The arrival of ONE Championship in the United States makes it a significant player in the Western martial arts scene. The promotion is not only bringing its brand of martial arts to a new audience, but it’s also delivering a roster that already has several Americans.
Many of the additions to the roster are athletes who have gained fame with American-based promotions. John Lineker, Vitor Belfort, and Arjan Bhullar are just three of the athletes who are under that umbrella.
The ONE: DAWN OF HEROES card at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, the Philippines on 2 August will be packed with Filipino warriors like Danny Kingad, Eduard Folayang, Geje Eustaquio, Honorio Banario, and Edward Kelly.
But there will also be a number of American martial artists in action. Most American fans will be on the lookout for these three athletes who have serious title aspirations in their respective divisions.
Eddie Alvarez will get a second chance to make a first impression. Alvarez was supposed to be eliminated from the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix when he lost to Timofey Nastyukhin in his ONE Championship debut in Tokyo, Japan at ONE: A NEW ERA. But after injuries to Lowen Tynanes and Nastyukhin, Alvarez was re-inserted in the tournament, with Folayang as his opponent. Folayang is also coming off a loss from that Tokyo card, losing his ONE Lightweight World Title to Shinya Aoki.
At this point, both Alvarez and Folayang have something to prove, and the two men will get a chance to do it in this dream matchup. There is a ton at stake for Alvarez who is looking to avoid a three-bout losing streak. For Alvarez, losing simply cannot be an option. It appears he is embracing the challenge and ready to give Folayang his best effort.
Demetrious Johnson competed on the same card as Alvarez and Folayang in March and was victorious over Yuya Wakamatsu. The 12-time world champion and all-time great advanced to the semifinals of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix to take on Tatsumitsu Wada. A loss to Wada would be one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts this decade. Though Johnson was able to avoid defeat against Wakamatsu, he saw what happened to Alvarez in Tokyo, and the 29-second KO loss by Sage Northcutt against Cosmo Alexandre in May in Singapore.
Johnson is confident, but not cocky, so he’ll come prepared. Many, including Kingad (a potential finals opponent), have warned Johnson not to take Wada lightly. Johnson is heavily favored to win, but Wada will attempt to shatter expectations.
James Nakashima hasn’t reached the championship glory that Alvarez and Johnson have experienced in their careers, but the undefeated 30-year-old has high goals. He is inching closer to a shot at a ONE World Title but has to play the role of legend killer first.
In his last bout, Nakashima defeated notable Brazilian striker Luis Santos by technical knockout. It was Nakashima’s first-ever stoppage win, and it came after Santos suffered a leg injury and couldn’t continue.
Santos is as tough as they come, and one of the longest-tenured and most experienced athletes on ONE’s roster. In Nakashima’s next bout, he has to take on Japanese legend Yushin Okami who is a newcomer to the promotion. He lost his debut to Kiamrian Abbasov, who is another hard-charging prospect. Abbasov’s win may have been enough to earn him a ONE Welterweight World Title shot. If so, Nakashima would love to use Okami as a similar springboard.
If Nakashima wins, he will improve his record to 12-0 overall and 3-0 with ONE Championship, which in most cases would be enough to earn a title shot. One thing is for sure, though, Nakashima will be as hungry for a win as the other two Americans set to compete in Manila.