Eugene Toquero (8-4) is looking forward to bouncing back from a dismal 2016 as he makes his eighth trip into the ONE Championship cage.
The 35-year-old Cebu native seeks vindication when he faces top Indonesian prospect Stefer Rahardian (4-0) in the undercard of ONE Championship: Kings of Destiny, which takes place at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City this Friday.
With seven of his professional eight victories coming by way of knockout, Toquero has a knack for executing highlight-reel striking techniques and is very unpredictable, operating at a pace that his opponents find hard to keep up with.
However, Toquero is coming off two-straight setbacks in 2016, having yielded to interim ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes via first-round submission in March before tasting the same fate at the hands of Team Lakay’s Danny Kingad last December.
Toquero stressed that he has made crucial adjustments to his preparations as he desires to be back on the winning track once more.
“I have made other adjustments. I train longer and harder now.
“I don’t want to be complacent because I am not getting any younger. This is a huge organization with a lot of very good fighters from all over the world. I want to make my mark. This is my time to shine,” he said.
The man standing in his re-entry to the winner’s column is Rahardian, who impressed in his ONE Championship debut by winning the ONE Championship’s Flyweight Tournament in August 2016. In his last outing, Rahardian outperformed Jerome S. Paye to win by unanimous decision in three rounds.
For his three-round flyweight encounter with Rahardian, Toquero is now working with Hybrid Manila MMA.
Satisfied with the outcome of his training camp, Toquero believes that his forthcoming contest with Rahardian will end in his favor.
“Training had a good turnout. Everyone in my camp extended their helping hand.
“I feel so rejuvenated for this fight. I don’t know if there is anyone who can cope up with my pace,” he confidently stated.
Although Toquero has a strange ritual to gauge his chances in a match by running his fingers through his fluffy black hair, he is determined to secure the victory on Friday regardless of what his hair might foreshadow.
With the amount of time and energy he has put into training, Toquero is driven to break his losing spell and redeem his status as one of the most exciting flyweights in the Asian region.
“If my hair stands up or falls down it does not matter. This time, I will make sure that my hand is raised as the winner that night,” he ended.
Kairat Akhmetov looks to put decisive end to rivalry with Geje Eustaquio
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.”
Geje Eustaquio hopes sacrifices pay off come Global Heroes
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.”
Joshua Pacio, Kelly bros headline undercard for Global Heroes
Tuesday evening, ONE Championship announced its main event for its first of four cards in Manila for 2018.
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.
Higher Stakes: Geje Eustaquio faces Kairat Akhmetov for interim Flyweight crown in Manila
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.