As stages go for making your debut for a combat sports promotion, they don’t come much bigger than ONE Championship’s blockbuster event in Tokyo this weekend.
In what has boldly been proclaimed as “the biggest event in martial arts history,” the Singapore-based promotion is marking its 100th major show in style by holding two cards on the same day in the Japanese capital under the tag line ‘ONE: CENTURY’.
The event is due to kick off Sunday morning local time and will be broadcast in the US on TNT, with ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong estimating the hostilities will draw a massive 70 million viewers worldwide.
Amid the more familiar names on the card such as ex-UFC flyweight champion Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson, the event will also feature a new face in the form of Belarusian bombshell Ekaterina ‘Barbie’ Vandaryeva.
The 28-year-old faces American Janet Todd in an atomweight Muay Thai contest which has co-main billing in Part 1 of the festivities at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Sumida City.
Nicknamed ‘Barbie’ – somewhat obviously because of her blonde hair and good looks – Vandaryeva makes an eye-catching addition to the ONE ranks, but the Belarusian is far from a fresh-faced newcomer to the world of combat sports.
Indeed, beneath the doll-like exterior lies a veteran of more than 60 kickboxing bouts and a fighter who has picked up Muay Thai IFMA world and European titles, as well as World Kickboxing Network crowns.
The last of those titles in 2011 came through a decision victory in Minsk against a certain Pole named Joanna Jedrzejczyk– who went on to become the UFC’s women’s strawweight champion (and who by a twist of fate is also slated to be in action this weekend on a UFC Fight Night Card in Florida, should she overcome reported weight cut issues).
For Vandaryeva, it will be far from her first experience of fighting under an Asian promotion’s banner, having competed frequently down the years in China’s Kunlun Fight organization.
Sunday in Tokyo will, though, be a different prospect as the Belarusian embarks on what could be a tilt at a Muay Thai world title challenge in ONE’s atomweight ranks.
Speaking to the promotion ahead of the event, Vandaryeva said it would be the perfect stage to showcase the talents she has acquired since taking up the sport aged 16.
“Collecting belts and medals was the ultimate goal at the start of my career, but now getting another medal or a belt is no longer a priority,”the Minsk fighter said.
“What I really want is to showcase the best of my style and give people a great show. I want to show the audience what female fighters can be, and I want them to accept us.”
In 33-year-old American Janet Todd,Vandaryeva faces a woman who already has three fights with the promotion under her belt since making her debut this year.
The first of those was an atomweight Muay Thai world title fight against Stamp Fairtex which ended in defeat, although ‘JT’ has since picked up two victories.
Vandaryeva assesses her American opponent as “not a bad fighter… very technical,” but believes she will use brains as well as brawn to bring her down.
“The best way to deal with someone like her is by using your brain – you need to quickly analyze the situation and keep everything under control.
“Of course, I noticed her strong and weak points, but I am in no rush to talk about it. Often, what you find in the ring and what you see before the fight are very different things. Your opponent and the course of the fight can be a complete surprise,”she said.
One approaching danger that fighters and promoters will be wary of is that of Typhoon Hagibis, which is barrelling towards Japan and is expected to hit the mainland on Saturday.
It has already caused disruption to the Rugby World Cup and F1 Grand Prix in the country, although ONE officials have offered assurances that “there is a robust contingency program in place should our event be affected.”
A cancellation toVandaryeva’s debut would be a bitter blow, as it would to all those on the card at such a highly-anticipated event, but the Belarusian herself has suggested that she keeps things in perspective, particularly since the birth of her son.
“I train, I fight, I give it all I have and then I have my other life, which has nothing to do with martial arts,” she told the ONE website in the build-up to her debut.
“In this other life, I do not watch fights, I do not check who is a new star, who is doing what in mixed martial arts or any other martial art.”
The fighter’s social media output would appear testament to that, as she shares just as many photos of life as a mother as she does doing the training that her top-level combat sports career demands.
But while her perspective may seem less obsessive than some, there is a combat sports beast behindVandaryeva’s beauty – and one that will be desperate to be unleashed on one the major stage on Sunday.
As the adage goes, looks can be deceiving.