After claiming the inaugural ONE bantamweight muay thai world championship less than two months ago, legend Nong-O Gaiyanghadao puts his belt on the line for the first time against fellow veteran Hiroaki Suzuki at ONE: Warriors of Light.
Here is everything you need to know about Nong-O vs. Suzuki.
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 Suzuki are competing with a championship on the line, this match can go up to five rounds.
Where and How to Watch
ONE: Warriors of Light 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 free on B/R Live.
The main card starts at approximately 9:30 a.m. ET. It stands as follows:
Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Hiroaki Suzuki (bantamweight muay thai world championship)
Petchdam Academy vs. Elias Mahmoudi (kickboxing)
Shoko Sato vs. Mark Abelardo
Rodtang Jitmuangnon vs. Sok Thy (muay thai)
Pongsiri Mitsatit vs. Robin Catalan
Zhang Chenglong vs. Panicos Yusuf (kickboxing)
Kazuki Tokudome vs. Adrian Pang
Weight: 132 pounds
ONE Record: 3-0
Nong-O will be the people's champion on Saturday as he competes for the belt in front of more than 11,000 of his fellow countrymen.
The veteran's record speaks for itself, with an astounding 313 total bouts and a winning percentage of 82 per cent.
However, Nong-O has had a winding 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 just over a year ago 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 and up-and-comer Han Zi Hao since his return, earning unanimous decisions in all three.
Just look at the show he put on last February:
The Thai is known for his clinical leg sweeps, earning points from judges throughout the match by sending his opponents crashing to the canvas. He's able to rely heavily on his opponent's positioning to use it against them, but he also isn't afraid to force opponents to defend a barrage of punches and elbows.
Nong-O isn't short on confidence heading into the bout.
"To be honest, I'm looking forward to my first knockout win in One Championship," Nong-O told Lerpong Amsa-Ngiam of The Nation. "I have to wait for the right opportunity."
The champion took his confidence a step forward, saying that "Thais are better than foreign fighters in terms of the technical aspects." Could he be right, or will his generalizations come back to haunt him?
Weight: 145 pounds
ONE Record: 2-0
Hiroaki Suzuki is a terrific striker, specifically through punches. He faces his opponents head-on and relies on his power to stun or knock them out.
This match, however, will be a different test for the kickboxing veteran, as he must now adjust to the addition of elbow strikes and standup grappling that come with the muay thai ruleset.
One of his first experiences with muay thai came last January when he defeated Mohammed Bin Mahmoud by knockout in the last second of the bout.
Although a convincing victory, Mahmoud's lack of elbows and grappling attempts never fully tested Suzuki's ability to adapt to these skills he's mostly foreign to. One can assume that won't be the case with Nong-O.
"On the ONE Championship stage, my priority is to have an exciting fight," Suzuki told Newsie. I can't tell you which attacks I will use, but I will aim for a knockout. I want to say to Nong-O, 'Let's try to knock each other out. Let's try to give the fans an exciting match on the ONE stage in which one of us goes down.'"
This appears to be an attempt to bait Nong-O into pushing forward and go punch for punch with a kickboxer not used to grappling. He'll hope his message rings in the ear of Nong-O throughout the bout.
Suzuki's biggest concern should be his positioning after throwing punches. He lives and dies by going for knockouts, but Nong-O lives for taking advantage of unbalanced strikers and sweeping them to the mat while racking up points.
If Suzuki isn't careful and comes into the match too intent on an early finish, Nong-O could put on yet another masterclass.
Hiroaki Suzuki can end a match in an instant the way he throws his punches, but Nong-O's technical ability is the perfect counter to his striking.
If Suzuki goes for the knockout blow throughout the match, Nong-O will surely earn enough takedowns to negate him entirely. On the other hand, if Suzuki 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.
There's also something to Nong-O's belief that Thai muay thai athletes tend to be more technical simply because guys like Nong-O have been molded by the style since they were children, whereas Suzuki has hopped back and forth between muay thai, kickboxing and karate throughout his career. He's a jack of all trades and a master of none, but Nong-O is one of the best muay thai competitors alive.
If Suzuki is going to win, it will likely be through a knockout. The problem with that? Nong-O hasn't been finished in nine years. One of the most exciting athletes ONE has to offer should prevail here.
Prediction: Nong-O Gaiyanghadao defeats Hiroaki Suzuki by unanimous decision to retain the ONE bantamweight muay thai world championship.