Geje Eustaquio’s name might not ring out as loud as those of some of his Team Lakay team-mates, but the 24-year-old has an opportunity to change that this week in Manila by securing his second successive ONE FC victory and potentially booking a title shot in the process.
The Filipino flyweight takes on American wrestling standout Andrew Leone at ONE FC: Rise to Power on Friday night in a fight which will be broadcast live to countries all over Asia by Star Sports.
It’s a massive opportunity and Eustaquio knows the fans at the SM Mall of Asia Arena will be firmly behind him,
“I’m excited for this fight to know that 20,000 Filipinos are standing on my side cheering for me. More than a thousand Igorots and people from the highlands will go down to Manila to witness it live and I got the feeling that thousands more will be watching it on their televisions on Star Sports and on live streams,” he told the Post.
The Igorot people are indigenous to Eustaquio’s hometown of Baguio and he will be one of five Team Lakay fighters making the journey down south to compete under the watchful eye of head coach Mark Sangiao.
Leone boasts a 5-2 record, while Eustaquio’s tally now stands at 4-1, with his sole loss a highly debatable split decision. On paper it’s an evenly matched contest but the Filipino, whose nickname is Gravity, thinks he knows what his key to victory will be.
“[Leone] is a well-decorated wrestler and I like his takedowns. I guess his weakness is that he doesn’t focus much on his striking and I’m confident my striking will be better than his and I have trained more than enough with my wrestling defence,” said Eustaquio.
The Filipino has had to wait for a second chance to fight for ONE FC after beating Brazilian Alex Silva in Jakarta in February, 2011. Since defeating the BJJ black belt by unanimous decision he has taken a tune-up fight in his native Baguio, but he hopes his patience will be rewarded with a win over Leone on Friday.
Japanese veteran Shinichi Kojima will fight for the inaugural ONE FC flyweight title after beating Eustaquio’s team-mate Rey Docyogen in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year. The identity of his opponent has yet to be revealed and the feeling is that there is a vacancy there for 125lbs (57kg) fighters on the roster to step up and take advantage of.
After beating Silva so emphatically and unexpectedly, Eustaquio could presumably move into pole position with a win over Leone and he believes he has what it takes to become the second Filipino, after his lightweight division team-mate Honorio Banario, to win a ONE FC title.
“I’m training with the number one coach in the Philippines and am surrounded by champions which is a good enough basis for me to beat Shinichi Kojima. If given the chance I would like to fight him but for now, my focus is on beating Andrew first, then the rest will follow,” added Eustaquio.
There will be no shortage of pressure on the shoulders of Eustaquio and his five Filipino team-mates as they fight in front of the Manila fans in the biggest MMA event the country has ever hosted. While a win could be career defining, a loss would haunt these men forever, although Gravity asserts that the crowd will be a factor in his favour.
“I don’t feel pressure, I feel focused and confident. The support and cheers of the fans will energize me,” he said.