With Ann Osman’s face plastered on billboards all over Kuala Lumpur, her voice commanding the airwaves on radio and her fists pounding the open workout bags all week, the pertinent questions for fans attending ONE Championship: Tigers of Asia are therefore all about her opponent.
On Friday, Osman faces Irina Mazepa, a 32-year old kickboxer who could very well end the Malaysian’s week with a big bang. She’s far more than just a K1 kickboxing champion, but clearly striking is her comfort zone.
A wushu instructor and six-time world champion, with a penchant for boxing and muay thai, Mazepa is likely to offer a more varied striking attack than even Ana Julaton managed, when she clearly rocked Osman in the 3rd round of their Dubai fight in 2014.
It was against Julaton, on that card, that Mazepa was supposed to make her ONE Championship debut but injury forced her to withdraw. Osman came in as a replacement and took a split decision win that placed her at the pinnacle of Asian Women’s mixed martial arts (MMA).
In the kickboxing world Mazepa looks to be the aggressor, pursuing her opponent around the ring, constantly coming forward. Whether she does the same on her MMA debut, will be an excellent indication of confidence. Her left hand is by far the busier of the two and she can land a solid left hook. It’s also used as a set-up jab for an impressively short overhand right. It was that combination which knocked Veronica Vernocchi down before the Italian’s corner through in the towel in their 2012 WTKA world kickboxing title fight.
Mazepa is the naturally bigger woman. Standing at 168cm, she’s kickboxed at 61kg. Osman is 160cm and hovers around the 57kg mark. In the clinch, Osman will be stronger pound-for-pound, but this isn’t a hypothetical pound-for-pound matchup. Assuming Mazepa’s weight cut is good, she’ll be tough for Osman to displace, technique rather than strength will undoubtedly be the key.
Standing up, Osman hasn’t exhibited anything like the power that Mazepa has absorbed in kickboxing, although she has impressed in the ground-and-pound role. This is an excellent match up.
At 32, Mazepa is at the peak of her physical abilities. For Osman, it’s all about her grappling technique. If she’s reached a level to be proud of, she’ll utilise it against a woman who beats her in size and presumably strength. If not, she may well get drilled. That Julaton didn’t make more of her punching power against Osman, remains a mystery. If Mazepa has watched that fight, she’s unlikely to make the same mistake.
Mazepa will have to knock Osman out to win or outpoint the Malaysian while striking from distance. Osman will dominate on the deck and must look to win via ground and pound, submission if she’s going to impress. Mazepa’s takedown defence will have to be good. That is likely to be the key.
Steve Dawson is ONE Championship’s lead commentator, a Fox Sports presenter and an auther of sporting biographies. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @Gulasahi and on Facebook as Steve Dawson.