The main event battle at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR is an intriguing one on paper. ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin Nguyen is returning to the cage after missing nearly a year with a knee injury.
Immediately upon his return, he will be defending his title against former champion Narantungalag Jadambaa, a 43-year-old Mongolian martial arts pioneer and legend. There is enough there to be excited about without the rest of the main card.
However, on April 12, there will be six bouts that precede Nguyen-Jadambaa on the main card. At least five of them has a chance to steal the show from the main event.
Eric Kelly Vs. Kwon Won Il
Originally, Kelly was supposed to close out the preliminary card with what promised to be an epic battle between him and China’s Kai Tang. The latter has been replaced on the card by South Korea’s “Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il, who has much less experience, but still possesses a fan-friendly style. The 36-year-old Kelly needs a win in the worst way. He has lost five bouts in a row and every one of those losses has come by stoppage.
Another loss, especially in front of his countrymen in the Philippines, just isn’t what Kelly wants to accept. As usual, Kelly will want to take the action to the ground where his grappling and overall experience can take control of the bout. That initial battle to dictate the identity of the match could be fascinating, and the deciding factor in this bout.
Edward Kelly Vs. Sung Jong Lee
The 35-year-old younger brother of Edward has been alternating wins and losses for the past two years, and he has a very winnable bout in front of him against Sung Jong Lee. Like his brother, Edward likely wants to perform well at home.
Lee is a powerful competitor but has usually made a mistake in each of the four losses that have cost him the match. He cannot afford to be careless against “The Ferocious” Kelly. The latter has every motivation to make a statement in this match. If Kelly can win and get the finish, expect the Mall of Asia to erupt.
Luis Santos Vs. James Nakashima
Here is where the card could get really good. American James Nakashima comes into his battle with veteran Brazilian striker Luis Santos with an undefeated record. A title shot could be on the line for the winner of this bout. Oddly enough, Nakashima has never had a finish in his mixed martial arts career, and but there is no better time than this event to get his first.
Obtaining that will be anything but easy. Santos is one of the most accomplished strikers in the sport and despite his advanced age of 39, he is still a formidable opponent. Santos would love to fight off being saddled with gatekeeper status, but Nakashima would like to blow through the gates and up to the next level in ONE’s welterweight division.
We’ll find out a lot about both men by the time this one is over.
Tatsumitsu Wada Vs. Gustavo Balart
There is a great deal at stake in the Tatsumitsu Wada-Gustavo Balart bout. It is the final ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Quarter-final match. The winner will have the privilege and task of taking on all-time great Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in the next round. Johnson submitted Yuya Wakamatsu in his quarterfinal match on 31 March in Japan at ONE: A NEW ERA. Because of Johnson’s global stardom, the winner of the Wada-Balart battle will find themselves under a more intense microscope than they’ve experienced throughout their careers.
Wada is by far the more experienced mixed martial artist with 33 professional bouts under his belt. He’s also competed with ONE Championship three times prior to his bout in The Philippines. However, Balart is an Olympic wrestler from Cuba who has made a mark with an 8-1 record. His ground game is on another level and Wada will have to do everything in his power to keep his back off the canvas.
This could be one of the more tactical bouts on the evening.
Joshua Pacio Vs. Yosuke Saruta
After a competitive and high-octane initial meeting in January that resulted in late-replacement Yosuke Saruta dethroning Joshua “The Passion” Pacio at ONE: ETERNAL GLORY. This bout will be the rematch and both men are determined to take home the victory.
Something has to give for Pacio. He has never lost at the Mall of Asia in his career. The proud Filipino warrior is hoping to use the energy from his home fans to regain his title.
Japan’s Saruta doesn’t simply want to retain the title almost no one gave him a chance to win, he wants to win even more emphatically than he did the first time when he prevailed by decision.
“I won by decision last time, so this time I want to finish, and I want people to understand how strong I am,” the 31-year-old World Champion says.
“Last time, I couldn’t fight like I imagined – there wasn’t much ground game. I couldn’t do damage and finish.
“This is a sport, so winning by decision is still a win, but I want to knock him out this time.”
Will Saruta get his wish or will the Passion even the series at 1-1?