From a cancelled tourney bout at the weigh-ins to Miguel Torres’ trademark deadpan stare, there was a transcendent energy in the atmosphere heading into REBEL FC 2: Battle Royale on Friday night.
The special mood that was brimming down in the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre was unprecedented. The event was all about showcasing a night of world class Mixed Martial Arts action to fans, and Miguel Torres, once considered the best fighter in the globe at his weight class, stood in the middle of it all.
For years, Torres ruled the 145-lbs and 135-lbs divisions. His rise to the top was truly reminiscent to that of kingpins Georges St-Pierre, or Anderson Silva.
The 33-year-old’s debut in a new continent was surrounded with a lot of hype as fans waited patiently for the Featherweight star to emerge in the main event.
Standing across the cage from Torres was an up-and-coming Japanese prospect in Takahiro Ashida. The Team BRAVE disciple was hoping to make some noise in the promotion’s star-studded 145-lbs tournament by eliminating the early favorite.
Along with Torres and Ashida, four other Featherweight stars took center stage on the main card.
Longtime Asian MMA staple Will Chope battled Mauricio Dos Santos Jr. in the co-main event. The American has been heralded as one of the top fighters in the Asian region and was heavily touted to dispatch Brazil’s Dos Santos Jr..
Seen as fighters with an outside chance of progressing to the finals, Japan’s Yojiro Uchimura and URCC champ Reydon Romero, meanwhile, were determined to make an impression in front of the masses in the final bracket of the tournament.
While the event could be considered a mixed bag, there were lots of stand-out performances. So sit back, make yourself a good cup of tea and allow me to parse out some of the night’s real winners:
Miguel Torres: Perhaps not frazzled after all
Torres notched a split call over Ashida although the decision came with controversy, with multiple fans scoring the bout in the Japanese fighter’s favour. But, the East Indiana, Chicago native executed shades of his old self throughout the 15 minutes where he exhibited good technique off his back despite being a victim of multiple takedowns.
The grappling maestro was on a tough run during his stint with the UFC and WSOF and this was by far his most convincing win to date against a tough, perennial prospect in Ashida. Even if he doesn’t project to be the fighter he once was, I think Torres’ extended run of three-straight victories would have given him a much needed confidence boost.
He’ll face Will Chope in the semi-final bracket next and it will be interesting to see how the 33-year-old contends with his tallest foe, yet.
Will Chope: ‘Lanky Madness’ prevails again
Chope’s release from the UFC has been well documented in the past couple of months and after suffering a shock upset setback at the hands of Moon Ki-Bum under the PRO Fighting banner, the 23-year-old found himself in a steadfast situation to get back on track.
He delivered a one sided beatdown on Dos Santos Jr., using his superior reach to devastating effect through a myriad of front kicks, jabs and uppercuts. But it was Chope’s prowess on the ground that stood out, as he effectively bested a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in almost all exchanges.
To put things in perspective, it was a clean sweep on the judges’ scorecards and a solid performance. If you didn’t come away from that fight impressed with Chope, I don’t know what it will take.
And now, after starching Dos Santos Jr., Chope gets his wish in facing Torres.
Yojiro Uchimura: Don’t underestimate his chances… yet
You can be forgiven for picturing Yojiro Uchimura for a classic striker because of his predominant K-1 Kickboxing past, but on Friday night, the 29-year-old proved he was no slouch on the canvas by shining in the grappling department as well.
Without a win in three outings, Uchimura was determined to make a statement and was in opponent Reydon Romero’s face early on. When the action finally hit the floor, Uchimura pulled off a couple of neat transitions before using his Jiu-Jitsu skills to pound out his Filipino counterpart.
The effect of his punches were so devastating that Romero almost spat his mouthpiece out during the onslaught and after, spent a good five minutes or so to get his senses back.
Now if he can pull off the same performance over a talented grappler like Michael Tobin (who was automatically granted a place in the semis after his opponent, Pat Promrangka, refused to make weight), he might be a bit of a dark horse to keep an eye on after all.
Doo Hwan Kim: En route to becoming the UFC’s first Asian 205-pounder?
The UFC is yet to boast an Asian star in its 205-lbs ranks but Korean Top Team’s Doo Hwan Kim might well be on his way to claiming a spot on the roster. Along with athleticism and power coupled with impeccable timing, Kim had his full MMA facet on display on Friday night as he methodically destroyed Australia’s Sam Kei for a lopsided decision victory.
He rag dolled Kei onto the canvas and worked neat combinations on his feet, but it was on the mat where he did the most damage.
Kim deservedly stands out as South Korea’s best Light Heavyweight right now and at only 25-years-old, ‘The Rhino’ has the potential to be a huge force to be reckoned with if he continues his steady improvement.
Gyo Pyung Hwang: ‘Daepo’ has benefited from two year hiatus
It’s done him a world of good, more than anything else. Kim’s team mate, Hwang, was 3-3 before a stint in National Service paused his MMA path for two years. Since resuming his career, however, ‘Daepo’ has won a quadruple of fights with two first round finishes.
He looks better than ever.
Unfortunately for Kris Barras on Friday night, the Brit had to find out first hand on the minor twitches and faults that Hwang had been working on. Although Barras seemingly outpointed the South Korean with his textbook Muay Thai skill-set at times, Hwang’s short flurry of hard punches, top control on the canvas and pressure eventually earned him a judges’ tally of two 30-27 scores and a 29-28.
I once asked Hwang his thoughts on losing against a fighter of JJ Ambrose’s caliber so early on in his career. He chuckled, before replying, “I’m a totally different fighter since then.”
Syafiq Samad: Growing pains for every young star
At just a tender age of 20-years-old, he suffered the first setback of his career against the aforementioned Gyo Pyung Hwang in his promotional debut at REBEL FC 1: Into the Lion’s Den. Suffice to say, mistakes were made, harsh lessons were learned. It was back to the drawing board.
Syafiq has since picked himself back up, even after a taunting period of fasting due to Ramadhan. But that’s not the end of it. He still had school, social and family obligations, making use of whatever little time left to put in hours on the bags and mats.
And still, with the Singaporean flag draped across his back and the support of thousands of screaming Singaporean fans in the background, Syafiq emerged victorious on fight night in a flawless performance that saw him garner a vicious knockout over Malaysia-based, Kenny Thompson. As he stood in the cage with his hand raised in victory, he could hardly keep his emotions in check as he celebrated emphatically.
While Syafiq’s performance against Thompson was something to behold, the young Singaporean star has a ways to go before he can reach the big leagues. But, at the rate he’s progressing at, the MMA world can expect to see him contending for a major title in the future.
*For full REBEL FC 2: Battle Royale results, click here.
Photos credit: Singaporemaven, Korean Top Team, VIILevent Photography