Honorio Banario is getting ready to step onto the biggest stage of his life when he defends his ONE FC World featherweight title for the first time in Manila next month. There are expected to be 20,000 fans in the SM Mall of Asia Arena for ONE FC: Rise to Power and the 23-year-old Filipino’s fight is the main event, a testament to the meteoric rise that his career has undergone in the past year.
When ONE FC last came to Manila, Banario was on the undercard, but a dominant defeat of compatriot Andrew Benibe secured him an immediate title shot. Banario stopped fellow Filipino Eric Kelly in the fourth round of their fight in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year to become the first featherweight champion of Asia’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation.
Kelly was a strong favourite going into that fight, but Banario outclassed him with superior movement and striking. It was a virtuoso display from the Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC) lightweight champion, but he believes there are even bigger challenges awaiting him.
“Now I am fighting in the main event in Manila and all the Filipino fans will be supporting me. So it is a big responsibility and a hard fight because my opponent is very experienced and has more than 40 fights,” Banario told the Post.
That opponent is Koji Oishi, a veteran who has been on the scene since 2000. Banario was only 10 years old when the Japanese fighter made his professional MMA debut and will need to bridge this gulf in experience if he is to retain his title.
There is a 12-year age gap between the two fighters and Oishi has had more than four times as many fights, but Banario believes that on May 31 his youth will prevail.
“I have not watched any of [Oishi’s] fights ye,t but I know he has been fighting a long time and won a belt with Pancrase and has fought for the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship].
Maybe he has an advantage because he has many more fights than me. But I am younger than him, and I believe I will be faster than him, so that will be my advantage,” said the Team Lakay brawler.
Oishi is 35 and has a professional MMA record of 23-9-10, while Banario’s tally currently stands at 8-1. Oishi has faced some famous opponents including current UFC title contenders Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz and Carlos Condit, and has only lost once in his last 12 outings. Banario’s sole defeat came on his first ever fight in the featherweight division when he spent a long time in the sauna trying to sweat off enough pounds to step onto the scales at the designated weight.
Having spent his entire career competing at 159 pounds (72 kilograms) for the URCC, dropping down to the ONE FC featherweight limit of 145 pounds was always going to be difficult, but Banario showed against both Kelly and Benibe that he has found a home in this division.
While Oishi will potentially provide a much sterner examination of Banario’s credentials, the Baguio-based fighter believes he is ready for this particular test.
“I know he has fought for the UFC, which is one of the biggest promotions in the world, and has beaten some famous fighters. But I am the champion of ONE FC, which is also one of the biggest promotions in the world, and I beat the best fighter in my division to win the belt. So I am very confident in my ability,” he said.
A global duopoly has emerged in the past year with the Las Vegas headquartered UFC’s dominance threatened by ONE FC’s ascension to become a second MMA superpower. As a fighter, Banario isn’t too concerned by promotional politics but is just happy to be performing in front of such a sizeable audience.
“Now everyone can watch ONE FC live on Star Sports and that is very good for the fighters because if people all over Asia watch us fight, we can bring more glory to the Philippines and to our teams,” he said.
ONE FC recently announced three more bouts on the card for Rise to Power, including the Bantamweight Grand Prix final between Kevin Belingon of the Philippines and Japan’s Masakatsu Ueda. The winner will get a shot at the ONE FC bantamweight title currently held by the injured Soo Chul Kim of South Korea.
Banario’s team-mate Eduard Folayang will be back in action against Iranian MMA veteran Kamal Shalorus and fan favourite Phil Baroni of the US will return to the ONE FC cage to take on Japanese knockout specialist Nobutatsu Suzuki. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY