All the fighters at Team Lakay could accurately be described as “softly spoken warriors” because what they might lack in arrogance they more than make up for in aggression and no one epitomizes these traits better than Kevin Belingon.
He is nicknamed “The Silencer” and I have discovered over the years that, while Belingon’s appearances inside the cage are almost always exciting, his interviews invariably aren’t. The 26-year-old is more comfortable producing sidekicks than sound bites, but as he prepares to face Dae Hwan Kim at ONE FC: War of Nations, he is in an unexpectedly expansive mood.
With three wins in his last four fights, including a highlight reel knockout of the previously undefeated Spaniard David Aranda Santacana at ONE FC: Moment of Truth, Belingon is finally starting to demonstrate why many believe he is the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the Philippines.
He suffered a stuttering start to his ONE FC career, losing his first two fights, but feels he has learned from that experience and has an advantage over fighters who are finding their feet with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, a category which Kim falls firmly into.
“It is an advantage for me that I have more experience than others after fighting in the ONE FC cage a couple more times than them. It feels like the ONE FC cage had been my home now and I want to own it. It’s a different experience now than the first time that I have stepped in because I am used to it, but I don’t underestimate my opponents. I consider each of my opponents to be the best that I have faced so every fight I expect to be different,” he said.
Kim boasts a 9-0-1 record, but Belingon was in a very similar situation when he signed with ONE FC having won all nine of his previous fights. The Filipino was submitted by Masakazu Imanari in his first appearance and then decisioned by Soo Chul Kim in his second, but believes he became a much better fighter as a result of these setbacks.
“We have concentrated on my weaknesses. And I have learned from every loss that I have had. Every loss has different lessons and I really took all those losses as motivation to become a better fighter and eventually become the best,” he said.
His most recent defeat was also Belingon’s most impressive because he pushed seasoned Japanese bantamweight Masakatsu Ueda all the way, picking up a Fight of the Night award in the process, but coming just short on the scorecards on what was a disappointing night for Filipino fighters at ONE FC: Rise to Power.
It was a performance that proved the potential of the Wushu fighter, who survived multiple submission attempts from Ueda, and finished the third round strongly, leaving the Japanese veteran bloody, battered, and relieved to hear the final bell.
Striking will always be Belingon’s specialty, a point he proved emphatically in his most recent performance, but against Ueda he barely got to do any and still came within a whisker of winning the fight. Buoyed by that performance the Filipino is very much in the market for a second stab at the former Shooto champ.
“I definitely want a rematch with Ueda. It was a very close fight. I learned a lot in that fight too and I think I deserve the chance to redeem myself from that loss,” he said.
Belingon was one of five Team Lakay fighters to experience defeat at ONE FC: Rise to Power, but the mood around the Baguio based camp has brightened since, as he and his teammates Eduard Folayang and Geje Eustaquio were all able to get back to winning ways last December.
All three registered victories at ONE FC: Moment of Truth and Belingon believes he is not the only fighter that has learned important lessons the hard way after being forced to live with the bitter taste of defeat.
“It gave us a big boost in the Team. It lifted us all after those devastating losses last May and we have proven that we can definitely rise up again after a fall. We really learned from those losses and took it as lessons to improve ourselves more to become complete fighters,” he said
Another fighter who walked away from ONE FC: Moment of Truth with a win was Kim, who beat Thanh Vu by second-round submission. Belingon holds a much more emphatic win over the same opponent, whom he stopped with strikes in the second round after dominating the fight from start to finish, but is taking nothing for granted as he prepares to face off with the Korean in Kuala Lumpur.
“I have watched his fights. I think he is a great fighter and I’m preparing in all aspects of the fight. I am preparing for a war and expecting that anything can happen, so we’ll see come fight night,” he said.
Their fight will be the co-main event at ONE FC: War of Nations, which is set for Stadium Negara on March 14. The winner could well be in line for a shot at the title and Belingon believes he is capable of defeating Fernandes and is not intimidated by the Brazilian’s aura of invincibility.
“It depends upon the decision of ONE FC and upon what the MMA fans want, but yes I want to fight for the title if given the chance. Bibiano is a great fighter and I believe he is the best in our division, but I also believe I know Bibiano’s weaknesses and strengths, and that I have a good chance to beat him,” he said.
Belingon was being written off by fight fans before his bout with Yusup Saadulaev, but silenced his critics with a quick-fire stoppage over the highly rated Russian. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and a win over Kim would surely leave him on the verge of a title shot.
The 135-pound roster is increasingly impressive with ONE FC recently adding 15-0-1 Indonesian Fransino Tirta and 11-2 Legend FC champion Xian Ji to the mix, while Saadulaev has been resurgent in recent fights and Koetsu Okazaki is also coming off a win.
It’s a fiercely competitive division, but Belingon has already proved he has what it takes to compete with the top fighters in it. Now the Filipino wants to become the best and if his performances continue to improve at the current trajectory you wouldn’t bet against him.
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