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Malaysia’s Saiful Merican kicks Cambodia’s Tok Sophon
Malaysia’s Saiful Merican kicks Cambodia’s Tok Sophon (left) during their flyweight bout at ONE FC: Warrior Spirit in Kuala Lumpur. ONEFC.COM

Tok Sophon pushes local favourite all the way in KL

Tok Sophon was looking to become the first Cambodian to win a fight at ONE FC, Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, but the 21-year-old just came up short in Kuala Lumpur on Friday night, dropping a unanimous decision to local favourite Saiful Merican.

Sophon came into the fight with a perfect professional record of 2-0 which included a win over an English opponent at a televised CTN fight night.

His opponent on Friday was a Muay Thai fighter looking for the second win of his MMA career.

In the early exchanges, the Malaysian came out strong, attacking with hard kicks that seemed to trouble Sophon, who isn’t too experienced in Kun Khmer terms. Merican looked to take the fight to the ground but the Cambodian showed he is no novice by reversing the position and winding up on top.

Sophon has been training with the Cambodian Olympic wrestling team and he seemed more comfortable fighting on the floor, repeatedly flinging Merican down in the opening two rounds and spending much of the fight in a dominant position.

The Malaysian looked to have the edge in the striking department but his output was too low.

Going into the third and final round, Sophon was arguably leading but ONE FC fights are scored overall and Merican would have known he could turn things round with an emphatic finale.

Unfortunately for Sophon, that is exactly what happened as Merican landed a sharp right hand and then ended up in mount position following an unsuccessful throw attempt from the Cambodian. From there, the hometown hero took his time and scored with a series of elbows, one of which opened up a cut.

The clock was winding down and it seemed Mercian might have done enough to overhaul Sophon’s early lead. With both men reluctant to commit to any strikes in the dying seconds it was the Malaysian who seized the initiative with a late jab-cross combination which connected.

Merican’s strong finish was enough to secure him a unanimous decision victory and hand Sophon the first defeat of his fledgling MMA career. The Cambodian was disappointed, but he hopes he will get another chance to impress inside the ONE FC cage.

“I thought I did enough to win the fight,” said Sophon.

“I am not sure why they did not give me the win because I was on top of him for a lot of the fight and he never hurt me. I have never fought at such a big event before and I hope ONE FC will give me a second chance.”

Sophon’s coach at the A Fighter camp in Phnom Penh, Chan Hun, was in his corner and he also felt he had done enough to win the decision.

“In my opinion, I think we were ahead on points with all the takedowns and positioning and also strikes from top positions, but there is nothing we can do except move on and congratulate Saiful on the win,” he said.

In Friday’s main event, undefeated Brazilian Adriano Moraes was handed the first loss of his career after American Yusup Saadulaev beat him by split decision, while middleweight Leandro Ataides of Brazil retained his perfect record by knocking out France’s Bryan Rafiq.

In a battle of top heavyweight prospects, Australian Chris Lokteff emerged victorious after utilising the ONE FC rule set to punish Tony Johnson Jr of the US with soccer kicks en route to a unanimous decision win.

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