Three days before its first-ever event in Japan, the fast-growing ONE Championship fighting organization held a gorgeous news conference at a luxury Tokyo hotel on Thursday night.
Indicating the promoter’s seriousness for one of the largest combat sports markets in Asia, ONE prepared a bout lineup that is arguably the richest in its eight-year history with several championship matchups for the Sunday event at Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The event, which is dubbed “ONE: A New Era,” will kick off at 3:30 p.m. with preliminary matches.
Japanese star Shinya Aoki will have the biggest pressure on his shoulders, fighting in the main bout as the challenger against Eduardo Folayang of the Philippines for the lightweight title in the main match.
Aoki’s compatriot Ken Hasegawa will take on Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang as the challenger for the middleweight championship.
“I thought I was going to get excited more, but I actually feel calm and I feel like I’ll really be fighting,” said Aoki, who lost the title to Folayang in 2016.
The 35-year-old Shizuoka Prefecture native added: “Come Sunday, I’m going to make my own era.”
There will also be a couple more world title fights: Champion Kevin Belingon of the Philippines will face Brazil’s Bibiano Fernandes for the bantamweight bout, while women’s atomweight champion Angela Lee will look to capture her second world title against China’s Xiong Jing Nan in the strawweight division.
In addition, a pair of former American UFC champions will make their ONE Championship debuts, too. Ex-UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez will take on Russia’s Timofey Nastyukhin in the quarterfinals of the world grand prix tournament in the same weight class. Former UFC flyweight king Demetrious Johnson will square off against Yuya Wakamatsu also in the tourney quarterfinals in the same division.
All the fights mentioned above will be contested using mixed martial arts rules. But ONE Championship, which advertises itself as a martial arts organization, not a mixed martial arts promoter, offers its fans other forms of fighting as well.
In fact, there will be some kickboxing and Muay Thai matches on the undercard, such as a kickboxing bout between two stars, Andy Souwer of the Netherlands and Yodsanklai Iwe Fairtex. The 35-year-old Souwer is popular among Japanese fighting sports fans as a former K-1 champion.
“I believe this event, ONE: A New Era, (which) is going to be held on March 31, will break our record and create a new high because of our heroes, because of their values, because of their incredible stories,” ONE chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong said.
The 48-year-old, who was born to a Thai father and Japanese mother, also stated: “Sunday, you will see the very best of the best in mixed martial arts. You’ll also see the very best of the best in kickboxing. You’ll also see the very best of the best in Muay Thai. And the list goes on.”