Nong-O Gaiyanghadao has looked unstoppable during his reign as the ONE bantamweight muay Thai world champion, but he expects a fierce challenge for the gold in his next outing.
Although a date hasn't been announced, the combat sports world is already salivating over the Thai kingpin's upcoming defense against English hard-hitter Liam "Hitman" Harrison.
That world title matchup was confirmed after Harrison defeated Muangthai PK.Saenchai with an epic comeback in April, and it will feature a pair of heavy hitters who never back down.
Both men are legends in the muay Thai world, and they hold each other in the highest regard.
In fact, Harrison recently stated that he is inspired by Nong-O, and the reigning titleholder has now revealed that he’s a massive fan of "Hitman."
"It might seem ridiculous to say that my favorite muay Thai fighter and kickboxer is Liam Harrison, my next challenger," the Evolve MMA representative said. "I've been following him for quite a long time. I love his style. His fights are always exciting and fun to watch. Also, he is a good guy in the circle. He doesn't take advantage of his opponents.
"I first met him at the (ONE Elite Retreat) in Phuket. He walked up to greet me. At that time, I still didn't know him, so I introduced myself. I said, 'My name is Nong-O.' And he said, 'Oh, I know you well!' I was quite surprised that he recognized me. Since then, we have started to talk whenever we meet at ONE (events). I respect him so much."
Nong-O doesn't just think Harrison is the most entertaining striker in ONE Super Series. He also believes the Bad Company man will pose a unique threat on fight night.
With 116 bouts to his credit, "Hitman" has a vast amount of experience for a non-Thai athlete in "the art of eight limbs," and that certainly shone through against Muangthai.
After being knocked down twice in the first round, the Englishman showcased his savvy and heart to score three knockdowns of his own and earn the remarkable TKO victory – a feat that was not lost on Nong-O.
"If counting only foreign opponents, I would say yes, (Harrison) is the most dangerous opponent I've ever faced," the Thai said. "He fought many famous muay Thai fighters, including the Thai legend Saenchai.
"Liam could come back [after being knocked down twice (by Muangthai) because he has more experience. He could read the game better than Muangthai. He knew that Muangthai had two knockdowns already, and he would rush to seal the deal. But Liam is a veteran. When he was (being) counted, he would not rush to get up. He waited to recover and get back up strong."
Nong-O expects showdown with Harrison to end with KO
Nong-O knows that Harrison backs up his experience and courage with a lot of talent, and he's prepared to face a difficult task when they square off for the ONE bantamweight muay Thai world title.
But while "Hitman" has a well-rounded arsenal that includes just about every type of attack, the reigning king has identified some particular strikes to watch out for.
"I think Liam's skill set is very good," the 35-year-old said. "He is a strategist. He is veteran fighter. Compared to me, our skills and experience are equivalent. (The result will) depend on our physical condition on the fight day and how well you prepare yourself, as well as our game plan in the circle.
"Of course, Liam's most dangerous weapons are punches and leg kicks. His powerful punches can knock you out in one blow. For his leg kicks, I've seen many of his opponents get knocked out by them. I often study his techniques and trainings on YouTube, and I found he is a good striker."
Still, Nong-O is a rare fighter who can match Harrison's firepower.
The Thai icon won his last three ONE bantamweight muay Thai world title defenses with huge knockouts of tough foes, and he’s ready to go toe-to-toe with his next challenger.
This will undoubtedly make for a fiery battle, and Nong-O doesn't see it lasting the full five rounds. He also admits that "Hitman" has the potential to turn off his lights, but he still anticipates leaving the Circle with the golden belt.
"For our world title fight, I believe that both of us will go all out," he added. "And I am sure that it will end with a knockout, either for him or me. It depends on whose weapons will hit the target first. He has heavy punches and kicks. I have them, too. Let's see who will do better in the circle.
"Liam, I will go all out in our upcoming fight. You should prepare yourself well because I’m about to knock you out, for sure."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.