It’s a rare, sunny day in what’s normally storm season in Metro Manila and ONE Championship title holders Bibiano Fernandes and Brandon Vera are in an upbeat disposition.
Both will defend their world titles on Friday night – bantamweight for Fernandes and heavyweight for Vera – and the pre-fight games are well underway.
“I’m expecting my opponent to slip and get caught. I’m expecting him to try and take me down,” Vera said at the press conference in Pasay City.
“I need to be fast. I need to be mobile and keep his hands off of me. I’m just waiting for his mouth to open so I can see that he’s tired.”
After winning the heavyweight belt in December 2015, Vera is now set for his first title defense against Japanese grappling bruiser Hideki Sekine in ONE Championship: Age of Domination on December 2. The natural 265lbs “Shrek” from Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu is undefeated in his last seven fights and is tremendously adept at grappling with his judo background, using a feral top game to finish three of his seven fights via submission.
Stylistically, Sekine is a great pairing for Vera’s stand-and-bang style and if the Japanese plans a serious upset he’ll likely do it by implementing his vicious ground game. Despite his record, he’s been recovering for the past two years with his last fight in 2014, in the RFC.
Vera sees no problem in Sekine’s shelf period or locking horns with the Japanese on the ground, citing his wrestling pedigree and how he’s currently working with Andre Galvao and the Atos BJJ team to hone his mat skills. “Just so you guys know, I’m playing possum with my jiu-jitsu. I wish he would take me down,” Vera said.
It’s much more likely that Vera will keep his distance and implement his superior striking skills. Both his kicks and boxing are sharper than Sekine’s and it would be a smarter fight to set up KOs with distance control and the aforementioned mobility game plan.
“I guess I’m now mature enough to pay attention to the things I need to do, to be able to keep this strap,” Vera added, narrating how he recently moved to Manila to pursue an acting career and signed up with a local management team that scored him his first role opposite local star Anne Curtis in a movie titled Buy Bust. It starts shooting later in December.
Meanwhile, ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes is set to go up against young Australian firebrand Reece “Lightning” McLaren.
Fernandes, like Vera, is a veteran and MMA pioneer but he’s much more familiar with how speed kills and the importance of mobility in the lighter weight classes. His submission wins in Dream, especially against Takafumi Otsuka, are studies in how maneuver warfare lets you dictate the place and pace of the battle.
“I’ve competed all across the globe against the world’s best fighters,” declared Fernandes. “But even though I am a world champion, I feel I am still constantly improving. Reece McLaren is the latest challenge and I am ready to face him.”
Can McLaren outpace the Brazilian in a five round fight? That’s a good question that Friday’s fight will answer since Fernandes has built his kingdom on both footwork and a grappling game that capitalizes on his opponent’s blind side. Many times, like magic, I’ve seen Fernandes take the back as if he’d teleported there.
To be fair, McLaren has youth and athleticism on his side with a more than decent 9-3 record. His decimation of Mark Striegl and his UD win against Muin Gafurov were both impressive displays of speed as a weapon.
EVEN THOUGH I AM WORLD CHAMPION, I FEEL I AM STILL CONSTANTLY IMPROVING.
He’s also been trying to cite parts of his Filipino ancestry to get the local crowd on his side to which Fernandes opined: “He’s Filipino but he’s Australian [when it suits him]? I don’t understand what he really is. But if he wants to try to take home this belt, I will go to work and give it all…I fight for you guys, the Filipino fans.”
What will likely happen is that this fight will be determined by how the striking is implemented and chained into the grappling areas. Who’s improved their bag work more? We’ll look out for two streaks of lightning battling it out in that co-main event.
ONE Championship: Age of Domination is set to be held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on 2 December.