In March, ONE Championship put on one of its largest, and most important, events in the promotion’s eight-year history. ONE: A NEW ERA seemed like an event unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon. However, the organization pretty much told the mixed martial arts world “hold my beer,” and is now primed to top it with an event so big it is being broken into two parts.
ONE: Century will not only signify the promotion’s jump into triple digit events, but the end to several grand prix tournaments, and place a plethora of championship belts up for grabs.
Few have a greater understanding of ONE’s talent, and the rewards at stake, than the organization’s play-by-play voice Michael Schiavello. “The Voice” gave his thoughts on two key storylines occurring at the first event going down on October 13.
Can Danny Kingad Slay A Goliath ‘Mouse?’
At ONE: Century, inside Tokyo, Japan’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, no athlete on the card will be a bigger underdog than Danny Kingad. “The King” heads into the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix Championship Final to face a competitor many consider the king of current mixed martial arts in Demetrious Johnson.
With Johnson being a legend still in his prime, most consider the result of this match to be a foregone conclusion. Even Schiavello admits trying to sell fans on the bout being highly-competitive is a difficult task at first glance.
“If I’m a salesman, and I’m door-knocking around the country, trying to sell this match to somebody who answers their door, and I explain the background of Demetrious Johnson [and] Danny Kingad, it’s a very hard sell,” Schiavello says.
“Someone would think it’s impossible for me. It’s like trying to sell ice to an Eskimo. How do you sell this young kid, who fought for a world title in 2017 [and] got absolutely trounced by Adriano Moraes in the first round. [He’s currently] on a six-match winning streak [but] there’s no one in that streak of the class of Demetrious Johnson.”
However, Schiavello does shine a few rays of competitive possibility on the bout. For starters, he brings attention to the fact that the winningest champion in history has not had an easy go of it so far in his new home. Although he was victorious in both of his bouts in the tourney, Yuya Wakamatsu and Tatsumitsu Wada gave Johnson all he could handle. Expectations that the long-time pound-for-pound king would run through ONE competition have not proven legitimate.
Something that is legitimate however, is the excellent Wushu stylings of Kingad. Schiavello believes the unusual looks the talent in ONE offer has made Johnson’s transition to Asian mixed martial arts difficult. It’s part of the reason why he feels the 13-1 warrior has a chance, because the Filipino Wushu champion will show “Mighty Mouse” something he’s rarely seen.
“The Beauty of ONE Championship is that there are many raw martial arts styles still in existence that guys are bringing in,” he says.
“Whereas [in the West] it has become very hybrid. You no longer have a guy that’s just Wushu and has a little bit of ground. You no longer have a guy who’s just jiu-jitsu and has a little bit of stand-up. The guys are all so well-rounded. Where you have guys [in ONE Championship] that are bringing in very specific styles, which Demetrious is not used to seeing. He’s got guys coming at him from striking angles that he’s not used to. Against Danny Kingad, that’s a danger. When has Demetrious ever gone against a Wushu champion?”
If those are not good enough reasons to make even the most pessimistic fan start to believe in the impossible, Schiavello points to the “magic” of Mark Sangiao and Team Lakay. The gym that houses current and former champions like Kevin Belingon and Eduard Folayang—as well as Kingad—has been one of the most dominant forces in the organization’s history.
“The only way I can possibly sell it, is by looking at the successes of Team Lakay,” Schiavello says.
“There’s something in the drinking water. Something in the mentality. Something in their prayers. Something in the way they train that no one else does. There’s something in the mind of Mark Sangiao, and all the champions that are around. It’s something that when the odds are stacked against these guys, they come up with the goods. We can’t explain it. I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain the magic. A magician never reveals his tricks. You can’t underestimate them.”
Unique bouts such as this are what excites Schiavello about ONE. Yes, it’s David versus Goliath in terms of resume. Yes, it is a legend versus a rising talent with still much to prove. However, he feels the organization’s old school nature of two very different styles clashing is what brings out the entertaining aspects of ONE Championship.
“I think that’s what makes ONE Championship all the more amazing to watch,” he says. “In a way, it is like a throwback to the old MMA days. Where you had kickboxing versus Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Kung-fu versus Pancrasean. Style versus style. I love it.”
Will “Unstoppable” Be Stopped At Atomweight Too?
Over her first nine bouts, Angela Lee seemed to epitomize her nickname: Unstoppable. Yet, at ONE: A New Era, her run of success came to a stunning end at the hands of ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion Xiong Jing Nan. Starting a chain of events that puts the talented competitor in a difficult position heading into ONE: Century.
The Singaporean—by way of the United States’ Hawaiian Islands—took a shot at being a two-division champ, and saw her dreams shattered with a fifth round comeback by Jing Nan. Many brushed the loss off as an understandable defeat to a larger fighter, and champion of the weight-class. However, after Lee chose to compete at strawweight once again, and lost a second time in a close decision to multi-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Michelle Nicolini, one has to wonder about damage to the 23-year-olds confidence.
Even more so if she were to lose again, back at atomweight, and against the woman who handed Lee her first career loss. Because of this, Schiavello understands that this is a big moment in the young woman’s career.
“Now as far as make or break goes psychologically, you’ve got to ask the question,” Schiavello says.
“You lose three in a row, [and] lose twice to the same woman, what damage does it do psychologically to Angela? And losing in the division where she is known as ‘Unstoppable.’ She’s been unblemished [at atomweight]. Does that break her mentally, and where do she go from there?”
For some, a tune up fight might have been the better decision for Lee after her first, or even second, defeat. Yet what Schiavello appreciates about the atomweight champion—and in his opinion her fans too—is she is always looking to test herself. While some may see her as the attractive face of ONE’s female side of mixed martial arts, the former Dream announcer sees a competitor always in search of facing the best.
“I think that fans respect the fact that Angela’s not stepping in against scrubs,” he says. “She’s not protecting herself. She’s not just some pretty girl who’s a marketing queen. The darling of ONE, and they’re going to put her against tomato cans to pad her record.”
In his opinion, facing a competitor like Jing Nan—a woman he calls a wrecking ball—is the exact opposite of padding a record, and shows Lee is not backing down. Even after two tough loses.
“If you’re a darling, and you’re going to pad your record, you don’t do that,” says Schiavello. “ONE is doing Angela no favors, [and] Angela doesn’t want favors. She wants to prove herself against the best on the roster.”
Although Lee’s 78-percent finishing rate is impressive, Schiavello is equally as impressed by Jing Nan over her career. A major question for the strawweight queenpin is her readiness to go down and compete at a lower weight-class. However, from what he is hearing, she seems on schedule to make weight without any issue. In his estimation, she may be better going down in weight, than Lee was in moving up.
“Having spoken to [Xiong’s coaches], they seem very confident,” he says. “They seem like [the weight-cut is] no problem. She’s had a long time to prepare. It’s not a three or four week preparation, it’s been many months preparation. I think this is a good move for her. At strawweight, she’s the queen [and] a dominant queen. I don’t think there’s a lot of challenges there at the moment. So why not come down and try to become a two-division champion? Which would be huge for her, [and] it would be massive for China. I think Xiong will look better coming down to atomweight than Angela did going up to strawweight.”