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Mixed Martial Arts

Higher Stakes: Geje Eustaquio faces Kairat Akhmetov for interim Flyweight crown in Manila

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Geje Eustaquio gets a chance to seek redemption against Kairat Akhmetov

In a rematch four months in the making, Team Lakay’s Geje Eustaquio (9-6) gets another crack at rival Kairat Akhmetov (24-1) as they are set to face each other on Friday, January 26, for ONE Championship: Global Heroes. The event will once again be hosted at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Unlike their first match-up last September 16, the stakes will be higher, as it will be for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Championship. The fight was announced by ONE Championship through its Twitter account.

Their first match-up in Indonesia proved to be a thriller. The match could have gone either way, but two of the judges favored the Kazakh, leading to a split decision victory.

Eustaquio, 28, lost two of his last three matches, and his last victory came at the expense of contender Anatpong Bunrad last May 26.

His opponent, on the other hand, is the former Flyweight Champion. The 30-year-old lost his belt to Adriano Moraes last August 5 via unanimous decision.

Moraes is currently out due to injury.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Seeing Eduard Folayang push inspires Joshua Pacio

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Photo from ONE Championship

Every time Joshua “The Passion” Pacio (13-2) steps into the ONE Championship cage, it is in pursuit of a lifelong dream, one that he has had since a young boy growing up in Baguio City in the Philippines.

Having already conquered the Philippine and regional martial arts scenes, winning several titles along the way, only one target remains –- the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

The 22-year-old Team Lakay standout may be one of the younger competitors in the organization, but he has already emerged as a seasoned leader in one of the most well-respected gyms in Asia and could be the next martial arts superstar of the Philippines.

Ever since falling short in his bid to capture the ONE Strawweight World Championship title against then-titleholder Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito in October 2016, Pacio was a man on a mission to catapult himself back into title contention.

However, it was not a smooth path going back to the world title stage for Pacio as he has had a mixed run of results.

After a career-defining split decision win over former world champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke in March, Pacio was then submitted by top Japanese prospect Hayato Suzuki in the first round of their recent August clash.

Although he managed to redeem himself by scoring a highlight-reel knockout of former boxing champion and compatriot Roy Doliguez this past November, Pacio still looks for consistency with regards to his performance inside the ONE Championship cage.

“It’s more about consistency.

“To be consistent inside the cage is what I am for at present. I have to win it all if I want to be back in the title contender’s position. A single loss could bring me back to square one. However, I am willing to work for it,” he said.

Despite the rough road back to vying for the ONE Strawweight World Championship, Pacio is inspired to embrace the grind as he witnessed Team Lakay’s elder statesman Eduard Folayang endured a tumultuous period of uncertainty in his martial arts career before becoming one of the brightest superstars and most beloved titleholders in ONE Championship history.

“Before he (Folayang) got the belt, he went through a lot of ups and downs in his career. He was beaten and was knocked out twice, but I saw the fight still burning in him,” he stated. “Now, he still goes to the gym and tries to get better and better every day.

“He taught me a lot about life and its spiritual side, and he taught me positive attitudes that will bring me up in my career.”

According to Pacio, it has been his mantra to turn his heartbreaking losses into lessons that would give him the fresh perspective to persevere and push forward until he achieves his goal.

“My two losses in my career made me realize just how much more I had to improve so that I can become a better martial artist,” he disclosed.

“I realized that there are a lot of holes in my game, and that the only way to get better is to recognize my weaknesses.”

His hunger to take things into another level showed in his most recent outing as he knocked out Doliguez in the second round with a spinning backfist last November.

Pacio has the chance to make it two in a row as he is set to duke it out with China’s Lan Ming Qiang on the undercard of ONE: Global Superheroes, which takes place at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on Friday, January 26.

Pacio was originally scheduled to square off with Pongsiri “The Smiling Assassin” Mitsatit in the co-main event, but the undefeated Thai was forced to withdraw from the contest just a week out from the bout due to injury.

Lan accepted the offer to step in for Mitsatit and face a former world title contender like Pacio in his promotional debut.

“I was excited about my bout with Pongsiri because it would have been a clash of the young guns. I am not disappointed because it is safety first. If I was the one sick or injured, I would not compete either, so I hope he recovers fast and gets back on track,” he shared.

“Lan Ming Qiang is my new opponent now, and I need to adopt quickly to his style. But our game plan is still the same, and I will execute that on 26 January.”

From Guangxi, China, Lan is a national sanda champion who trains alongside flyweight world title contender “The Southern Eagle” Ma Hao Bin at the Jincan Defense Club.

After a 16-2 Wushu Sanda record and several championship titles, the 24-year-old Chinese prodigy recently made his transition to the cage and already has a pair of stunning victories to his credit.

The opponent change has not affected Pacio or his training at Team Lakay, revealing that he will continue his normal preparation alongside head coach Mark Sangiao and his world-class teammates.

“The toughest thing about Lan’s skill set is his striking game, but I think I have competed against some of the best strikers in my division,” he stressed.

“I expect that Lan will be explosive and hungry, so I will stick to our game plan and get the win.”

For Pacio, his three-round cage encounter with Lan is an opportunity to build some momentum.

“I see this match as a very exciting one because I know we are both warriors, and I know we will put everything on the line on the 26th.”

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Mixed Martial Arts

Edward Kelly honored to fight alongside brother Eric

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Eric and Edward Kelly lived under the same roof for years in their hometown of Baguio City when they were young, and shared the same burning passion in martial arts.

Growing up in the small town community of San Tomas Central, located within the city limits of Baguio, Eric and Edward did not always get along with one another, as the two fought all the time, sometimes even resulting in injury.

“We were not that close before. We always fought. In short, Eric and I were headaches to our parents,” Edward recalled in jest.

“But of course, things change when you grow up and mature. We now appreciate each other’s company.”

Fortunately, when the brothers entered high school, Eric discovered martial arts, and everything would change for both of them.

Edward paid attention to the growing accolades of his older brother and was heavily motivated by it.

“I noticed after he started martial arts that it taught him the discipline not to fight me as a brother. Instead, he started giving me advice through what he had learned,” he bared. “I also joined martial arts because it teaches you discipline, and a lot of other positives, too.”

Years later, both men have made remarkable runs as outstanding martial artists in their respective professional careers.

Eric is widely regarded as one of the best homegrown martial arts athletes to come out of the Philippines.

A Wushu practitioner who combines solid striking techniques with high-level grappling skills, Eric owns nine scintillating submissions and one knockout out of 12 total career victories.

Eric’s most impressive showing to date came in a submission win over Rob Lisita in July 2014, a performance that earned him the USD 50,000 ONE Warrior Bonus.

Meanwhile, Edward is considered as one of the best and brightest featherweight prospects to emerge from the well-established martial arts scene in the Philippines.

With a complete striking and grappling skill set, Edward brings Team Lakay’s world-renowned Wushu to center stage as he showcases his impeccable skillset inside the ONE Championship cage.

In addition, the younger Kelly has won three of his last four bouts under the ONE Championship banner, all by spectacular finish.

The Kelly brothers get a rare chance on Friday, January 26, as the siblings will compete side-by-side when ONE Championship holds its first of the four scheduled events in the country for 2018.

Eric squares off with Brazilian standout Rafael Nunes on the undercard of ONE: Global Superheroes, while Edward crosses paths with Cambodia’s Meas Meul in a three-round featherweight clash.

It is the first time both of them will be featured in a ONE Championship event together, and Edward plans to make it a night they will never forget.

“I am so excited because finally, it’s going to happen. It marks the first time that I will compete alongside my older brother. Surely, it’s going to be a memorable night for the both of us,” he said.

“We have the same aim of winning. So making it two for two on this card will make this extra special.”

As Eric seeks to get back on the winning track at the expense of Nunes, Edward is likewise looking to move forward in his career after his three-bout winning streak was snapped by American stalwart Emilio Urrutia in August 2017.

In his next cage outing, Edward goes up against Meul, a undefeated promotional newcomer with six wins to his credit.

“My coaches has prepared me well for this. I am not going to disappoint my team and my country when I enter that cage on 26th of January,” Edward assured. “I don’t want to let my countrymen down this time. I am here to give them a great bout.

“And of course, win the bout in impressive fashion for them.”

Edward has no qualms if he has to go full three rounds with Meul, but he admitted that his sights are always set on securing the finish.

“I am looking to dominate him for three rounds. But hopefully, I can get the finish,” he vowed.

“A finish will be the perfect way to tell the world that I am back.”

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Mixed Martial Arts

Kairat Akhmetov looks to put decisive end to rivalry with Geje Eustaquio

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Former ONE Flyweight World Champion Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov has the chance to make a definitive statement and recapture lost gold as he is slated to take on a familiar foe in his upcoming bout.

Akhmetov (24-1) will be entering enemy territory to battle Filipino rival Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (9-6) in the main event of ONE: Global Superheroes, which takes place at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on Friday, January 26.

It is also a rematch of their main event tilt from ONE: Total Victory in September of last year, where Akhmetov got the better of the 28-year-old Baguio City native and earned a razor-thin split decision nod.

The stakes are much higher in their second encounter as the interim ONE Flyweight World Championship title is up for grabs.

The 30-year-old admitted that he was shocked when he initially received the news that he is booked to face Eustaquio in a rematch at Global Heroes — the 12th foray of the organization on Philippine shores.

After defeating Eustaquio four months ago, Akhmetov undeniably expected that he would be pitted in a rubber match with reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes, the man who blemished his previously-immaculate professional record in their second meeting in August of last year.

“I was surprised,” the eight-year veteran bared. “Without question, I won the bout against Geje Eustaquio last September. At first, I thought that I would get a third bout with Adriano Moraes for the belt. I guess everything happens for a reason. I respect ONE Championship’s decision.

“I am just honoring the process.”

Even though Akhmetov did not get the trilogy bout that he desired, the Kazakh wrestling dynamo is up for the challenge, asserting that he is highly motivated to once again defeat Eustaquio in his own backyard.

“Of course, I would prefer not to compete against Geje in his hometown. I felt an advantage when I was competing at home before. But it does not intimidate me,” the Alash Pride-trained fighter stated. “I am ready for everyone that will cheer against me.

“I am coming with the mentality that it will be me versus the world, and I am ready for it.”

The maiden cage contest against Eustaquio was a quick turnaround for Akhmetov, who had lost the ONE Flyweight World Championship to Moraes a mere six weeks earlier via unanimous decision, albeit following an almost two-year layoff.

Akhmetov revealed that he had slight difficulties preparing for his first bout with Eustaquio as he was coming off a disappointing setback and nursing minor injuries.

“It was hard to prepare for Geje back then, because it was on shorter notice that I was used to, and I had some little injuries coming off the title match.

“But during the match, it did not affect me, and I did not feel any cage rust like I did against Adriano. That time, it was hard, both physically and mentally,” he said.

The first match-up between Akhmetov and Eustaquio proved to be a thriller as it could have gone either way, but two of the judges at cageside favored the Kazakh, leading to a split decision victory.

Akhmetov believes that his split decision triumph over Eustaquio in September of last year was justified and well-deserved.

“I do not think it was controversial. I thought I dominated the match, and it was not close at all,” he explained.

Although they have had 15 whole minutes to become acquainted with what each has to offer in the first bout, Akhmetov feels that things will play out differently in the rematch.

“Geje Eustaquio did not showcase everything he can do in our last match. Neither have I,” he warned. “I am going in there with what I am truly capable of.”

According to Akhmetov, his five-round championship clash versus Eustaquio is the perfect opportunity to prove once and for all that he is the better warrior and take a step closer to the trilogy match with Moraes that he so longingly wants.

“In 2017, I had ups and downs. I do not want to look back. In 2018, I am looking forward to reaching my dream to battle Adriano Moraes for the third time,” he declared.

“But of course, I have to beat Geje Eustaquio first to fulfill my dream.”

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Geje Eustaquio hopes sacrifices pay off come Global Heroes

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Photo from ONE Championship

Sacrifice means to give up something cherished in order to get something even more valuable in the future

This concept also applies to the constantly-evolving world of martial arts, as the path to becoming a celebrated world champion is paved with much sacrifice.

To set foot at the pinnacle of success, all competitors must suffer blood, sweat and tears in training. Furthermore, martial artists have to be separated from their families for months to dedicate their lives to the craft that they seek to perfect.

Filipino striking ace Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio (9-6) had to undergo the same process, as he had to give up numerous special occasions with his family and friends to fully focus on his training.

“The life of a professional martial artist is difficult, but I understand that in order to be the best, we have to make certain sacrifices.

“Spending time away from friends and family to train isn’t easy,” he said.

Eustaquio is slated to face former titleholder Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov (24-1) for the interim ONE Flyweight World Championship in the co-main event of ONE: Global Heroes, which takes place at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines on January 26.

For his highly-anticipated second encounter against Akhmetov, Eustaquio did not have the chance to fully savor Christmas and the rest of the Yuletide season.

According to Eustaquio, the most painful sacrifice is not being able to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with his beloved family, but he knows that there is a reward waiting for him.

“It’s part of being a professional martial artist. A lot of sacrifices have been made. Training in December was one of them. I had to give up Christmas celebrations for this fight. I missed a lot of family activities such as birthdays and reunions,” he stated. “If I want to consider myself as a championship-quality athlete in this sport, I have to make that sacrifice. In the end, I will reap the fruits of my labor.

“Hard work cannot be denied forever.”

On January 26, the 28-year-old Baguio City native aims to turn his sacrifices into gold, as he is looking to exact some revenge and claim a world title in front of his treasured countrymen.

The headlining flyweight clash between Eustaquio and Akhmetov serves as a rematch of their grueling collision four months earlier, where the Kazakh dynamo defeated the Filipino standout by way of razor-thin split decision.

It was a learning experience for me, the first time I met Kairat,” Eustaquio recalled. “I knew going into the match that it would be one of the biggest challenges of my career, given that he is a former world champion.

“Honestly, I was a little flustered. I thought I could have pushed the pace more, and maybe forced him to defend my strikes.”

Eustaquio admitted that there were lapses on his part when he first fought Akhmetov in September of last year.

“I lost focus of the game plan and allowed myself to operate at Akhmetov’s pace instead of dictating the action on the feet. I also could have had better takedown defense. I would have loved to have won, but it is what it is,” he explained.

With five rounds to duel and an interim ONE Flyweight World Championship title on the line, Eustaquio vows to bring more intensity to the cage when he crosses paths with Akhmetov once more.

Kairat is a tricky opponent. After three rounds with him, I have gotten to know him a little bit better. I am able to understand what makes him a great martial artist,” he mentioned.

Eustaquio is known for his fluid Wushu striking game, with the distinct ability to remain calm under duress.

Moreover, Eustaquio has faced some of the most talented martial artists in the world, with notable triumphs over Kentaro Watanabe, Gianni Subba, Anatpong Bunrad and reigning ONE Strawweight World Champion Alex Silva.

The 5-foot-5 Team Lakay veteran had even previously challenged current ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes for the inaugural title in September 2014, losing via guillotine choke in the second round.

Eustaquio receives the second world title opportunity of his professional career, and a victory over his Kazakhstani rival would line up a future showdown with Moraes for the undisputed title of best flyweight in the world.

As he shares the ONE Championship cage with Akhmetov once more, Eustaquio bared that he has been working on correct the mistakes he committed in their initial meeting in order to pick up the victory.

Eustaquio believes that a superb takedown defense should prove handy against a wrestler of Akhmetov’s caliber.

“One of the aspects of my game I am working very hard on is my takedown defense,” he revealed. “Every day, we drill very hard in training. We all work to improve our ground game and takedown defense, so we can better showcase our Wushu.

“After every bout, I aim to get better, win or lose. Every bout is a learning experience.”

Despite falling on the wrong side of a split decision to Akhmetov in September 2017, Eustaquio remains optimistic that he will walk out of the SM Mall of Asia Arena with his hand raised and the interim ONE Flyweight World Championship belt around his waist.

“He he has a big heart. Kazakhstani martial artists have big hearts, and lots of pride. They do not go down easily, and are very tough. I am expecting another difficult bout. That is why I am preparing very well. A victory over Kairat would land me a rematch against Adriano,” he shared.

“I believe I have what it takes to become the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion.”

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