Perhaps she should be competing for the ONE Atomweight World Championship, but after COVID-19 turned the martial arts world on its head, Denice Zamboanga will put everything on the line in a high-stakes bout on Friday, August 28, at ONE: A New Breed.
Zamboanga is undefeated, has two wins in ONE Championship, and is the #1-ranked contender in the atomweight division. Angela Lee and the gold looked to be next on the list for the Filipina.
Instead, it will be Watsyapinya Kaewkhong. An unranked Thai national judo champion with a Muay Thai record of 46-12.
On paper, Kaewkhong brings a well-rounded skill set that could pose issues for “The Menace.” And that highlights the risk that she is taking at ONE: A New Breed.
A loss would be devastating for the potential title threat. It would send her careening down the rankings and be a swift detour for her championship dreams. A win keeps everything on track.
Zamboanga is only 23-years-old. She is still growing and developing as an athlete and martial artist, but as the #1-ranked contender, she also is at the doorstep of a life-changing opportunity. Accepting the risk of this bout is bold. It shows she is willing to compete against anybody.
These kinds of bouts could be seen as nothing to win but everything to lose, but that is not quite the case. Fellow atomweights such as Meng Bo, who made an impactful ONE debut last November and holds a win over UFC Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang, are breathing down her neck to take her top contender status.
Zamboanga gets to take to the global stage of ONE and compete to stay active and fresh in the fan’s eyes. A dominant showcase against her Thai counterpart would cement her status as the division’s top contender to Lee’s crown. That is something worth competing for in Bangkok.
It is a big risk, but a calculated one with a big reward at the end of the bout. As the world inches back to a sense of normalcy and active competitions, Zamboanga is one of the lone atomweights getting to show her skills to a global audience.
The Filipina’s eyes may be looking upward at Lee, but she is also focused on the present by accepting this matchup. Nobody will forget about “The Menace,” and a big performance at ONE: A New Breed will leave them talking about her title prospects. She deserves credit for taking the risk.
But it is just that – a risk. Kaewkhong gets her chance to turn the division on its head by beating its top contender.
This may turn out to be the smartest play that Zamboanga could have done under the circumstances, and if she can come through with a memorable victory, then expect her to compete for the ONE Atomweight World Championship in her next bout.