ONE Championship: Empower Preview

Itsuki Hirata does a pose before a fight in the ONE ring.
Itsuki Hirata is one of two undefeated fighters in the ONE Atomweight Grand Prix (ONE Championship)

Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship will host their first-ever all-women event on Friday morning. The eight-fight card features a title fight between 125-pound champ Xiong Jing Nan and Michelle Nicolini, and also includes the launch of an eight-woman grand prix.

The event is one of the promotion’s most anticipated of the year. It was first announced back in March, with the first targeted date for the event being May. After COVID-19 forced the first rendition of the show to be postponed, it now finally lands on a weekend in September.

Unlike many ONE Championship events recently, Friday’s card will air live instead of pre-taped. It will take place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.

Here’s a preview of the event.

Click here to skip to a preview of the main card.

Lead Card (7:30AM EDT / 7:30PM SGT) (Youtube / Bleacher Report App)

Bout 1: Mei Yamaguchi (21-12-1) vs. Julie Mezabarba (8-2-1) (ONE Atomweight Grand Prix Alternate Bout) (115 lbs)

The evening will kick off with the sole alternate bout in ONE Championship’s 115-pound tournament. In that fight, veteran Mei Yamaguchi will take on Julie Mezabarba.

The tournament was set to also have an alternate fight between Jenelyn Olsim and Grace Cleveland, but that bout was removed from the card due to Cleveland dealing with physical issues leading up to the event.

Yamaguchi is one of the most experienced fighters on ONE’s roster. Having fought since 2007, Yamaguchi has made herself a big name in the Japanese MMA scene. She signed to ONE Championship in 2016 and has fought for them 10 times in total. She has been out of the cage for a year now, with her last fight being a loss to Denice Zamboanga in February 2020. That bout snapped a four-fight winning streak of Yamaguchi’s.

The fight on Friday will be Mezabarba’s ONE debut. She has competed since 2014 and is currently on the best run of her career. Mezabarba is currently on a four-fight winning streak and has gone six bouts without a loss. Most wins on her record have come from the regional scene in Brazil.

Bout 2: Jackie Buntan vs. Daniela Lopez (115 lbs) (Muay Thai Bout)

The sole Muay Thai bout on the card will finish the prelims, as Jackie Buntan and Daniela Lopez will face off.

Buntan has had a strong two-fight run since joining ONE earlier this year. Her campaign in the promotion kicked off with a huge upset, as she defeated Wondergirl Fairtex in February. The win, which saw her score a knockdown at one point, made her the first person to defeat Wondergirl through three appearances in ONE.

Buntan then returned two months later to earn a decision victory over Ekaterina Vandaryeva.

Lopez will be making her ONE debut in the fight. She has competed in Muay Thai extensively and has wins in Thailand. She said in an interview that she started training Muay Thai in 2016 and moved to Thailand in 2019.

Main Card (8:30AM EDT / 8:30PM SGT) (Youtube / Bleacher Report App)

Bout 3: Anissa Meksen vs. Cristina Morales (115 lbs) (Kickboxing Bout)

Before ONE presents their tournament and title fight, the main card will kick off with a kickboxing fight between Anissa Meksen and Cristina Morales.

The matchup will see both kickboxers make their ONE debut.

Meksen is joining the promotion after an extensive run in GLORY Kickboxing. She fought exclusively for them from 2017 to 2020, becoming their super bantamweight champion twice in that time.

Meksen will be fighting for the first time in over a year.

Morales has fought in kickboxing since 2012. Her career includes fights in notable promotions K-1 Japan and Enfusion. Her last bout was in August of last year, where she defeated Simona Di Dio Martello.

Bout 4: Itsuki Hirata (4-0) vs. Alyse Anderson (5-1) (ONE Atomweight Grand Prix Quarter-Final) (115 lbs)

In the first of four grand prix bouts, undefeated fighter Itsuki Hirata will take on promotional newcomer Alyse Anderson.

Hirata is one of the many ONE prospects appearing in the tournament. Her entire four-fight pro career has taken place in their cage and ring. All of her victories have come via stoppage, including her second-round victory over Miku Nakamura in February.

The matchup on Friday will be Anderson’s ONE debut. She was previously a fighter in Invicta FC, competing three times for them. She enters the bracket on a two-fight winning streak. She has been out of the cage for two years, with her last appearance being a split decision victory over Katie Saull in 2019.

Bout 5: Meng Bo (17-5) vs. Ritu Phogat (5-1) (ONE Atomweight Grand Prix Quarter-Final) (115 lbs)

Meng Bo and Ritu Phogat will meet in the second fight of the grand prix.

Phogat had quite the confusing path into the tournament. When the bracket was first announced in March, she was one of the few fighters who entered it undefeated – she had four pro bouts at that time. However, after losing an upset to Bi Nguyen on ONE’s “Dangal” card, her spot in the bracket was in danger. She was briefly removed from the bracket, but was placed back into it after returning to the win column against Lin Heqin.

Despite beating Phogat, Nguyen will not be competing in the tournament.

Similar to aforementioned prospect Hirata, Phogat’s entire pro MMA career has taken place in ONE. She made her debut in 2019 and attained four wins within a two-year window.

Meng is one of the most experienced fighters in the tournament, coming in with over 20 pro bouts and having competed since 2013. She has scored three victories since joining ONE in 2019, including a recent decision win against Samara Santos.

Bout 6: Alyona Rassohyna (13-4) vs. Stamp Fairtex (5-1) (ONE Atomweight Grand Prix Quarter-Final) (115 lbs)

A rematch will take place in the tournament when Alyona Rassohyna faces Stamp Fairtex.

Rassohyna made a statement in her ONE debut earlier this year, becoming the first fighter to hand Stamp a loss in MMA. While the fight was Stamp’s first loss in MMA, it only continued a recent slide she has been on in combat sports. Before then, she had lost her Muay Thai and kickboxing ONE belts in 2020.

Stamp’s MMA career first started in 2018, and has included three stoppage wins.

Prior to her ONE debut, Rassohyna had a dozen wins with some dating back to 2010.

Bout 7: Denice Zamboanga (8-0) vs. Seo Hee Ham (23-8) (ONE Atomweight Grand Prix Quarter-Final) (115 lbs)

Former RIZIN Super Atomweight Champion Seo Hee Ham will make her return to action when facing undefeated talent Denice Zamboanga in the final quarter-final match of the tournament.

Ham, a former UFC fighter and Road FC veteran, will be making her ONE debut. She is moving over to the promotion after a successful campaign in RIZIN through 2019. She picked up two stoppage wins in the promotion, then defeated long-time champ Ayaka Hamasaki via split decison at the promotion’s New Year’s Eve card.

Ham, the most experienced fighter in the bracket, will be coming back after not fighting for all of 2020 and most of 2021.

Zamboanga is the other fighter in the bracket wagering her undefeated record. She currently has eight pro wins, including three in ONE. She scored her first submission victory in ONE in her last appearance, submitting Watsapinya Kaewkhong in August 2020.

Bout 8: Xiong Jing Nan (15-2) vs. Michelle Nicolini (6-2) (ONE MMA Strawweight Championship) (125 lbs)

ONE’s busy card will wrap up on Friday night with a title bout between ONE MMA Strawweight Champion Xiong Jing Nan and Michelle Nicolini. The fight has went under the radar of many viewers, as the tournament that will play out earlier in the show has been a focal point of the event’s promotion.

The fight gives Xiong a chance to continue her dominant reign at 125-pounds. She has been the promotion’s champ since 2018 and has defended it four times. Her most recent win was in the fall, where she prevailed in a rematch against Tiffany Teo. She has lost within her title reign, as she had an unsuccessful move down to the 115-pound weight class in 2019.

Nicolini will be getting her first title fight since joining ONE in 2016. She had a strong start in the promotion, putting together three wins. Her sole loss in ONE came against former champ Tiffany Teo in 2018. She got into the title picture after defeating 115-pound Angela Lee at the 125-pound weight class.

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