There’s a pretty big UFC on Fox card this weekend, but that’s not the only thing to keep an eye on. We’ve got a few hot Asian cards, and some reliable action fighters scrapping for a title over at LFA.
But it all begins bright and early on Friday morning when ONE Championship: Reign of Kings. Main billing honors go to ONE mainstay Kevin Belingon (18-5) as he battles Martin Nguyen (11-2) for the interim bantamweight title. If you’re not familiar with Belingon, you should be. He’s a product of the Filipino circuit, mostly via URCC. His first career loss came by a heel hook submission at the hands of Masakatsu Imanari (naturally), and has only really lost to the better fights in ONE against Dae Hwan Kim, Masakatsu Ueda, and bantamweight juggernaught Bibiano Fernandes.
Nguyen has been on a stellar run, where he’s notched wins over and two wins over rising prospect Christian Lee (twice), Kazunari Yokota, Eduard Folayang, and avenging an earlier career loss against Marat Gafurov via strikes. Nguyen appears to be close to a finished product at this point, refining his takedown defense and submission game while putting more English on his strikes.
Grappling legend Shinya Aoki (40-8) also returns to action against Shannon Wiratchai (9-2) in what is clearly the closest thing to a classic striker vs grappler match these days. It’s almost Aoki’s specialty these days, and Wiratchai isn’t just crafty, he can be pretty vicious.
But wait! More legends are on the card, as a showdown between Renzo Gracie (13-7, 1draw, 1 no contest) and Yuki Kondo (59-34, 9 draws). Kondo’s been fighting for longer than a lot of fans have been alive. The Pancrase demigod has faced everyone from Masakatsu Funaki, Frank Shamrock and Jason DeLucia to a win last year against Ikuhisa Minowa (MINOWAMAN!!).
Kondo’s has one of the most stellar runs in the brief history of the sport, competing in PRIDE, Sengoku, and the UFC. As for Gracie, he’s been doing this since... well...
Gracie comes out of retirement for a very appropriate legends match, and against a very game opponent that has kept active for pretty much the entirety of his MMA career. It’s still a very intriguing fight between two pioneers.
Eduard Folayang (19-6) is also back in action when he steps in against the very dangerous finisher, Aziz Pakhrudinov (17-0, 1 draw). Folayang’s striking is fun, and his defensive grappling helped him fend off and finish Shinya Aoki by TKO. Pakhrudinov is just vicious, and pretty good everywhere. Also, grappling phenom and Five Guys connoisseur Garry Tonon (1-0) takes on tough Indian lightweight Rahul Raju (5-2).
ONE Championship: Reign of Kings begins at 7:00am EST live from the Mall of Asia arena in Manila, streaming live via the ONE app.
LFA sets up their tent for Friday night, when James Nakashima (8-0) defends his welterweight title against another exciting prospect in Kyle Stewart (10-0). This is Nakashima’s first title defense since winning the belt via split decision against Derrick Krantz last September. Stewart’s mostly had finishes in both his professional and amateur career, and this should be a stiff challenge for both contestants.
Also on the card, Sam Toomer (11-2) faces Alexandre “Popo“ Bezerra (20-5) at featherweight. Toomer started doing work on the Southern California circuit with the infamous Xplode and Gladiator Challenge outfits, but has done very well since against more established opposition. Bezerra started on the Brazilian regional circuit, made his way to Bellator and has kicked around other national organizations after that. He’s a submission menace that has decent striking but a very fun scrambly game that makes him a tough out against anyone.
LFA 46: Nakashima vs Stewart airs live on their home network AXS TV, starting at 10:00pm EST.
ROAD FC has a fun set of fights slated for early Saturday morning (and I do mean early). Middleweight champion Young Choi (20-11, 3 draws) defends his title against In Jae La (7-0, 1 draw). Both are hard hitters that are still rounding out their games, but this ought to make for a fun scrap.
Brazil’s Michel Pereira (19-8) is in the co-main slot against Hae Jun Yang (11-5). Pereira’s had some brutal encounters in the past, with a kill or be killed approach to fighting. Yang hasn’t fought since July of 2016, having early career finishes, but eventually having a more cautious style that leads towards decision victories.
ROAD FC 48 begins at 3:00am EST Friday night into Saturday morning. Previous bouts can be found on their YouTube channel.