The two top fighters in ONE Championship’s women’s strawweight division will go head to head on Friday night. Michelle Nicolini faces Irina Mazepa in a bout that will have undisputed number one status on the line. The Brazilian is well aware of the significance of this contest.
The fight is set for ONE: Kings of Destiny at the MOA Arena in Manila.
“She’s a good fighter and I’ll be wary of her striking prowess,” said Nicolini, who has plenty of respect for an opponent that is a multiple time Wushu world champion.
Mazepa has already beaten two top contenders in the division. She hasn’t fought for ONE Championship for two years, but has competed under kickboxing rules for Glory during this period, so Nicolini isn’t expecting her opponent to show any signs of ring rust.
“Irina has a good standing game. I’ll be watching out for that. She hasn’t fought (MMA) since 2015, but still I’ll be expecting a tough fight.”
Nicolini is a multiple time BJJ world champion who has legendary status in grappling circles. Last year, she moved to Singapore to join Evolve MMA and was swiftly signed by ONE Championship to bolster its burgeoning women’s strawweight division.
She stopped an Egyptian at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on her promotional debut and it was a moment Nicolini will remember long after her fighting days are finished.
“It was an unbelievable experience. I expected a super show from ONE Championship, and it was. I’ve fought in big stadiums before, but this was on another level. I was very happy to come away with the victory.”
That was Nicolini’s first fight since 2014 and afterward she took a break before returning to full-time training.
“I took some time off, went back to Brazil to spend time with family and friends. But after that it’s been the usual; regular training and teaching BJJ classes at Evolve MMA.”
Given her grappling credentials, it’s unlikely Nicolini will ever meet an opponent whom she can’t handle on the ground. However, she knows that there are superior strikers out there, like Mazepa, and has been training with several former Lumpinee and Rajadamnern champions to improve her striking game.
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“I’ve been working with Kru Rong (Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke), Kru Bang (Muangfalek Kiatvichian) and Kru Aek (Penek Sitnumnoi). Since I’ve been at Evolve MMA, I’ve improved my striking and, while Irina is known for her stand-up, I’m still confident of getting the win.”
ONE Championship doesn’t currently have a strawweight champion, although Mazepa and Nicolini are clearly the top contenders. The Brazilian has no plans to change divisions and hopes that when a title is introduced she will have the opportunity to fight for it.
“This fight is at strawweight. It’s a category I’m comfortable in, so I don’t see myself going up or down a weight class,” she said.
Another strawweight fight booked for Singapore in May sees undefeated Tiffany Teo take on Rebecca Heintzman. It means the title picture could become much clearer by the end of next month, but Nicolini is not looking beyond her upcoming opponent.
“My plan is to put in a few more fights on the road to challenging for a world title. But right now, I am just taking it one fight at a time.”
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