In 2012, Nicholas Mann and Tony Benello became the first Australian fighters to ever compete for ONE Championship. They were both submitted by members of the Gracie family, but despite this inauspicious start fighters from the ‘land down under’ have gone on to make their mark with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
Martin Nguyen currently holds two titles and his compatriot Reece Mclaren is set to challenge for another. But while a young generation of Australian fighters is bursting onto the scene, one veteran is battling to prove he is still a force to be reckoned with in the lightweight division.
Adrian Pang Blazed a Trail for Australian Fighters in Asia
Adrian Pang blazed a trail for Australian fighters in Asia. He won the Legend FC 155-pound title in 2010 and has fought in Hong Kong, Macau, China, Malaysia, and Singapore, going up against the likes of Yui Chul Nam, Narantungalag Jadambaa, Eduard Folayang, and Roger Huerta.
In total, Pang has fought nine times in Asia and has never been stopped. Two of those bouts have ended in split-decision defeats, while another was ruled a draw, which gives you an indication of just how competitive most of his contests have been.
But the 40-year-old finds himself on a three-fight losing skid. It was something of a surprise when he dropped a decision to Eduard Folayang in a title eliminator and the Australian can consider himself extremely unfortunate to have been on the wrong end of a split decision against Roger Huerta.
The decision defeat to Amir Khan late last year was not a controversial one, but Pang, who faces Honorio Banario at ONE: Heroes of Honor on Friday, says there were extenuating factors behind his subpar performance.
“I smashed my knee two weeks before my last contest, and I thought it was just a bit swollen. The swelling went down, and I could not run much, but I had no idea it was as bad as it was until afterwards. I had to get an MRI and I had a torn PCL. It is still not 100 percent, but it is never going to be.”
After a 35-fight pro career that has lasted 17 years, these are the type of issues a fighter inevitably has to deal with. However, Pang is proud that not one of the nine opponents he has faced in Asia has managed to stop him and feels he is getting outsmarted rather than beaten up.
“I have been losing, but it is not like I am getting my butt handed to me or my head knocked out to where I have to say ‘hey, it is time to hang up the gloves.’ With people trying to run around and outpoint me, it is like I have not really lost a bout. It still hurts all the same, but I do not feel that my back is against the wall.”
Pang’s been the distance 17 times, but his fights are never dull. The Australian likes to plant his feet and throw bombs and he’s shown that he can take more than his fair share of punishment too, the epic 2011 battle with Jadambaa will go down in the annals of Asian MMA history.
Against Khan he was outthought rather than outfought. The Singaporean came into the fight with a smart game plan and, to his obvious frustration, Pang was unable to close the distance and turn the bout into the sort of brawl in which he thrives.
Adrian Pang Insists He’s Not Being Left Behind
However, Pang does not accept that the sport’s evolution has simply left him behind. He says he trains with some of Australia’s best young prospects and always holds his own.
“I’ve got a young two-time Australian champion (training with me) and I am hanging in there with him and teaching him my tricks. I still feel great and I still feel I can do it. They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but I have been there, done that, and I am always evolving. I am not stuck in the 1980s.”
When Pang is not fighting, he is busy coaching at Integrated MMA in Brisbane. It means he stays active regardless of whether a bout is booked and the 40-year-old is never content to stand on the sidelines giving instructions.
“I still actively coach in my gym, and I am a hands-on guy. If I am making the boys do 100 push-ups then I am doing 100 push-ups. Some coaches sit there and bark orders, but I lead by example.”
So while Pang can’t continue fighting forever, he will still be involved in the sport and says he already has some exciting young prospects in his stable.
“I have some undefeated boys in my gym now and they are going to be huge one day; seeing them win is cool. This can be a selfish sport, but not on my team. We stand for each other and there are no egos.”
Pang was one win away from challenging for the ONE Championship lightweight belt, but dropped a decision to Folayang in a title eliminator. He dominated the third round of that fight, but was second best for the first ten minutes, which ultimately cost him the chance to face Shinya Aoki.
Folayang would famously go on to win the title before getting knocked out by Nguyen. So it’s worth noting that, while the Filipino’s recent form has been better than Pang’s, his losses have been far more brutal. The Australian is always on his feet when the final bell sounds.
Pang didn’t feel any resentment when he saw Nguyen knock out Folayang to win the title. In fact, he was happy to see a fellow Ozzie having success.
“We are all for one and one for all down here. When they win, I am happy; when Martin knocked out Eduard in my division, I didn’t feel threatened; I just felt happy that another Australian won the gold, especially the way that he did it.”
Adrian Pang Expects Tough Fight from Honorio Banario
Banario is 12 years younger than Pang and is coming off a four-fight winning streak that dates all the way back to 2015. After facing a Singaporean in Singapore in his last bout, ‘The Hunter’ is now scheduled to take on a Filipino in the Philippines on Friday.
Consistently fighting on foreign soil means that Pang is never handed easy bouts. This one is no exception and the Australian wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The bouts are not getting easier for me. I’ve lost three in a row, but I am not facing someone that has lost three in a row, or even two in a row; Honorio has won four in a row. Amir had won how many in a row? I will face anyone if I am given time to prepare for them.”
The time will eventually come when Pang has to hang up his gloves, but he is dreading it and has no desire to expedite the process.
“I know I cannot (carry on fighting) forever, but I would love to do it forever and it is going to feel like crap when I have to stop.”
A win in Manila on Friday would be the possible way to silence all the retirement talk. At 40, the injuries might linger a little longer while training takes a much heavier toll, but for Pang this would make a victory over one of the top contenders in the division that much sweeter.