A star was born during ONE Championship’s Roots of Honor card, held on Friday evening at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
But it was not one of the 15 athletes who had their hands raised during the stacked card.
In the final quarterfinal match-up in the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix – which had a battle against Demetrious Johnson at stake – Tatsumitsu Wada faced Gustavo Balart, a late-replacement who took the place of Ivanildo Delfino.
When the two fighters faced off at the center of the cage, the sold-out MOA Arena crowd laughed at and threw quips towards Balart. The Cuban stood at just 4-foot-11, eight inches shorter than Wada.
Simply based on the height difference, many viewed the fight as a walk in the park for Wada. But everyone was in for a surprise.
The laughter turned to awe as the three-round affair progressed. For every shot Balart landed, the audience ooh-ed and aah-ed. And during the third round, the former Olympian in Greco-Roman wrestling carried Wada over his shoulders and threw him for a powerful takedown.
The crowd went into a frenzy – a scene usually reserved for hometown favorites.
But as the bout went to the judges’ scorecards, the fans waited in anticipation for Balart’s hand to be raised. It went otherwise, as they declared Wada the victor.
Boos rained on the Japanese fighter, who lost to Danny Kingad in a ‘qualifier’ bout for the Grand Prix last January.
Even ONE Chairman Chatri Sityodtong agreed that Badart, who has been an unstoppable figure in Titan FC, won the bout.
“I thought Balart won the fight. I thought the judges got it wrong.
“Especially in the third round, the damage and the takedowns he did. I was actually surprised,” the amiable CEO opined.
Sityodtong had already warned his athletes to never let any bout go to the hands of the judges, however, emphasizing to always go for the finish.
“At the same time, the locker room talk I have with the fighters, I usually say, ‘Don’t leave it at the hands of the judges. It’s your destiny’,” he continued.
“Still, I don’t think Wada won the fight.”
Before he left the cage, the 2011 Pan-American Games gold medalist made sure to pay tribute to the crowd.
The pint-sized flyweight asked his coach to carry him to the top of the cage, which drew laughs from the crowd. As he was able to get up, he threw his hands up in the air as he was showered with cheers and claps from the Filipino audience.
Yes, there’s a new people’s champion in town.
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