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Mixed Martial Arts

Joshua Pacio, Kelly bros headline undercard for Global Heroes

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Tuesday evening, ONE Championship announced its main event for its first of four cards in Manila for 2018.

In the main event, Team Lakay’s Geje Eustaquio figures in a grudge match against Kairat Akhmetov for the interim ONE Flyweight World Championship.

The event will take place on Friday, January 26, at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

“This is the first in four blockbuster events in Manila in 2018, and ONE Championship is looking to kick things off with a spectacular show,” said Chairman and CEO of ONE Championship Chatri Sityodtong. “Fans of martial arts in the Philippines are among the most passionate in the world, and it is our honor to present the best in local and global martial arts talent.

“The Mall of Asia Arena will be pulsating with excitement as hometown hero Geje Eustaquio takes on Kairat Akhmetov in a highly-anticipated main event rematch. This time, it’s for the interim ONE Flyweight World Championship.”

Joining Eustaquio in the card are three of his fellow Baguio-natives.

In the co-main event, Joshua Pacio of Team Lakay takes on undefeated Thai Pongsiri Misatit.

Joshua Pacio is one of the promotion’s most talented strawweights and a proud member of the famed Team Lakay. Pacio is a wushu practitioner with a solid grappling repertoire. All but one of his 10 career victories have come by spectacular finish, which includes five wins by submission and four by devastating knockout.

In his most recent bout, Pacio knocked out veteran Roy Doliguez with a second-round spinning back fist. A former ONE Strawweight World Championship Title Challenger, Pacio is looking to bring himself back to title contention with another victory.

A tough task is ahead of Pacio, however, as he is slated to lock horns with Pongsiri Mitsatit.

Pongsiri “The Smiling Assassin” Mitsatit is an undefeated martial artist from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and was previously a North Thailand Muay Thai champion with a 72-17 record, which included 49 KOs.

Since making his professional debut in the cage, the strawweight has amassed an unblemished record of 9-0 with seven knockout triumphs and one submission victory, and made an immediate impact in ONE Championship with first-round finishes over Ye Thway Ne and Rabin Catalan.

Local MMA legend Eric Kelly is also slated to make his return, taking on Brazilian young gun Rafael Nunes.

Featherweight standout Eric “The Natural” Kelly of Baguio City is widely considered one of the best homegrown martial arts athletes to come out of the Philippines. The wushu practitioner combines solid striking techniques with high-level grappling skills, which has resulted in nine impressive submissions and one knockout out of 12 total victories.

In his next bout, Kelly will face Rafael Nunes.

Rafael Nunes is a martial artist from Sao Paulo, Brazil with a 10-1 record. He is the former Premier FC Lightweight Champion and has steamrolled through the competition in his home country with a knack for winning by exciting finish. All but one of Nunes’ 10 wins have ended within the distance.

Eric’s brother Edward Kelly is also in the card, going up against Cambodian Meas Meul.

Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly is a 33-year old Filipino martial arts talent and one of the brightest featherweight prospects to emerge from the Philippines. With a complete striking and grappling skill set, Kelly brings Team Lakay’s world-renowned wushu to centerstage as he looks to showcase his expertise inside the ONE Championship cage. Kelly has won three of his last four bouts, all by spectacular finish.

He will take on Meas Meul.

Meas Meul of Phnom Penh, Cambodia is an undefeated martial artist with a professional record of 6-0. Meul made his ONE Championship debut in 2014, submitting countryman Chan Heng via rear-naked choke.

The undercard will also feature the following bouts: Sotir Kichukov vs. Ma Hao Bin; Yago Bryan vs. Hayato Suzuki; Bruno Pucci vs. Emilio Urrutia; and Rajinder Singh Meena vs. Zhang Ze Hao.

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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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Mixed Martial Arts

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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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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Boxing

SMART Sports’ Best of 2017: Pound for Pound

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2017 was an up-and-down year for Philippine martial arts

While world champions fell and expectations were not met in international campaigns, young warriors also rose. And this keeps the future bright for the industry.

Before we begin, martial artists that need to be acknowledged as well are former ONE Featherweight World Champion Eduard Folayang (Career: 18-6, 2017: 1-1), former IBF Light Flyweight World Champion Milan Melindo (Career: 37-3, 13KO, 2017: 2-1), SEA Games gold medalist Samuel Morrison (Taekwondo, -74kg), SEA Games gold medalist Dines Dumaan (Pencak Silat – Men’s Tanding (Match) Class A), and SEA Games gold medalist Agatha Wong (Women’s Compulsory 3rd Taijiquan).

Here is the top pound-for-pound list for the year that was.

Mixed martial arts: Kevin Belingon (Bantamweight)

Representing the famed Team Lakay in Baguio City, Philippines, Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon is one of the country’s most talented martial artists with a professional record of 16-5.

Belingon is known as a fierce competitor with the ability to finish opponents in a variety of methods as the 29-year old Wushu practitioner owns seven huge knockouts on his resume and is considered as one of the most feared strikers in ONE Championship’s deep bantamweight division.

Since losing to reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in January 2016, Belingon has barged through his top rivals with a slew of fearsome striking performances and showcased his incredible punching power.

It began with a thorough defeat of Tajikistan’s highly-touted Muin Gafurov in October 2016, followed by a complete first-round annihilation of Finnish submission wizard Toni “Dynamite” Tauru at ONE Kings of Destiny in Manila, Philippines.

Those two consecutive wins earned Belingon a showdown with top bantamweight contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren at ONE: Quest for Greatness in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Belingon needed just 62 seconds to end matters abruptly as hee began the bout-ending sequence by dropping McLaren with a well-placed overhand right.

As the Aussie crashed to the canvas, Belingon followed with a relentless volley of punches to finish the contest.

At ONE: Legends of the World in Manila, Philippines, Belingon scored his fourth straight victory by defeating Korean-American contender Kevin “Old Boy” Chung via unanimous decision.

Come 2018, he is looking to get another crack at gold.

Judo: Kiyomi Watanabe (-63kg)/Mariya Takahashi (-70kg)

In a lackluster 2017 Southeast Asian Games campaign, there was a sport that came into national consciousness. Women’s judo hauled two of the medals for the division.

And it’s all thanks to Filipino-Japanese judokas Kiyomi Watanabe and Mariya Takahashi.

Watanabe, who celebrated her 21st birthday last August 25 — a day before she took stage, wasted no time in dispatching Thailand’s Orapin Senatham in the finale, scoring a waza-ari after a throw early in the contest. Watanabe gained control of her opponent, pinning the latter to the mat to eventually win the match in just 37 seconds.

It was her third SEA Games gold medal, and it was also the Philippines’ 17th gold in the competition.

A day after her win, another star rose as 16-year-old Mariya Takahashi overcame great odds to give the country its 21st overall gold in the competition.

Takahashi stunned four-time SEA Games medalist Surratana Thongsri (Thailand) to win the women’s -70kg division. She secured a leg trip seconds into the contest. The young judoka then carefully transitioned to a pin to secure the win via ippon.

With this, the Philippine Judo Federation has big plans for the two as they are grooming them for the Olympics.

Poomsae: Rodolfo Reyes Jr.

To open his 2017 campaign, Rodolfo Reyes Jr., together with brothers Dustin Jacob and Enrico Raphael Mella, kept the SEA Games’ Men’s Team Poomsae crown in the country after a rousing performance in the finals.

The Southeast Asian Games reigning men’s team poomsae champions turned in 8.37 in the Taegeuk 8, but followed it up with an even more impressive 8.43 in Shipjin. That brought the final score to 8.40, 0.6 clear of hosts Malaysia.

The troika bagged the country’s 16th gold medal in the regional meet.

Reyes then flew from Malaysia to Turkmenistan for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. He won silver in the Men’s Invidual event while copping bronze with the Mella brothers in the Men’s Team event.

Back as a student-athlete last November, he capped his spectacular UAAP career by helping send the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Jins back to the top of the collegiate taekwondo scene during the UAAP Season 80 Poomsae championships.

Brazilian Jiujitsu: Meggie Ochoa (-45kg)/Annie Ramirez (-49kg)

Jiu-jiteros Meggie Ochoa of Atos Philippines and Annie Ramirez of John Baylon Clube de Jiu Jitsu grabbed the sole two gold medals for the Philippines in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

Ochoa won the first gold for the country in the 62-nation sportsfest following a convincing 5-0 victory over Vietnam’s Le Thu Trang Du in the women’s Ne-waza -45kg finals.

Ramirez followed Ochoa on the medal stands an hour later after defeating Jenna Kaila Napolis, 9-0, in the all-Filipino finale of the women’s Ne-waza -55kg category held at the Martial Arts Arena.

“I trained everyday coming in, except on Sundays. But the most important part of my preparation was fixing my mindset,” recalled Ochoa, a three-time world jiu-jitsu champion.

“I prepared the entire year for this and it paid off,” added the 26-year-old Ramirez, the reigning continental and Asian Beach Games champion.

With the gold rush in the upstart sport, the Philippines exceeded one-gold, two-bronze performance of the Philippines back in 2013.

And we have the two jiu-jieteros to thank for it.

Boxing: Jerwin Ancajas (Junior Bantamweight)

Reigning IBF Junior Bantamweight world champion Jerwin Ancajas (28-1-1, 19KO) is just one of two remaining world champions in the Philippines’ stable. With the way his 2017 went, it seems that he will be a world champion for a very long time.

The 25-year-old pugilist started the year by making his first successful defense of his crown by retiring José Alfredo Rodríguez at the Cotai Arena in Macau.

Fighting in the co-main event of the Battle of Brisbane, Ancajas was not fazed, scoring a seventh round TKO win over Teiru Kinoshita last July 2.

He capped his sensational year by taking over Ireland with a stoppage win over hometown favorite Jamie Conlan in the eighth round last November 18.

With this, the Davao del Norte-born southpaw is being dubbed as the next Manny Pacquiao. Still, he is remaining grounded as he always looks back to the time he was a struggling fighter.

“Lagi naman akong naghahanda talaga at hindi po ako nagpapabaya lalo na parang sakin po kasi, habang tumatagal na nagdedepensa, pabigat na ng pabigat ang mga laban.

“Ganun po yung ginagawa ko talaga, hindi ako nagkukumpyansa. Sa ensayo, ensayo talaga,” he furthered. “Kumbaga ito na yung daan na makilala kami, yung team namin na maipakita yung best sa laban.”

Ancajas will make his fourth title defense on February 3 against Israel Gonzalez.

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