The inaugural ONE bantamweight muay thai world champion will be crowned at ONE: Clash of Legends on Saturday. Nong-O Gaiyanghadao faces Han Zi Hao in the classic matchup between a decorated veteran and a young star ready to solidify his spot at the top.
But who are Nong-O and Han? How did they get here? What's on the line for both men?
Here is everything you need to know about Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Han Zi Hao.
First, it's important to understand the differences in this match compared to other mixed martial arts bouts. Since it is a muay thai fight, the competitors are focused on striking through punches, kicks, elbows and knees. Grappling on the ground and wrestling are not allowed.
Instead of five-minute rounds, muay thai has three-minute rounds. Because Nong-O and Han are competing with a championship on the line, this match can go up to five rounds.
Where and How to Watch
This event will be held at Bangkok's Impact Arena in Thailand, the same country where the sport of muay thai originated.
Those in the U.S. can watch the contest for free on B/R Live.
The main card starts at approximately 8:30 a.m. ET, and preceding it is a four-match preliminary card that begins at 7.
The full card stands as follows:
- Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Han Zi Hao (bantamweight muay thai world championship)
- Kongsak P.K.Saenchaimuaythaigym vs. Alaverdi Ramazanov (muay thai)
- Dae Hwan Kim vs. Shuya Kamikubo
- Mark Fairtex Abelardo vs. Daichi Takenaka
- Shannon Wiratchai vs. Amarsanaa Tsogookhuu
- Smokin' Jo Nattawut vs. Samy Sana (muay thai)
- Gina Iniong vs. Jihin Radzuan
- Superlek Kiatmoo9 vs. Lao Chetra (muay thai)
- Chamuaktong Fightermuaythai vs. Charlie Peters (muay thai)
- Emilio Urrutia vs. Yoshiki Nakahara
- Rika Ishige vs. Nou Srey Pov
- Elipitua Siregar vs. Liu Peng Shuai
Weight: 132 pounds
ONE Record: 2-0
Nong-O will be the people's champion on Saturday as he competes for the belt in front of over 11,000 of his fellow countrymen.
The veteran's record speaks for itself, with an astounding 312 total bouts and a winning percentage of 82. However, Nong-O has had an odd journey to get to Saturday's title match. After dominating the muay thai circuit in Thailand, he took a three-year sabbatical to coach in a Japanese mixed martial arts promotion before returning to the cage last April for his ONE debut.
Nong-O, considered to be one of the best muay thai athletes of the modern era, has schooled two fellow veterans since his return, earning unanimous decisions in both.
The Thai is known for his clinical leg sweeps, earning points from the judges throughout matches by sending his opponents crashing to the canvas. He's methodical in his approach and doesn't take too many risks, but he is able to rely heavily on his opponent's positioning to use it against them.
"I am really confident I can beat him," Nong-O said at the event's press conference, adding that he had been in intensive training for the world title clash. "I have trained for three months in Singapore. ... I can say that I am 100 percent ready for the fight. I am now mentally and physically fit."
Nong-O has seen it all in his illustrious career, competing against some of the best in the world and constantly training with legends of the sport. The question remains, did his three years away from competition hinder his ability to prepare for the electrifying ball of energy known as Han Zi Hao?
Han Zi Hao
Weight: 135 pounds
ONE Record: 3-0
Han is a terrific striker, specifically through punches. He faces his opponents head-on and relies on his power to stun or knock them out. Just look at this finish from his most recent bout last October:
During the press conference, Han couldn't help but heap praise on the legend.
"I've heard about Nong-O since I was a kid," the Chinese said. "He is a legend of the muay thai world. I grew up watching his matches. Naturally, he became one of my idols. ... Now, I finally have a chance to compete with him and, even better, I will challenge for the gold belt. This is such an honor for me."
However, Han did not mince words when discussing his plans for the bout.
"I hope to finish him with this move so the result is indisputable," Han said. "I admire and respect you very much, but I have to point out that your era is about to end. I will take your place and be the new legend of muay thai."
Han's biggest concern will be his positioning after throwing punches. Nong-O lives for taking advantage of unbalanced strikers, sweeping them to the mat and racking up points. If Han isn't careful and comes into the match too intent on an early finish, Nong-O could put on yet another master class.
Han has proved he can lead a promising future for muay thai. Earning a win over a legend like Nong-O, especially by knockout, would truly be a passing of the torch.
He could very well be the next big thing. However, it's still the era of Nong-O. The 11-time world champion is keen to remind us all he's still the guy.
Han has proved he can end a match in an instant, but Nong-O's technical ability is the perfect counter to his striking. If Han goes for the knockout blow throughout the match, Nong-O will surely earn enough takedowns to negate him entirely. On the other hand, if Han decides to pick and choose his punches more often, he runs the risk of going the distance with Nong-O and hoping the Thai doesn't pile on small but effective strikes himself. That's a tough ask.
If Han is going to win, it will likely be through a knockout. The problem with that? Nong-O hasn't been finished in almost nine years. The legend continues.
Prediction: Nong-O Gaiyanghadao defeats Han Zi Hao by unanimous decision to become the inaugural ONE bantamweight muay thai world champion.