ONE Championship: Empower — Atomweight Grand Prix Preview

Stamp Fairtex vs Alyona Rassohyna at ONE Championship: Unbreakable III
Stamp Fairtex vs Alyona Rassohyna Credit: ONE Championship

The word “historic” is bandied about all too frequently in combat sports. When you get right down to it, every title fight is billed as historic, and with so many promotions and titles in the mix, the word has become little more than a watered down marketing term. Yet ONE Championship’s Empower card is one of those moments that is, in actuality, historic.

Friday’s Empower marks the first all-female event in a major promotion outside of Invicta FC (which is all-female, period). It sees the launch of the promotion’s atomweight grand prix, comprised of 16 top talents, plus alternates. And it is capped off by Chinese strawweight champion Xiong Jing Nan defending her title against decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Michelle Nicolini.

As interesting as that title fight is, the real meat of Empower is the grand prix. The entrants range from prospect to veteran, and include former champions inside and outside of ONE Championship. With a title shot against atomweight champ Angela Lee on the line, the stakes are high for the tournament, which will play out over several events.

ONE: Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix Preview

Mei Yamaguchi Credit: ONE Championship

Mei Yamaguchi vs. Julie Mezabarba

We’ll start off with the atomweight grand prix alternate bout scheduled for Friday’s Empower card.

Yamaguchi vs. Mezabarba is one of two alternate bouts that were originally announced for the event, but the second appears to have dropped off the bill. That was to feature the winner of Bi Nguyen vs. Jenelyn Olsim against American Grace Cleveland. Olsim won the fight, which aired as part of last week’s Battleground III card, but Olsim vs. Cleveland is not on the official bout sheet for Empower.

That leaves Yamaguchi vs. Mezabarba as the lone alternate bout Friday. And one that should highly favor the Japanese fighter. Yamaguchi should need no introduction: she’s a veteran of the fight game sporting a 21-12-1 record. Yamaguchi fought for the inaugural ONE Championship atomweight title in 2016, losing a unanimous decision against Angela Lee. The pair would face off in a rematch two years later; the result was the same.

Despite her struggles against Lee, Yamaguchi’s ground game should serve her well, and her experience will no doubt be a big factor — both in terms of years, and big fight experience. Yamaguchi has faced off with some of the best female fighters inside and outside of Japan over the years, including Emi Fujino, Seo Hee Ham, Ayaka Hamasaki, and more. While she has lost to Ham and Denice Zamboanga, both of whom are in the atomweight grand prix, there’s one factor that could be huge: prior to her career with ONE Championship, Mei Yamaguchi won three grand prix tournaments.

Julie Mezabarba in a question mark in this one. With a record of 8-2-1, the Brazilian is making her promotional debut at ONE: Empower. The fight will mark her second of 2021; she picked up a victory via unanimous decision earlier this year on the regional scene at home in Brazil.