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Kevin Belingon is ready to be inspired by the Manila crowd at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR

Filipino striker hopes to be cheered to success by the Manila crowd at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR

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ONE Championship

Kevin Belingon is almost within touching distance of another title shot.

The Filipino striker is riding a four-bout win streak including knockouts of two previous title challengers. And on Friday, 20 April, he’ll look to add to that list when he faces another former title challenger – Andrew Leone – at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR.

As well as claiming victory for his career, Belingon says he’s also fighting for the fans who have supported him throughout his martial arts career.

“Every time I step into the cage, I am not just looking for victory. I am also looking to put on a show for all the fans who took time out of their busy schedules to come and watch me perform,” he told ONE Championship.

“I feel very strong and confident right now, having won my last four bouts. But I know that every bout from this point on will be more and more difficult, as the level of opponents keeps getting higher.

“Aside from Bibiano Fernandes himself, I believe Andrew Leone is a worthy opponent, and he will be one of the toughest guys I will ever face. He has many strengths, and very few weaknesses, and I will need to be in the best shape possible in order to give a good performance.”

Belingon is aiming to earn himself a title shot with victory over Leone, and he was an interested spectator when reigning bantamweight champ Bibiano Fernandes defended his crown against two-weight champion Martin Nguyen.

“I thought it to be a very exciting contest,” he said.

“It was extremely close. Martin scored early in the opening rounds, with that big right hand, and beautiful boxing. But Bibiano started to pick up the pace in the later rounds – the championship rounds. I think that is what made the difference in the bout.

“Bibiano was able to show the judges that he wanted it more, even as both men were exhausted. He just wanted it more, and showed the true heart of a champion who never gives up. Martin is a tremendous martial artist, but it was not meant to be just yet.

“The ONE Championship bantamweight division is full of talented, and tough, athletes. It is one of the deepest divisions in the promotion. I have to always be on top of the game, because one mistake puts you back at the end of the line. Bantamweight is like one huge shark tank. Everyone is gunning for everyone, and we all want the title.”

Now Belingon hopes to be the next man up to face Fernandes for the ONE Bantamweight Title, and he says he’s been working tirelessly in the gym to ensure his grappling skills are on par with his elite-level striking ahead of the contest.

“I have worked intensively on my grappling. I know Andrew is a very good wrestler and grappler, so I have to be careful and strategic in this bout. My striking will always be my biggest advantage, and I would like to showcase that some more in this bout.

“The work we have put in at Team Lakay, especially with our wrestling and grappling, is going to be useful in this match-up. Coach Mark is guiding the team in improving all areas of our skills, and grappling is one of the main focus points.

“As martial artists, we must always seek improvement every single day – whether that is making our striking a lot tighter and more compact, or enhancing the flow of our grappling. I am putting in the time with my training. I will give the best performance of my life on 20 April.”

That performance, he says will see him leverage his wushu-based striking game to overpower Leone’s grappling-first approach. The Filipino says he sees a big disparity in striking skills between the pair, and believes he can find a route to victory via his hands.

“I think I can really capitalise on Andrew Leone’s striking,” he suggested.

“I think that is really where I will have the advantage, so I want to exploit that a little bit. My game plan will definitely be to keep the action standing.

“I know how capable of a grappler he is, and it will be difficult if we hit the ground. I have to try to keep it on the feet, and test his striking. Luckily, my team and I have worked immensely on my takedown, and submission, defense. If the bout goes to the ground, I will be prepared.”

With Belingon riding an impressive run of form, all eyes are on him as he steps into the cage on home soil, but he says there’s no pressure. In fact, he says he’ll experience a performance spike as a result of the crowd’s positive energy towards him on the night.

“I do not feel any pressure at all performing in front of my hometown fans in Manila,” he explained.

“In fact, it probably gives me more energy and strength knowing that I have the support of my friends and family, who are in close proximity. Team Lakay is doing exceptionally well right now, and I want to keep that going. I am going to do my absolute best to win my next bout.”

And if he does, all the talk will turn to a potential Fernandes vs Belingon rematch, but the Filipino is staying tight-lipped on the subject of a return bout with “The Flash” until he’s dealt with the bout in front of him.

“The title is within reach, I can see the path clearly,” he stated.

“I have to keep winning. After winning four straight, I know every victory from here will bring me closer to my goal. I am ready for the title, but I will beat whoever ONE Championship puts in front of me. I will do my best.

“I am proud to be in this organization, and showcase my skills and talent to a worldwide audience. I do not want to look past Andrew Leone, because he is a very dangerous opponent. I am focused solely on my next match. We will talk about the title after I beat Leone.”

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK national media. News Editor: ONE Championship. UFC/MMA Reporter: BBC Three. International MMA Reporter: The Fight Nation. Contributor: MMAjunkie.

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