Dragons are mythical creatures often associated with power, majesty and prosperity. They breathe fire and stand strong in battle. They do not fall easily. In that way, they are the perfect symbolic representation of mixed martial artists, who are willing to put it all on the line in battle. These fighters may not breathe fire, but their fists and grappling skills provide them with lethal weapons with which they can vanquish their foes.

ONE FC 18, dubbed “War of Dragons,” features a number of fighters who can be quite dangerous when unleashed inside the cage. They may be far more diminutive than the typical dragon, but such fighters as headliners Eric Kelly and Rob Lisita, lightweights Rafael Nunes and Koji Ando and bantamweights Yusup Saadulaev and Koetsu Suzuki stand just as tall on the field of battle. On July 11, at ONE FC’s first show in Taiwan, these six men look to move one step closer to a title shot.

They’re joined by a lineup that also features a number of prospects seeking to climb the ladder to contention in ONE FC. There are heavyweights Chi Lewis Parry and Paul Cheng, who compete in separate bouts with the hopes of throwing their hats in the ring for a heavyweight title bid. There’s Bala Shetty, a decorated Muay Thai fighter who is looking to make a successful transition to mixed martial arts. And there’s Jake Butler, an Evolve MMA product and NCAA Division I wrestler who hopes to rebound from his first career loss.

The 10-fight card, which takes place at the National Taiwan University Sports Center in Taipei City, will air live via online pay-per-view. The action gets underway July 11 at 5:30 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 Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson, who share their opinions for all 10 bouts from the card.

BW: Yusup Saadulaev (12-3-1) vs. Koetsu Okazaki (9-3-1)

Tatum: Russia’s Yusup Saadulaev has found mixed results in his four appearances in the ONE FC cage, but he’s no stranger to playing spoiler. Although he fell short against current UFC fighter Leandro Issa and hard-hitting Kevin Belingon in his first two appearances with the promotion, he’s bounced back with a slick submission win over Ryan Diaz and an upset over Adriano Moraes. Saadulaev now lives and trains in the United States out of Uflacker Academy outside Chicago. He possesses a solid wrestling base to complement a strong submission arsenal. His stand-up is a work in progress, but he does own a highlight-reel knockout over Hideo Tokoro.

The 35-year-old Koetsu Okazaki has been competing in MMA for over a decade. After fighting sparingly under the Shooto banner for the majority of his career, Okazaki has been much more active since signing with ONE FC. This fight will mark his third outing in just over a year. Okazaki is very much a grinder who is difficult to put away. Six of his nine wins have come on the scorecards and he’s gone the distance with ONE FC champion Bibiano Fernandes and recent title challenger Masakatsu Ueda. Okazaki has only been stopped by rising talent Hiromasa Ogikubo.

This fight is likely to be a war of attrition. Both fighters are durable and have faced strong competition. Saadulaev has more tools to finish the fight, but Okazaki is too experienced to let that happen. Saadulaev walks away with a hard-fight decision win.

Henderson: Okazaki didn’t just go the distance with Fernandes, but he did so in a five-round affair. His loss to Ogikubo came in a rematch of a fight Okazaki won. And Ueda? Well, the man is a top bantamweight who can grind out almost anyone on the scorecards. The Japanese fighter has also tallied a number of decision wins, albeit slim ones, over a healthy list of veteran opponents.

Can Saadulaev really compare? Sure, he plays the spoiler on occasion, as he did when he eked out a split verdict over Moraes and slammed Tokoro for the knockout, but he suffered decision losses to Issa and Rodolfo Marques Diniz and lost via TKO to Belingon. Dig deeper and there’s only one other fight where Saadulaev overcame an opponent with a winning record. His list of victims includes an 0-10 fighter and, most recently, a fighter who was making his pro debut and now carries an 0-2 mark. That’s not very impressive.

Okazaki stands out as a more proven warrior who has consistently fought opponents with winning records, including some of the best the world has to offer. If he could last five rounds with Fernandes, then there’s no way Saadulaev finishes him with anything but a fluke slam knockout or something of the variety. Okazaki, a talented striker, will outpoint his 29-year-old foe en route to a decision win.

LW: Rafael Nunes (10-0) vs. Koji Ando (9-3-2)

Henderson: Rafael “Indio” Nunes has an undefeated mark through 10 fights, but he has been out of action for more than a year now. He’ll return to put his spotless record on the line against Japanese veteran fighter Koji Ando.

Nunes, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt, has demonstrated that there’s more to his game than just submissions. He has forced five opponents to tap, but he has also used strikes to finish off four foes. That’s an excellent mix of striking and grappling, but he’s victimized opponents on the regional circuit, primarily in Brazil, thus far. True, a number of the 26-year-old’s victories came over seasoned vets, some of whom sported winning records, but ONE FC provides Nunes with a much tougher task in the form of Ando.

Ando does continue ONE FC’s trend of bringing in fighters who might be a tad bit rusty. Whereas Nunes last competed in June 2013, Ando’s last fight dates back to April 2013. The veteran has made stops in GCM, Sengoku, Road FC and Legend FC, but, like Nunes, he’ll be making his ONE FC debut when the promotion heads to Taiwan this weekend. The 29-year-old has a background in judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but his resume, which contains three wins by some form of knockout and three victories via submission, suggests that he has the well-rounded game to match Nunes. Unlike his adversary, though, Ando has tasted defeat. However, he has yet to be stopped. His three losses came via unanimous, majority and split decision. Ando benefited from a Jadamba Narantungalag ankle injury to pick up a win in his most recent outing. In his previous two contests, he feasted on Rob Hill and Damien Brown, a pair of down-on-their luck fighters who have lost more than they’ve won in their last 10 respective bouts.

Ando might have three losses and a pair of draws on his record, but he’s going to present a real challenge for Nunes. In order to be most effective, the Brazilian will need to get Ando to the mat, but that’s easier said than done. Ando is a threat to score the TKO victory, and his takedown defense could stifle Nunes’ attack. Nunes isn’t likely to score a finish, either, which leaves this as a contest where one man will have to outpoint the other. With that in mind, the advantage goes to Ando, who will claim a decision by the slimmest of margins.

Tatum: One thing that my colleague failed to mention is that Nunes has never fought outside of his native Brazil. Bryan is right, though: he’s feasted on his countrymen, and at just 26, he’s certainly a bright prospect for the promotion.

As Bryan suggested, Ando’s skill set is extremely well rounded. He’s comfortable anywhere, and with his judo base, he has the ability to dictate where the fight takes place. That’s a huge luxury against fighters who don’t come from a wrestling background. Although he’s been on the shelf for a while, his run under the Legend FC banner was impressive, especially his reverse triangle choke submission of Brown.

In short, my fellow panelist nailed this fight on the head. Ando’s durability is too much to ignore. Nunes may have impressed thus far, but he’s going to run into a wall in his promotional debut. Ando takes this one on the scorecards.

FW: Eric Kelly (10-1) vs. Rob Lisita (14-5)

Tatum: A title shot against Koji Oishi will be on the line when Australia’s Rob Lisita takes on Filipino submission machine Eric Kelly.

Lisita has hit his stride over the last two years, reeling off seven wins in his last eight outings, including five finishes. The 31-year-old Phuket Top Team product avenged his lone loss over that stretch in his ONE FC debut with a 28-second destruction of Yusuke Kawanago. Equally impressive was Lisita’s submission over longtime Japanese veteran Takeshi Inoue in his previous outing. The Australian has a strong grappling game, but his time in Thailand is paying off in the striking department. He’s now finished three of his last four wins via strikes.

Kelly, meanwhile, is a lethal submission artist. The Filipino fighter has gone 3-1 inside the ONE FC cage, while bouncing back and forth between URCC in the Philippines. Although eight of his 10 wins have come via tapout, Kelly’s signature win came on the feet, as he stopped former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver with a nasty body kick at ONE FC 5. Kelly’s lone defeat came via injury against Honorio Banario.

Although Lisita has a solid grappling game, this fight will feel like a traditional striker vs. grappler match-up. Lisita will look to keep the fight standing and showcase his ever-improving stand-up attack, while Kelly will want this fight on the mat as quickly as possible. Lisita has faced much tougher competition throughout his career, including three recent UFC veterans. The Aussie will use that experience to keep Kelly at range, setting up a third-round TKO.

Henderson: It’s impressive the amount of momentum Lisita has picked up since the start of 2013. After a decision loss to Kawanago, the Australian fighter turned things around and picked up notable wins over Rodolfo Marques Diniz and the aforementioned Inoue. Then he avenged his loss to Kawanago.

Although Kelly has an impressive record and only lost a fight because of an injury, his level of competition really leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, he beat Pulver, but we’re not talking about Pulver circa 2001. The decision victory over Bae Yong Kwon is the most significant win on his resume. His submission arsenal is excellent, but Kelly was willing to stand with Banario for more than three rounds. Lisita might not have such a difficult time convincing Kelly to engage in a firefight.

Lisita is a surging contender who has put together quite the recent run. Kelly is another challenge for him, but it’s a challenge Lisita should be able to overcome. We’ll see some grappling in this contest, but Kelly will likely oblige Lisita in keeping this fight vertical. Lisita will get the better of the exchanges and eventually score the TKO finish.

Quick Picks
FW: Nathan Ng (0-0) vs. Florian Garel (2-3)

Henderson: Nathan Ng, a San Francisco-based model and fighter, makes his professional debut against Florian Garel, a Zendokai Karate champion who hasn’t exactly translated his success in a traditional martial art into success in the cage. Garel, who has fought roughly once a year since his 2009 debut, has glaring weaknesses in his ground game, which has led to three submission losses. That doesn’t bode well for the French fighter as he prepares to take on Ng, who has spent time at 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu while training for this bout. Ng wins via first-round submission.

Tatum: Garel may have experience on his side, but his three losses—all in the first round—are a huge red flag. All the striking skills in the world won’t help if a fighter can’t stay off the mat and avoid getting tapped out. Ng may be green, but there’s a clear recipe to follow when fighting Garel. I’ll echo Bryan’s prediction and take Ng via submission in the first stanza.

WW: Bala Shetty (0-0) vs. Jeff Huang (3-1)

Tatum: Sparks should fly in this welterweight affair as eight-time Indian Muay Thai champion Bala Shetty makes his MMA debut against hometown fighter Jeff Huang. Huang is a veteran of PRO Fighting and RUFF. Given his two wins via strikes, as well as his lone loss, Huang is likely to stand and trade with the decorated striker Shetty. That will be his undoing, however. Shetty by second-round TKO.

Henderson: Huang credits his interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a motivating factor in his career change from investment consulting to full-time fighting, but his base is karate and he certainly does like to stand and trade. Even his lone submission win came courtesy of his striking attack and a failed takedown attempt by his opponent. Huang didn’t demonstrate an efficient takedown game of his own in that affair, which is something he could use against a striker of Shetty’s caliber. I, too, see Shetty getting the better of Huang on the feet for the TKO finish.

HW: Chi Lewis Parry (5-0) vs. Alain Ngalani (1-1)

Henderson: Chi Lewis Parry and Alain Ngalani first met at ONE FC 16. An accidental knee to the groin resulted in a no-contest conclusion to that affair, bringing us to their ONE FC 18 rematch. Parry projects to be one of ONE FC’s best heavyweights. The 6-foot-9 fighter has picked up three victories by some form of knockout and two wins via submission. Ngalani, meanwhile, was overwhelmed by strikes in his second pro outing. I predicted a first-round, ground-and-pound finish for Parry at ONE FC 16, and I’ll renew that prediction for their rematch.

Tatum: At 39 years of age, Ngalani’s fighting career has a limited shelf life. The Cameroon native looks the part of a killer thanks to his chiseled frame, but his follow-up to a 31-second, highlight-reel knockout of Mahmoud Hassan was an embarrassing beatdown loss. Given Parry’s lengthy frame and penchant for the early finish, I have no reason to pick against Parry or my colleague. Parry stops Ngalani via strikes early in the first stanza.

LHW: Mohamed Ali (9-6) vs. Jake Butler (3-1)

Tatum: American light heavyweight Jake Butler has spent his entire MMA career under the ONE FC banner, but the promotion isn’t letting the Evolve MMA product have an easy fight following the first loss of his career last October. Egypt’s Mohamed Ali is a veteran of both Cage Warriors and EFC Africa. He is a knockout artist with six of his nine wins coming via strikes. Ali holds a win over Sylvain Potard, the man who knocked out Butler last fall. Butler’s road will get even tougher, as Ali hands him his second straight knockout loss.

Henderson: I don’t know if I’d cite Ali’s victory over Potard as support for the theory that Ali beats Butler. That fight involved a finish where Potard was cut open and the referee stepped in and stopped it before Ali had convincingly put Potard away. Furthermore, Potard, a judoka, used some very wrestling-centric takedowns to put Ali on the mat, but he simply couldn’t capitalize and allowed Ali to escape to his feet too quickly. Butler is an NCAA Division I wrestler who serves as a wrestling coach at Evolve MMA. Unless he comes in with a completely flawed strategy, his first, second and third priorities should be to take Ali down, keep him there and grind away. Ali is a wild striker who tends to stalk his opponents and rush in. Butler should be able to change levels when he sees Ali press forward. Once he secures the takedown, Butler will have to keep Ali from using his legs to push off and gain separation. If Butler can keep Ali on his back, the Evolve MMA fighter should be able to seek the finish. Butler will secure the TKO victory.

LW: Rayner Kinsiong (2-0) vs. Zhang Zheng Jie (2-0)

Henderson: Rayner Kinsiong and Zhang Zheng Jie, a pair of undefeated lightweights, square off in a battle where only one man can emerge with his unblemished record intact. Jie took nearly two years to amass two pro fights, but he claimed submission wins on both occasions. His Malaysian foe claimed both of his pro victories in the span of eight days in late 2013. Kinsiong is a third-degree karate black belt and former South East Asian karate champion. He has scored one amateur win and one pro victory via knockout, but he also has a submission win as a pro. Jie, on the other hand, tends to be stronger on the mat. Jie is going to look for the takedown early in this fight, but Kinsiong, a fast finisher, won’t give Jie the chance. Kinsiong will stuff Jie’s first shot and connect for a knockout finish.

Tatum: Based on the resumes of both of these fighters, don’t blink when the cage door shuts. Both men fight like they’ve got a place to be, as none of their four combined fights have made it past the first round. In fact, Kinsiong has spent just 42 seconds in the cage in his two wins. As Bryan said, Jie is going to want to get this to the ground as quickly as possible, but he’s going to struggle to get a hold of the karate stylist. Kinsiong connects with a counter uppercut as Jie tries to shoot, ending this fight within the first two minutes.

BW: Nicholas Lee (2-1) vs. Sung Ming Yen (2-1)

Tatum: Singapore’s Nick “Diaz” Lee has a lot to live up to, given his moniker. He scored first-round submission wins in his first two fights under the Ultimate Beatdown promotion in Malaysia, but fell in his last outing. Taiwan’s Sung Ming Yen is a veteran of Legend FC and also holds a lightning-fast submission to his credit, but he also suffered a 44-second TKO loss in his last outing. For the sake of the fans, let’s hope this fight hits the mat and these two bantamweights can twist each other into knots. Look for Lee to submit Yen via rear-naked choke in round two.

Henderson: The 20-year-old Lee is moving up from flyweight for this affair, but he’ll have the benefit of training with Yen’s former coach, Major Overall. Yen, who checks in at age 34, has been training in multiple disciplines for half of his life. Neither fighter has succeeded against the best competition they’ve faced, but they should make for an excellent pairing against each other. I’ll go with size and experience when disagreeing with my colleague on the outcome of this contest. Yen will work his way to a decision win in a back-and-forth fight.

HW: Mahmoud Hassan (1-3) vs. Paul Cheng (4-1)

Henderson: Egypt hasn’t exactly been a breeding ground for top MMA talent, and Mahmoud Hassan’s 1-3 pro mark makes it clear that he’s not going to be the man to change that fact. “Hellboy” is on a three-fight skid after winning his pro debut. He’s suffered losses to fellow ONE FC 18 fighter Alain Ngalani and EFC Africa mainstay Ruan Potts, but now he’ll try to get back into the win column against Paul Cheng. Cheng, who handed Ngalani a submission loss, gets the honor of competing in his native Taiwan at an arena that’s only minutes away from where he grew up. The 35-year-old has actually spent most of his career fighting in Canada, where he also competed as a defensive tackle in the CFL. Cheng has two submission victories, but both came via strikes. It’s difficult to look at this match-up and find anything beyond a puncher’s chance for Hassan. Cheng should run through Hassan with little trouble. The former football player takes this fight via knockout.

Tatum: There’s not much to add to Bryan’s assessment of this fight. Cheng is being given a chance to shine in his own backyard against a lesser opponent. Cheng knocks Hassan unconscious within the first round.