ONE Championship recently announced that Shannon Wiratchai and Rasul Yakhyaev will compete in a lightweight title eliminator at ONE: Warriors of the World.
With Eduard Folayang, the current lightweight champion, tied up in a cross-divisional champion vs. champion showdown in November, it makes complete sense for ONE Championship to have created a title eliminator in the division. It also makes sense that Shannon Wiratchai is one of the two fighters competing in the title eliminator. Wiratchai is on a six-fight win streak dating back to 2013 and ranks among the best contenders in the division.
What is surprising about all of this, however, is ONE Championship’s decision to include Rasul Yakhyaev in the title eliminator rather than a top contender in the division.
Skipping the line
While Amir Khan has been working tirelessly to earn a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship, Rasul Yakhyaev has essentially skipped the line.
Rasul Yakhyaev hasn’t competed in ONE Championship for a long time. It’s weird that he gets to fight in the title eliminator. But, I don’t really disagree with it. It’s not something I care about. If Shannon or the other guy wins, I can just fight them for the title.
If Yakhyaev manages to defeat Shannon Wiratchai, he will be granted an opportunity to challenge for the title despite not having competed at a ONE Championship event since December 2015. Making things all the stranger, Yakhyaev enters the fight in December after three consecutive defeats while competing at Absolute Championship Berkut.
We spoke to Amir Khan regarding the lightweight title eliminator and asked for his thoughts on the announcement. Khan admitted that the title eliminator was “weird”, but he seems at peace with the decision from ONE Championship. Khan’s maturity and level-headed approach to his career means that he is comfortable waiting for this entire scenario to play out. In the meantime, he can continue to improve and be next in line after the winner of the title eliminator challenges for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
A missed opportunity
Since joining ONE Championship in 2014, Amir Khan has lost just once.
I hope Shannon wins. If he’s not injured, then he can fight for the title. If he wins, I think it would be a really good rematch. It would be great for the fans.
In May 2015, Khan lost to Shannon Wiratchai via split decision at ONE FC 27: Warrior’s Quest. Not only was it a close contest that many fans had scored differently, but it was also an exciting battle between two of the most creative strikers who now reside in ONE’s lightweight division. Scheduling Khan vs. Wiratchai was an example of supreme matchmaking between two of the organization’s up-and-coming talents who both had a 3-1 record.
Since that day, both fighters have enjoyed tremendous success in the ONE Championship lightweight division. Amir Khan has since won five consecutive fights via stoppage. Shannon Wiratchai has also finished all four of his next opponents.
A title eliminator rematch would have given Khan the opportunity that he has been asking for. After finishing Jaroslav Jartim in 3:46 at ONE Championship: Shanghai, Khan requested either Eduard Folayang or Ev Ting as his next opponent. But for now, Amir Khan is patiently waiting to see what unfolds in the lightweight division before he hopes to challenge for the ONE Lightweight World Championship in early 2018.
A totally different fighter
There’s no doubting that both Amir Khan and Shannon Wiratchai have made tremendous improvements since they met each other day in May 2015.
I was very stiff. There was no footwork, my feet were always planted. I was basically still transitioning from a Muay Thai fighter into a mixed martial artist, I hadn’t made that full transition. I was still stuck in the old mindset; old traditional Muay Thai. Every shot had to be powerful and hard. I was so stiff, there was no fluidity. I didn’t really feel comfortable in that fight.
Amir Khan claims that he wasn’t comfortable in that fight with Shannon Wiratchai at ONE FC 27. Khan now moves with fluidity and purpose that wasn’t there the first time he fought Wiratchai. Previously, and especially in the fight with Wiratchai, Khan explained that he was still making the transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts. Because of this, Khan would often plant his feet and throw power shots rather than moving with the smoothness that we see from him today.
Amir Khan explains: “If you look at that fight, and the way I fight now, it’s totally different. I move a lot now. There’s more footwork. I never stay in one place. I don’t throw shots for no reason. Every shot I throw has to have a purpose. I don’t just waste a shot for no reason.”
22-year-old Amir Khan really is a different fighter now compared to two years ago. At ONE FC 27 against Wiratchai, Khan started the fight with a barrage of heavy kicks. More recently, Khan has shown exceptional patience and composure inside the ONE Championship cage and is more than happy to wait for the knockout opportunity to present itself – rather than forcing it like he may have done in the past.
Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.