When the names of the eight fighters who would contest the ONE FC Bantamweight Grand Prix were announced, few thought Kevin Belingon had a chance. The 25-year-old Filipino had lost his two previous fights and been drawn against one of the tournament favourites in the opening round.
After winning nine fights out of nine and becoming URCC flyweight champion, Belingon’s career had floundered since signing with the biggest MMA promotion in Asia as he was submitted by Japanese veteran Masakazu Imanari and then outwrestled by reigning ONE FC bantamweight champion Soo Chul Kim.
His prospects looked bleak going into a quarter-final match-up against Russian wrestler Yusup Saadulaev, who was coming off the biggest win of his career when he knocked out another Japanese veteran, Hideo Tokoro, with a slam at DREAM: Fight for Japan.
Cage-side observers didn’t hold out too much hope for Belingon coming into this contest, but the Team Lakay fighter proved them wrong in emphatic style, stuffing Saadulaev’s takedowns and then, when he ended up on top position, knocking him out cold with a brutal flurry of punches.
With the win, Belingon went from being a rank outsider to one of the tournament favourites, and he says that while others might have doubted his ability he and his team never did.
“I lost to Imanari and to Soo Chul Kim, but I believe if we fought again I could beat them both and I hope to have the chance to do that in the future,” he told the Post.
“We train very hard at Team Lakay and I am not afraid to fight anyone. I made some mistakes early in my ONE FC career but now I have learned from them.”
A man of few words, Belingon is known as “The Silencer” and trains alongside recently crowned ONE FC featherweight world champion Honorio Banario and fellow title contenders Rey Docyogen and Eduard Folayang in the mountains of Baguio on the Filipino island of Luzon.
The club has produced multiple MMA champions under the guidance of founder and head coach Mark Sangiao. For Belingon, the win over Saadulaev was all about his team and training partners.
“Team Lakay fighters are always aggressive and explosive and have very good endurance. I did not get to show these qualities in my first two fights for ONE FC, so I was happy that fans could see what my fighting style is like when I defeated Saadulaev,” he said.
Belingon’s reward for that win is a fight against Vietnamese-Australian fighter Thanh Vu in the semi-finals of the Grand Prix, which are taking place at ONE FC: Kings and Champions at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5.
Belingon could compete at a lower weight but prefers to stay at 135lbs (61kg) because he has numerous team-mates already looking to get onto the ONE FC roster at flyweight and doesn’t want to stand in their way.
This means he is almost always smaller than his opponent, and this will be the case against Vu, but the URCC champion says he wouldn’t have it any other way,
“I am always the smaller fighter so I use my speed and power to make up for that disadvantage. I have not seen much of Vu. I know he is taller than me, but I am ready to bring relentless aggression for 15 minutes if I have to and we will see if he can keep up with my pace.”
ONE FC: Kings and Champions is headlined by a lightweight title bout between Kotetsu Boku and Shinya Aoki, while former Shoo-to featherweight champion Masakatsu Ueda meets former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver in the other Bantamweight Grand Prix semi-final.
Action will be broadcast live by Star Sports and Cambodian channel MyTV.