Take it from Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon: reputations hardly matter in ONE Championship.
No matter how decorated you are, there’s really not quite like the experience in fighting in The Home Of Martial Arts.
“From experience, one of the biggest adjustments new fighters are going to face when they are entering ONE would be the feeling of settling in as they would be coming into a bigger stage and to a bigger promotion with more diverse and stronger opponents,” he said.
And that’s exactly what Belingon wants Jeremy “The Juggernaut” Pacatiw to understand as the 25-year-old Team Lakay prodigy joins his seniors in Asia’s largest global sports media property.
It’s not just hollow words from a manong, but rather a word of caution from the former ONE Bantamweight World Champion who tread this path before when he was just feeling his way in the promotion.
“I had a shaky start at the beginning of my career with ONE,” Belingon looked back.
The Filipino bantamweight was one of the promising prospects and touted an immaculate 9-0 record when he decided to join ONE Championship in 2012.
But all that glitter was soon shed as in his first fight inside the ONE Circle, Belingon suffered a first round submission loss to Masakazu Imanari of Japan as he was caught on a reverse heel hook and was forced to tap out at ONE: War of Lions.
It was a rude awakening for him, sending Belingon crashing back to earth and led to him refocusing his gameplan, knowing that for anyone to make a mark in ONE, things will have to change.
“As I have tested the waters and experienced first hand how different the breed of sharks is in the promotion, it prompted me to become hungrier like those in the top of the division until I became one of them,” he said.
Six years later, Belingon proved himself worthy to be at the top of the mountain as he scored a split decision win over Bibiano Fernandes at ONE: HEART OF THE LION in November 2018 to capture the ONE Bantamweight World Championship.
It took time, but the valuable lessons from that grueling journey is what Belingon wants to impart to Pacatiw — one that they have already started even before he makes his promotional debut.
“With Jeremy, I believe he has already started to adjust with the ONE arena as he had been accompanying his kuyas that are with ONE when we have fights. I believe that he already knows what’s coming and he is ready for it,” he said.
Pacatiw holds a 10-4 record and is presenting himself as one of the few Team Lakay’s new bloods who are aching to prove that the Baguio-based stable is ready to usher in the next generation of Filipino warriors.
Belingon himself bore witness on how Pacatiw has evolved, noting: “He’s a complete fighter and what I like most is his confidence, his speed, and his power. I think that these are his assets to climb up the rank in ONE Championship. And I think for now, he just needs to focus on his training and his game plan for his upcoming fight.”
But as high as his confidence is on Pacatiw, Belingon warned the upstart never to fall to the traps of complacency.
“Jeremy is now stepping on a bigger stage and I think the biggest challenge for him is on how he’s going to deal with his mindset going into this fight, especially that this is his debut. He has the skills to compete with high level fighters, so he just needs to focus on his game plan to win the game,” he said.
It also should be noted that the bantamweight division in ONE Championship is like no other, with Fernandes at the top of the list and Belingon, as well as John “Hands of Stone” Lineker among the top-ranked contenders in the weight class.
That definitely should tell Pacatiw that thriving here won’t be a cakewalk and he really would have to give it his all every time he steps inside the ONE Circle.
“The difference of this division with the other promotions is that all the fighters in ONE Championship are high-level and skilled athletes. Everyone here is elite, so you really have to step up your game,” said Belingon.
Nonetheless, Belingon couldn’t help but smile seeing this infusion of youth to Team Lakay in ONE Championship, believing truly that the future is now.
“I’m happy and excited for him and the rest of the guys from the team that have joined ONE recently. I can’t wait to see them compete inside the Circle and show the world what the new breed of Team Lakay fighters can bring to the table,” he said.
As for Jeremy, his kuya Kevin has only one piece of advice: “Never stop learning, stay humble, stay motivated, and be confident.”