Honorio Banario is the URCC lightweight champion and is undefeated in his MMA career. In many ways he is a like for like swap for Eric Kelly, the man he replaced on the card at ONE Fighting Championship 'Battle of Heroes', both have a perfect professional record of 6-0 and both hold belts with the URCC, the most prestigious promotion in the Philippines.
Both come from Baguio as well but the similarities end there. Banario only made his MMA debut in 2010 and has rapidly risen to become one of the best fighters in the Philippines despite being only 22. Kelly, by contrast, has been on the scene for several years and at the age of 29 has almost a decade's experience in various martial arts.
Although Kelly does have strong stand up skills you only need to glance at his record to see that, having submitted every fighter he has ever faced, the ground is where he is at his most dangerous. Banario has represented the Philippines at Wushu and is a very aggressive fighter who has excellent stamina and will wear opponents down and make them quit.
Banario has also competed in the URCC lightweight division, which has an upper limit of 159 lbs, for his entire career whereas Kelly is slightly smaller and has always been a featherweight. These are comparisons that highly rated Korean Bae Young Kwon will be making after seeing the URCC lightweight champion brought in as a replacement for the URCC featherweight champion who is currently dealing with some personal issues.
Although Banario was not expecting to make his ONE FC debut as early as February 11th, when the show at the BritAma Arena in Jakarta takes place, he believes he will be on weight and ready to go come fight night,
"Right now my weight is 164 lbs so I have to lose 19 lbs to get 145 lbs. It will be hard because it's my first time to go down to 145 lbs but I hope my future is fighting as a featherweight and for now I will just try to make the weight, I'm not worried about taking the fight at late notice because I train with my team mates at Team Lakay and they will help prepare me for this fight."
Among those team mates are URCC champions Roy Docyogen, Kevin Belingon and Eduard Folayang. The presence of Folayang, who recently extended his record to 11-1 with a win at URCC Cebu 7, will be particularly helpful for Banario because he also moved down 14 lbs in weight in order to compete internationally.
Team Lakay are in the process of formulating a gameplan to counter the Korean, whose record stands at 5-2, although Banario admits nothing is set in stone just yet,
"No, I have no plan yet but we are studying his fights and will take them into regard before making a plan. He has a good ground game but I train hard so it will be a good fight. I was happy to take this fight even though it is only a few weeks ago because it’s an opportunity to me to show my fighting skills internationally."
It will be a big step up in competition for Banario who has only ever previously fought MMA in a ring in the Philippines while weighing 159 lbs. As well as the weight issues he will have to deal with being in a cage and fighting outside of his homeland for the first time,
"The cage won't affect my strategy, I think it may be a little different from the ring but we will see. My style of fighting just depends on my opponents style and I have competed in amateur Wushu abroad before, in Korea."
If Banario can comfortably make the cut to featherweight it would raise the intriguing possibility of a fight with fellow URCC title holder Kelly. There are a number of exciting potential match ups emerging in the Philippines with Kevin Belingon and Jessie Rafols (who were scheduled to fight at URCC XX before Belingon got injured) dominating the bantamweight division, Ole Laursen and Eduard Folayang (who were supposed to meet at ONE FC 1 until Laursen got hurt) both at lightweight and Banario now operating in the featherweight division which is currently ruled by Kelly.
Banario has yet to discuss the possibility of a fight with Kelly but admits it is something he would be interested in,
"If that's what the URCC want and my team decides to do it then... let's go."
He will be the underdog against Kwon, a Road FC veteran who has also fought in Taiwan and Korea, but it will be a fantastic opportunity for Banario to announce himself to an international audience. Combining Wushu based wrestling and striking with strong submissions will be a tough test for anyone in the ONE FC 145 lbs division, particularly if he can make a comfortable cut.
Banario might not have the same sort of profile or experience but his skill set is very similar to that of Folayang. He also has excellent cardio, which probably comes from training at altitude, and the sort of resilience and determination which we have come to expect from Team Lakay fighters.
It will be the biggest stage of his career and the most dangerous opponent he has ever faced but Filipino fighters have a happy habit of rising to the occasion so don't be surprised if Banario makes his ONE FC debut a memorable one.