Ariel Sexton makes his long-awaited return to the ONE Championship cage on 23 February at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD looking to cement his credentials as a legitimate threat to the ONE Lightweight Title.
Now he’s ready to return against fellow contender Ev Ting in Yangon, Myanmar with the winner moving one step closer to a shot at the belt.
“The reason why you have not seen me in the ONE cage is because of injuries,” he explained in an exclusive interview with ONE Championship.
“That is why this bout is so important for me. I am going to win, but I do not want to get injured because I want to be more active. I want to do three bouts this year. That is the idea.”
Sexton’s return comes after an 18-month injury layoff that has served only to sharpen his focus ahead of his return to the cage as he’s recovered from first a broken arm, then a cracked orbital bone, then a torn ACL.
“Most people do not know this, [but in] the Eddie Ng bout, he broke my arm in the first 30 seconds,” he revealed.
“I competed with a broken arm, but then I submitted him in the second round. I got an x-ray, my arm was broken in half, and I had to have major surgery — eight screws and a titanium plate put in my arm. I was out for a whole year, and that is why I did not compete until Roger Huerta.
“When I faced Roger Huerta, he cracked the orbital bone in my eye in the first round. My strategy was to use my jiu-jitsu, but he is a scrapper. He is a brawler. So as soon as he cracked my orbital in the first round, I went into brawl mode. My face went numb and I just started brawling with him.
“I am always training to stay ready, but then I tore my ACL. I wrecked my knee pretty badly. I am 36, so it does not recover as fast. I did not get any surgery, and I had to heal it the old fashioned way with strength and conditioning, and a lot of herbal supplements.”
Being forced out of action with injury is a frustrating situation for any athlete, but for Sexton, who appeared be on course to earn a shot at the ONE Lightweight Title, it was particularly tough to swallow.
It’s not the first time he’s dealt with adversity and difficulty in his career, as he explained.
“I had so many things in my career and my life throw me off,” he said.
“I mean, the last bout I lost against Kamal Shalorus [in March 2014], one of my best friends overdosed and died the week of the bout. So I went into that one just depressed and crying, and I thought I could compete. I lost a decision, and I was just not there that night.
“Momentum stops, but I am always training at the highest level. I do not believe in just training when you have a bout upcoming. That is when you can work on your weaknesses, so I train all day, every day, helping guys and helping them get ready. A lot of my success comes from helping them.
“In my mind, I compete every day. You guys do not get to see me as much as I like, but all of my bouts are against quality, top-level guys.”
Now, with his injury woes now behind him, Sexton is all set to jump back into action in a high-profile lightweight contest against former world title challenger Ev Ting.
The Malaysian-born Kiwi is a dangerous opponent, but one Sexton believes he has the style to overcome.
“My frame is misleading,” he said.
“I have a long reach, and a lot of people do not know that I lived in Costa Rica for a long time, and I boxed with multiple world-class boxers for over 10 years.
“My boxing has a lot of holes in it if you look at it from a boxing standpoint, but from a martial arts standpoint, where you are able to fake and take people down, I have an unorthodox style of striking. I watch a lot of crazy movies, and things like flying knees, that all comes naturally to me.
“I do not train kicks and punches all day long. I do not believe in pad work. I hit the heavy bag, and I drill and I work on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu.”
And it’s that jiu-jitsu base that Sexton says will prove the crucial difference-maker when the pair meet on 23 February in Yangon.
“I am a jiu-jitsu athlete. I do not want to knock people out. I want to submit them,” he stated.
“I want to tap them out. I want to be a human backpack. I want to take people down, and choke them out. That is the ideal way of competing for me.
“I think that I have a very good advantage, plus my work ethic, and it all comes down to mindset. I am a little older, and I think my mind is able to see things a little differently than five or ten years ago, because I was always in a rush.
“Now, I am not in a rush. I do not feel like I have to prove anything. There are 15 minutes to do it, and it is going to happen my way.”
Victory could put Sexton in line for a shot at the ONE Lightweight Title, currently held by two-weight world champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen. It’s a matchup Sexton says he’d love to take on in the not-too-distant future, but he won’t give it too much thought until after he’s claimed the vital victory he needs against Ting.
”I would love that,” he said.
“We are all on the same path, we are all striving for the same thing – coming from nothing, and getting the opportunity. I am not going to think ahead too far, because I have to think about what I’ve got coming up soon with Ev Ting.”
A true martial artist with an unquenchable thirst for competition, Sexton is happy to be back to full fitness, happy to be back in action and happy to face whoever ONE Championship lines him up against.
“Anybody they put in front of me, I will be ready,” he said.
“I definitely want to face big name guys, and guys who are popular in ONE Championship. I like competing in ONE Championship, and being able to go to Asia, and meeting these amazing people is great for me.
“Martial arts is all about building bridges, and that is what I do it for. To travel around the world and compete is living a dream.
“The great thing about the lightweight division in ONE is that it is so deep. You can get a lot of great match-ups, going from Roger Huerta to Ev Ting. These guys are all studs.
“Everybody works hard. Everybody is top, top level, and it is all very competitive.”
That competitive journey continues on 23 February.
Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.
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