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In some ways, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. But while it is
true that every fight matters, some feel as though they
matter more, for any number of reasons. In some cases, the elevated
stakes are easy to quantify. Picture the fighter on a losing streak
who knows he or she is likely fighting for their job; or
conversely, any matchup on Dana White’s Contender Series, where two
hopefuls know that the brass ring is within their reach if they can
win impressively. In other cases, a fight feels especially
important for reasons that are harder to quantify, but no less
real. Whether it’s the symbolic heft of being the first title
challenger from one’s country, or the simple added spice of two
fighters who really hate each other’s guts, that fight means just a
little more.

This Wednesday, One Championship’s first card on TNT features
several fights that carry that kind of tension for one or both
participants. Here are three fighters who are under just a little
extra pressure to stand and deliver at
One Championship on TNT 1
.

Back in 2018 when Johnson departed the Ultimate Fighting Championship for One
Championship, I wondered whether One’s flyweight division would
provide enough credible challenges to maintain his status as a
pound-for-pound elite fighter. Frankly, I doubted it, and felt that
the trade was much better for his counterpart, Ben Askren. I
believe I was wrong about that, as I confessed in an article last week. I won’t
rehash it all here; the main point is that One’s flyweight division
has turned out to be healthier than it appeared two or three years
ago, and is getting even better.

However, Johnson’s chances to test his mettle against elite
flyweights are still limited, and Wednesday’s title tilt with
Adriano
Moraes
represents one of the best of them. Not only is Moraes
an outstanding fighter who poses legitimate threats to “Mighty
Mouse,” but the event is being broadcast on basic cable in the
United States. American fans who let Johnson slip off the radar
after the move — and there have been many — will be checking in.
It’s an opportunity for the longtime UFC champ, one of the most
underappreciated fighters in MMA history, to remind them just how
great he is.

Of course, Johnson is not the only former UFC champion and
household name fighting on Wednesday’s card. Before “Mighty Mouse”
even thought of decamping to Singapore there was Alvarez, who
signed with One for reported big bucks after a UFC run that saw
spectacular highs as well as crushing lows. Unlike Johnson’s strong
run with his new promotion, Alvarez has experienced mixed results,
and that’s putting it mildly. After suffering a knockout loss to
3-to-1 underdog Timofey
Nastyukhin
in his debut, he was dropped again in his bounceback
fight by Eduard
Folayang
. He recovered to win with an improbable-looking sweep,
back take and rear-naked choke, but for the 37-year-old
“Underground King,” who had suffered a couple of knockout losses on
his way out of the UFC, both performances were concerning.

Alvarez is already one of the best fighters of his generation, the
author of a heaping fistful of classic fights and an enviable
highlight reel, and has nothing to prove to anyone but himself.
Between the UFC and One, he has finally been collecting some
respectable purses after years of earning his nickname by fighting
for every dead-end promotion of the 2000s. The questions at this
point are: How much does he have left after all the years and all
the wars, and what would he like to accomplish in the time that
remains to him? His foe at One on TNT 1, Iuri
Lapicus
, is no pushover, but one-shot knockout power is not one
of his notable strengths. All told, it should be a good opportunity
to answer both questions. If all he wants is to collect a few more
of those purses, and perhaps finish up a trilogy with Shinya Aoki,
a middling performance against Lapicus, or even a loss, is fine. If
he wants to fight One’s best — certainly if he wants any shot at
the winner of Nastyukhin’s challenge of One lightweight champ
Christian
Lee
next week — he needs to win this in style, preferably
without getting his chin checked.

All of my points about this being a precious opportunity for
Johnson to show out against an elite foe go double for Moraes. On
talent and the eyeball test, the two-time One Championship and
former Shooto Brazil titleholder has been one of the best
flyweights competing outside North America for years. Moraes’ three
career losses have all been extremely competitive, and at least the
first two were against excellent flyweights. As a longtime member
of American Top Team, working with some of the best lighter weight
fighters in the UFC and Bellator, I suspect that Moraes knows where
he falls in the global pecking order, but he has had relatively few
chances to prove it.

A flat performance and close decision loss to Geje
Eustaquio
— unfortunately, right before the Johnson signing —
pulled him into a trilogy that tied him up for a year and frankly
did little for his worldwide stock. Now, finally, comes the chance
to shine against one of the greatest fighters on the planet, and in
front of an American television audience, to boot. If Moraes wins,
his stock skyrockets. On the other hand, if he loses badly to
Johnson, there is no guarantee he will get an immediate rematch in
the increasingly deep and hungry One flyweight division. In other
words, “Mikinho”: You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to
blow.


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