Malaysian hero Gianni Subba was all set to take on Filipino Danny Kingad at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY on Friday, 9 March, but an injury in the main event saw him handed a golden opportunity.
ONE Flyweight World Champion Adriano Moraes was forced out of the event through injury, leaving number-one contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren without an opponent. ONE officials offered the main event spot to Subba in a newly-booked world title eliminator, and the 25-year-old gratefully accepted.
“If you want to challenge for a belt, you need to beat the contenders,” he said in an interview with ONE Championship.
“So, this is a test for me.
“I got the call from ONE telling me something happened to Moraes – I think he got injured – and they asked me if I wanted to step up for the main event. I just said yes.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do. Last year, Reece came down to 61kg [flyweight], and I always thought we were going to meet. That was the main number one contender bout, I thought, because I had just taken out Riku Shibuya. It made sense.
“I actually thought I was [originally] going to compete against him on the ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY card, but I was matched up with Danny Kingad instead.”
The opportunity merely comes in the form of a change in opponent, rather than a short-notice bout, with Subba already previously scheduled to appear on the card. For Subba, it’s the perfect opportunity to step up.
“I am in shape. It is the end of training camp, and I am in the best shape I could possibly be,” he said.
“It is just the little technical changes [I am focusing on now]. I just have to clean them up over the next couple of days, and it is what it is.
“We are here to compete against each other, and we are here to see who the best martial artist is. The old school guys used to not know who they were competing against, so at least we have an idea.”
It’ll be Subba’s first main event appearance, and it’ll have added significance with the bout taking place in his home town of Kuala Lumpur. He says it would be a “special” occasion for him and his family.
“When I first signed to ONE, I made a couple of goals, and this was one of them — to main event in KL,” he said.
“That, in itself, is special. I have grown with the Malaysian martial arts scene. I have watched it come up.
When I debuted, martial arts was not very big in Malaysia, and then it kinda blew up. I was part of that growth, even till now. I was competing on undercards, to now main eventing in my hometown of Kuala Lumpur, and I will have my friends and family there all to support me.
“Plus, when I train in KL, I go to a bunch of the gyms. Everyone is helping everyone in Malaysia, and it is awesome.”
Subba is riding a two-bout win streak, with both recent victories coming against former world title challengers Yago Bryan and Riku Shibuya. A third consecutive win, against McLaren, would give him the perfect springboard into a title bout in 2018.
He knows he’ll face as tough an opponent as he’s faced in his entire career, with McLaren prepared to challenge for a world title before losing his opponent earlier in the week.
“His strength is definitely his relentlessness. He is fast, and he does not give up,” he said.
“He is always looking for the takedown. He has good grappling, and he can strike too. He can throw good shots. But as far as weaknesses, he gets rocked a lot.”
Despite McLaren’s undoubted pedigree, Subba believes his striking could catch out the Aussie.
“I have seen a couple of matches where he gets rocked a lot, and then goes for the takedown. So I feel like when I land [my shots], he is going to feel it,” he said.
“Obviously, I am trying to make my game more well-rounded. I have faced a lot of grapplers in the past, and yeah, I feel like I can neutralise him. I feel like at 61kg, if I hit anybody, they are going to feel it, and they are going to be hurt.”
Victory would put Subba next in line for a shot at the ONE Flyweight Title, but with two belts currently in circulation, he had an interesting answer when asked who he’d like to face first – reigning champion Adriano Moraes or interim champion Geje Eustaquio.
“I will be honest with you: I want to face Geje first,” he admitted.
“I took that bout [in April 2016] at 66kg [bantamweight], and it was my first match ever at that weight. All my other matches before were at 61kg [flyweight]. I felt slow, but that is no excuse.
“Geje was the better man that night, and now he has the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title. So I would like to have that rematch, at 61kg.
First, of course, he has to deal with McLaren in the main event in KL.
“Obviously, I am not looking ahead. Reece McLaren is the only thing I am thinking about right now,” he said.
“I want to prove I am the number one contender. I know that I am, and now, I have to go out there and prove it.”