In the early days of ONE Championship, it was in desperate need to build legitimate star power. Their solution was to create Grand Prix tournaments that’ll make it easier for fans to follow fighters and hype future title fights.
This series will take a look at the winners of these tournaments. Their fights, the aftermath, and where they are now.
In this article, we’ll be looking at A.J. “Pyro” Lias Mansor.
The Malaysian Featherweight Tournament was a 4-man contest that took some of the most promising talents from the country. Its intent was to find a new star to help ONE build a base around with their Malaysian fans.
The competitors were Melvin Yeoh, Jian Kai Chee, AJ Lias Mansor, and Raymond Tiew. The semi-finals were held on ONE: Return of Warriors in Kuala Lumpur.
Coming into the tournament AJ was 1-2 in his professional MMA career. There weren’t many expectations for him in the tournament and was only there to fill out the roster.
His opponent for the semi-final round – Jian Kai Chee – wasn’t much better, coming into the tournament at 3-4.
The first round went pretty well for AJ. He took Chee to the ground four times, getting full mount twice and even threatened a guillotine.
Both fighters were visibly gassed by the second though and all their moves grew sluggish. AJ momentarily got Chee to the ground, but as soon as they got up. he started getting hit by combinations.
The third round was devoid of any significant action other than a head kick that rocked AJ in the early seconds. The final bell rang and the judges gave Chee the victory via Unanimous Decision.
All in all, it was a boring fight.
This was the end of the line for Pyro. until he got a call to compete at the tournament finale when the promotion returned to Malaysia for ONE: Warrior Spirit.
Jian Kai Chee had to pull out of the match because of injury, giving Pyro a shot at redemption.
His opponent, Melvin Yeoh, was the favorite to win the tournament. He was an MMA pioneer in Malaysia with a winning record of 7-1 coming into the finale and hadn’t tasted defeat in two years prior to the bout.
The odds weren’t in Pyro’s favor.
The first round didn’t have much action, as both fighters only began hitting each other in the last two minutes. The second round was a definite improvement, as AJ opened up with kicks that led to a couple of takedowns. Nothing much happened on the ground though, prompting the referee to stand them back up.
Even after Yeoh threatened with a guillotine choke just as the bell rang, there was a definite feeling that Pyro was doing more to win the fight.
The trend continued in the third, with Pyro being the more aggressive fighter both on the feet and the ground. The result was an easy one for judges to make. AJ Lias Mansor became the Malaysian Featherweight Tournament Champion via Unanimous Decision.
After the victory, AJ made the sudden announcement that he would be donating his winnings to victims of Typhoon Yolanda that hit the Philippine province of Tacloban at around the same time.
According to him, this is because he regularly trains in gyms in Manila and even at the Team Lakay facility in Baguio.
The Philippines is like my second home. The residents here are kind and treat me nicely,AJ Lias Mansor, 2013
Then Came An Archangel
It would be four years before the Malaysian Featherweight Tournament Champion would step into a ONE cage again. This time, against the talented Anthony Engelen. Unfortunately, this fight would go down in ONE history for all the wrong reasons.
At the 3:20 mark of the first round, Engelen began a flurry of strikes, ending in a right hook that dropped AJ as stiff as a board. This knockout, along with the one he will get from Meas Meu, will forever form part of Engelen’s highlight reel.
This might be the last time we see Pyro on the ONE stage.
When the Fire Almost Went Out
We would see AJ sporadically in a few strange places in the years following the Engelen fight.
He made a couple of appearances in Malaysian Pro Wrestling. He also had a real match with regional Philippine promotion Underground Battle (UGB). But Pyro’s toughest battle was yet to come.
In mid-2018, AJ was diagnosed with a benign but potentially cancerous brain tumor. He needed immediate surgery to have the tumor removed.
He described the experience in an interview with ONE.
I’m stubborn, and I ignored it for way too long, but I decided I must go for it to save my own life. I spent five nights in the hospital and even then, I started to get restless.
As soon as I got discharged, I went to see my family, and next, I was back training. I did light cardio and stretching, and picked it up from there. After a month, I started training my striking, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and mixed martial arts, and it surprised me that despite my condition, I was still in good shape.
While at the gym, I kept on looking back – so thankful to be able to continue this journey because I was just fighting for my lifeAJ Lias Mansor, 2018
The Fire Returns
With his new lease on life, AJ felt the need to make the most of his second chance. He contacted the ONE brass and asked for a fight. The management obliged and scheduled him to fight Yohan Mulia Legowo at ONE: Eternal Glory.
A lot of hype went into promoting the fight on both the Malaysian and Indonesian press, with AJ getting a lot of nods to win. Unfortunately, the fight was pulled from the card just five days before the event.
True to his word though, he’s kept himself active even with the Legowo fight falling through. AJ’s latest foray in the cage was back in UGB in March of last year, where a win brought his record even with 4-4.
It might be unlikely we’ll see Pyro back at ONE at this stage in his career. However, his one amazing blaze of glory and his struggle as the underdog is a story that should never be forgotten.
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