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Explore each fighter's road to the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix

An inside look at how each participant arrived in the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix bracket, which begins on May 20.

In January 2018, legendary muay Thai striker Sam-A Gaiyanghadao faced WBC muay Thai world champion Joseph Lasiri in ONE Championship's first-ever muay Thai bout – and that moment sent shockwaves through the combat sports world.

Given the positive reception, muay Thai fighters across the globe wanted to showcase their skills in the organization. They soon came in droves – from featherweights down to strawweights, from men to women, and from seasoned veterans to teenage newcomers.

But even with all that talent spread across the promotion, perhaps no weight class can match flyweight for pure excitement and depth.

Luckily for fight fans, eight of the baddest strikers on the planet will compete in the ONE flyweight Muay Thai world grand prix, which begins with the quarterfinal round at "ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot" on Friday, May 20.

Before ONE Championship kicks off another prestigious tournament at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, let's look at how each participant arrived in the bracket.

Rodtang's reign as flyweight king

Rodtang Jitmuangnon has been the most dominant flyweight muay Thai fighter in ONE history, and he wants to further cement that status in the grand prix.

The reigning divisional king will battle Jacob Smith in the quarterfinals, and he hopes to ultimately pair the tournament’s silver belt with his golden world title strap.

The 24-year-old Thai made his ONE debut in 2018 against a game Sergio Wielzen, beating the Surinamese athlete by unanimous decision and then winning his next three bouts.

"The Iron Man" then dethroned Jonathan Haggerty to capture the ONE flyweight muay Thai world title and has defended it three times since, including a third-round TKO of the Englishman in their rematch.

More recently, the man with a 267-42-10 career record switched sports and beat Tagir Khalilov by split decision under kickboxing rules. From there, he returned to his roots and beat "Mini T" Danial Williams by unanimous decision in ONE’s most entertaining stand-up contest of 2021.

Rodtang has even tested the waters in mixed martial arts, as he faced 12-time MMA world champion Demetrious Johnson in a special-rules super fight at ONE X in March.

Although the Thai suffered his first loss in ONE, the scrap with "Mighty Mouse" was unforgettable and showed that he's willing to meet any challenge head-on.

So, when the ONE flyweight muay Thai world grand prix was announced, the man atop the division was not content to sit on the sidelines. Despite having a target on his back, he wanted to compete against the best athletes in the weight class and add another belt to his collection.

And if he does lose during the tournament, Rodtang will also face the world grand prix champion in a future world title showdown.

British upstart Smith gets first shot at Rodtang

British muay Thai champion Jacob Smith was supposed to make his ONE debut against Rodtang last year, although COVID-19 protocols scratched the bout.

Now, the Englishman with a 10-1-1 record will get his crack at the divisional king in the grand prix quarterfinals.

If the 29-year-old defeats the Thai megastar, he would propel his name to superstardom and become a favorite moving forward in the tournament.

But as nine ONE Championship strikers have already discovered, defeating "The Iron Man" is no short order.

Haggerty's hunt for glory days

Ever since Jonathan Haggerty lost his ONE flyweight Muay Thai world title to Rodtang, the 25-year-old has been on a mission to retrieve the gold. And he's done a spectacular job so far, winning his last two fights.

The English star beat No. 4-ranked flyweight muay Thai contender Mongkolpetch Petchyindee and No. 4-ranked flyweight kickboxing contender Taiki Naito by clear-cut unanimous decisions, which ensured he would remain a world title threat.

With an 18-4 career record, Haggerty now owns the No. 1-contender spot below Rodtang and has proven he can defeat the biggest names in the sport. In fact, he won the divisional strap with a shocking upset of Sam-A in 2019 – a feat nearly everyone doubted he could pull off.

The former flyweight muay Thai king has stayed near the top of the division for a long time, so it was only right to include him in the grand prix. However, "The General" will face one of his toughest challenges yet in the quarterfinals against Brazilian banger Walter Goncalves.

Goncalves' grit and determination

Walter Goncalves is 0-2 in ONE, but that's only because he's gone up against incredibly dangerous strikers. Now, the Brazilian heavy hitter wants to prove he can hang with the best flyweights in the promotion.

The 23-year-old debuted in ONE against Rodtang at the historic "ONE: Century Part II." And to the surprise of many, Goncalves dragged the world champion through five rounds of back-and-forth action before dropping a close split decision.

He later returned to the ONE circle against WBC muay Thai champion Momotaro, but the Japanese athlete stopped him in the second round.

With a career record of 65-7, the Blackthai CT standout owns a wealth of experience, and fans have yet to see his very best on the global stage. Against Haggerty, Golcalves will get his chance to change that.

Superlek's dangerous run

"The Kicking Machine" Superlek Kiatmoo9 constantly lives up to his moniker, as his left kick has propelled him to a career record of 127-29-4. Five of those bouts unfolded in ONE, under both kickboxing and muay Thai rules.

The 26-year-old began his tenure in the organization with three consecutive wins in muay Thai over Lao Chetra, Botelho, and Panpayak Jitmuangnon. He then switched to kickboxing, where he defeated Fahdi Khaled and went the distance with ONE flyweight kickboxing world champion Ilias Ennahachi.

Although Superlek came up short in his quest for kickboxing gold, the four-time muay Thai world champion is now returning to the sport he once dominated.

If he beats Naito in the quarterfinals, the No. 2-ranked flyweight muay Thai and kickboxing contender will take a big step closer to his ultimate goal – a ONE world title.

Naito's march toward the top

Taiki Naito has successfully bounced between striking sports, racking up an impressive 34-9 record across muay Thai and kickboxing.

After joining ONE in 2019, "Silent Sniper" won his first three fights in the organization against Alexi Serepisos, Rui Botelho, and Savvas Michael under muay Thai rules. His sole loss came against Haggerty, but Naito quickly bounced back with a win in kickboxing over Wang Wenfeng.

The Japanese striker then earned his biggest accolade to date with a victory against former ONE flyweight kickboxing world champion Petchdam Petchyindee under Muay Thai rules.

With a victory of that caliber on his resume, the 26-year-old from Bell Wood Fight Team earned his way into the tournament, where he’ll face the next flyweight on this list.

Michael's growing skill set

Savvas Michael's road through ONE has also been rocky, but the grand prix would not be complete without this WBC and WMC muay Thai world champion.

Who can forget the 23-year-old's debut, in which he outstruck a more seasoned Singtongnoi Por Telakun? Michael couldn’t replicate that success in his next two circle outings, but the man with a 41-4 record can turn it up in an instant.

On May 20, the Cyprus native will welcome the next athlete on this list to ONE, but it won't be an easy task.

Naseri's rare muay Thai feats

Amir Naseri is considered a dark horse in the grand prix, but that's only because he hasn't yet competed in the organization. In fact, a quick glance at his resume shows that he's a real threat to every man in the tournament

The 30-year-old Malaysian-Iranian previously nabbed the 140-pound Omnoi Stadium Title, making him only the second non-Thai to win an esteemed Omnoi belt. The Tiger Muay Thai athlete also won Thailand's 2019 King's Cup and has gone the distance with all-time great Saenchai.

A win in the quarterfinals over Michael would get Naseri noticed by fans all over the world, and it would send a clear message to the rest of the flyweights in the tournament.

This story first published at ONEFC.com.