooke: England’s Chi Lewis Parry makes his ONE FC debut in Singapore sporting an undefeated record with all of his wins coming by stoppages. Alain Ngalani was able to impress in his ONE FC debut with a spinning-heel kick knockout in the very first round, but he succumbed to strikes in his latest outing, which was less than impressive. Parry, who comes in with an impressive record so far in his career, will send Ngalani back to the drawing board again here with an aggressive opening, eventually dragging “The Panther” to the mat. Look for Parry to pick up a first-round, ground-and-pound finish and book himself a date with James McSweeney for the ONE FC heavyweight title. Henderson: James McSweeney and heavyweight title—two things I never thought I’d hear in the same sentence. But I digress. Parry has torn through five opponents with a nice balance of striking and submission finishes. Ngalani, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to maintain an unblemished record, and we’ve seen him overwhelmed by strikes. Parry’s fists should lead him to a quick victory against Ngalani. BW: Xian Ji (11-2) vs. Thanh Vu (3-3) Henderson: There is quite a disparity in the records of bantamweights Xian Ji and Thanh Vu. Vu stands at the .500 mark and has just six fights under his belt, whereas Ji is 13 fights into his career and sports just two losses. Vu has had some tough fights—his ONE FC losses have come against Kevin Belingon and Dae Hwan Kim—and it looks like he’s in store for more of the same against his 26-year-old Chinese opponent. Ji is an aggressive fighter who will press the action, look for takedowns and play a sticky game of top control and submission attempts. Ji has picked up all of his wins via submission, and he’ll continue that trend when he coaxes a tapout from Vu. Rooke: As far as competition levels go, Vu has had quite the tough run in his last two ONE FC bouts. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to get much easier for him as he faces the former Legend FC champion, Ji, who trains out of China Top Team. The return of Ji, a submission specialist, is something that fans have been long awaiting since Legend FC closed its doors in April 2013. Look for Vu to open the fight aggressively, but wind up on his back. That’s Ji’s territory, and Vu will eventually tap out. FW: Major Overall (4-1) vs. Bruno Pucci (3-0) Rooke: With Bruno Pucci and Major Overall boasting all of their professional wins by way of submission, it’s going to be pretty clear where this bout will end up. Pucci has stated that he has been working heavily on his striking in the lead-up to this fight. If the fight hits the ground, the black belt World champion will have the upper hand. It’s not that Overall is a slouch in the grappling department by any means, but Pucci just has better credentials. Look for Pucci to try to finish this one with strikes and follow it up with yet another rear-naked choke victory. Henderson: Evolve MMA’s Pucci is a world-class grappler, whereas Overall enters this bout with a mix of traditional Japanese martial arts, a focus on wrestling and jiu-jitsu and a more recent push to improve his own striking skills. This could be a good opportunity for Pucci to test out his own improving stand-up against another fighter whose striking game is still a work in progress. However, Pucci shouldn’t abandon his submission game. Overall has been submitted once in his MMA career, and Pucci should be able to add to that total. The jiu-jitsu ace will spend the first round on the feet to test out his striking, but he’ll take the fight to the mat as the fight progresses and secure the win via submission.