ONE Championship returns to Indonesia on Saturday to the Jakarta Convention Center with ONE: TOTAL VICTORY, where the headlining bout must rank as one of the organization’s best non-title matchups of the year.
Remarkably, it was only last month that Kairat Akhmetov battled Adriano Moraes for five rounds, only to lose the first of his 24 professional contests by unanimous decision.
That was a rematch of their 2015 meeting, where the Kazakh out-worked the Brazilian to win via split decision. But now, Moraes is the ONE Flyweight World Champion, and if Akhmetov is successful in Jakarta, we may well see a rubber match down the road.
If not, the other half of Saturday’s main event, Geje Eustaquio, would be similarly primed for a Moraes rematch. The Filipino fell to a second-round submission against the Brazilian in 2014.
I was fortunate to catch the event in person at a packed Koh Pich Theatre in Phnom Phenh, and my abiding memory is the immense concentration that Eustaquio, now 28, exhibited before falling to a guillotine choke.
He was so intensely focused on his opponent’s every move, that he perhaps overlooked his own offensive skills, in favor of a countering strategy that ultimately didn’t pay off against the grappling mastery of his opponent.
What a contrast it was when ‘Gravity’ threw caution to the wind in Singapore, during his May victory over Anatpong Bunrad.
Clearly enjoying the experience far more than his previous visits to the cage, we saw new movement and fluidity, a new intensity to his attack, and a fresh focus on the compelling things he can do in the cage, rather than being hamstrung by focusing on his opponent’s bag of tools.
If Eustaqiao can bring that same application into the cage in Jakarta, Akhmetov will face a challenge quite different from that posed by the 10 rounds he’s faced against Moraes.
50 minutes is a lot of martial arts to enjoy, but in the ONE Championship cage, we’ve only seen the 29-year old face that one opponent. It’s been two years since he faced anyone else, and the change in style may be alarming for him.
The easy pick is to say that Akhmetov will submit the predominantly standup artist from Team Lakay. But in the past two years, heroes from the famous Bagiuo camp have become experts at fending off high-level grapplers.
If the Filipino can keep out of range while expressing himself in the same way he did against Bunrad, Akhmetov will have to find a solution that we haven’t seen him dig out before.
That might prove beyond him within the limits of a three-round bout, handing the advantage to the Filipino.