On April 5, ONE Fighting Championship will be hosting their 8th event dubbed as ‘Kings and Champions’. It will be headlined by Kotetsu Boku’s first title defense against Shinya Aoki, but one of the more highly anticipated bouts are coming from the semifinals of the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix.
After two events, the 8-man field has now been trimmed to 4, with fighters such as Masakatsu Ueda, Jens Pulver, Kevin Belingon, and Thanh Vu set to battle it out to be crowned as ONE FC’s first tournament champion. Check out a video promo for the GP:
One hand of the bracket will be between two long time veterans of the sport with similar wrestling backgrounds, but with very different fighting styles.
Masakatsu Ueda (16-2-2):
Background: Talented wrestler from Japan, and former Shooto Featherweight Champion. Has career wins over talented fighters such as Royler Gracie, Rumina Sato, and Kyoji Horiguchi.
How he got here: Coming in to the Grand Prix, this former Shooto Featherweight champion was highly regarded as one of the favorites to win the tournament. He made his ONE FC debut last October, against Korean prospect Min Jung Song and out grappled his opponent en route to a dominant decision which advanced him to the semifinals.
Jens Pulver (27-17-1):
Background: US State wrestling champion. MMA Legend and Former UFC Champion with wins over B.J. Penn, Caol Uno, Dennis Hallman, Cub Swanson and others.
How he got here: After his stint with the WEC, Lil’ Evil won 4 out of 7 bouts before heading back to Asia and making his ONE FC debut last August. He faced a much bigger man, and one of the best fighters in the region in URCC featherweight champion, Eric Kelly. Although undersized, Pulver still showed huge power dropping Kelly and hurting the then undefeated Filipino for the first time in his career. After a back and forth bout, he eventually got overwhelmed and lost after taking a liver kick in the 2nd round. He dropped down to bantamweight for his next fight, fighting a talented Sanda striker in Zhao Ya Fei during the opening round. Pulver once again showed vintage form even landing bombs which dropped the Chinese fighter and sent his mouthpiece flying. The bout ended with some controversy though, as Zhao landed a nasty groin shot that left Pulver unable to continue. Since he was up on the scorecards before the illegal blow, Pulver was awarded the technical decision that advanced him to the semis.
While two grizzly veterans do battle on one side of the bracket, the other will host two young prospects from Asia in what promises to be a fast paced and very entertaining bout.
Kevin Belingon (10-2):
Background: URCC Flyweight Champion. A Wushu-based fighter coming from Team Lakay, the best MMA camp in the Philippines. Very fast and unorthodox striker.
How he got here: He started his MMA career with an impressive 9-straight wins over some of the best fighters in Asia. A bit undersized at bantamweight, he gained notoriety in the region and was even named to the World MMA Scouting Report as a Flyweight. The URCC champion then dropped two tough losses in ONE FC when he was fed to leg lock master, Masakazu Imanari and ONE FC Bantamweight Champ, Soo Chul Kim. His third ONE FC bout was against yet another top prospect and talented wrestler in Yusup Saadulaev. After those two losses, there weren’t many people gave Belingon a shot at winning a bout against one of the tournament favorites. Belingon shocked everyone though when he completely outclassed Yusup standing and eventually knocked out the Russian fighter on the ground to advance to the semis.
Thanh Vu (3-1):
Background: Talented Vietnamese-Australian prospect. Well rounded fighter with a BJJ-base.
How he got here: Vu was originally set to face Ryan Diaz, but when the KOTC champion got injured, he dominated the late replacement during the opening round of the Grand Prix. Known more for his submissions, this Vietnamese-Australian prospect showed more of his overall MMA game when he blitzed Mohd Fouzein, stopping him early in the first round with big knees and punches. He’ll be considered the underdog come fight night, but he could play to his strengths in grappling and make use of his size advantage against the talented striker in Belingon.
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