Asia’s premier martial arts organization is back this Friday, yet again with a stacked card. A super series doubleheader to be exact, both with that coveted gold strap as the all-important stake. ONE Collision Course will be topped by Light heavyweight kickboxing champ, Roman Kryklia initiating the first defense of his belt against Romanian powerhouse Andrei Stoica. In this piece, I will be breaking down that highly-anticipated showdown.
Kryklia is regarded as one of the best heavyweight kickboxers in the world right now and it’s hard to argue against. The Ukrainian leather thrower finds himself on a 9-fight win streak. The latter of which was his ONE debut against the all-action Tarik Khbabez, a man who had defeated him almost four years prior to the day in the 2015 SUPERKOMBAT World Grand Prix final. Tarik prevailed then, but when it came to ONE glory, Roman Kryklia was out for blood. Kryklia dropped his rival three times in the 2nd round, after a masterful display to secure a TKO and promotional gold on his debut. Andrei has been next in line for the belt since late last year and certainly presents an interesting challenge for Roman, a style similar to that of Khababez with ferocious inside work punctuated with some clubbing leg kicks and deceptive kicks to the head, not to mention a money maker of a right hand. The champ is definitely the more versatile striker and has encountered similar styles many times before but Stoica is known as Mr. KO for a reason … and that reason is a destructive one.
Stoica comes into this fight on a 3-fight win streak, not only that but the latest victory was just two weeks ago, claiming a split decision over Pavel Voronin at Dynamite fighting show 9. He’s battle-ready, he’s kept camp rolling and he’s ready to seize the opportunity of a lifetime. Prior to this month’s bout, Andrei faced fellow KO artist Anderson “Braddock” Silva under the ONE banner, bursting onto the title scene with a vicious first-round finish. A peach of a right cross slumped the Brazilian and Mr. KO put the division on notice. This crack at ONE gold has been looming larger by the day and a win over a divisional pound for pound staple like Kryklia would work wonders for his career, especially after he was battered by mutual opponent Tarik Khababez early last year. Andrei has the skillset, experience, and dynamite ridden gloves to trouble any heavyweight in the ring. It’s just a matter of enforcing his game plan and putting it all together on the night. A tall order against a man with such a well rounded and adaptable arsenal like Roman Kryklia.
As I eluded to earlier, Roman Kryklia has many strings to his bow. From physical gifts in his towering 6’6 frame to technical versatility with his success at operating from all ranges. His reach and height are going to be a big factor in this bout although he doesn’t necessarily choose to utilize these physical advantages all the time. Roman Kryklia is a guy who dips in and out of different ranges with great success. He can box long with those laser-like shots down the pipe, but he also loves a good exchange up close and personal, and he also backs himself and the majority of the time comes out on top. In the Khbabez fight last time out he showed many dimensions to his game, adopting the role of the matador as you pretty much have to against Tarik. Kryklia defended very well against the ropes but often keeping the aggressor at bay with stifling straight shots, breaking the Moroccans rhythm with some hard intercepting combinations. Kryklia often includes that whip-like lead uppercut and breaking convention leading with that right cross and using it as a foundation. The leg kicks chipped away to inhibit the forward movement and his speed and backing of his defensive awareness saw him zip into range and plug hard at the body before zipping out without a trace.
This is a guy who makes you pay for pressuring him, he brings the fight to them and breaks them down. Roman hides his shots very well with that nonchalant hands by the side stance in open ground, firing in shots from the hip with no telegraph, popping them out at will. That intercepting knee is a tool he heavily utilizes against the pressure fighter too as we often see from the bigger guys in kickboxing. He blasts it down the middle whether it be head or body, stopping his opponent in their tracks and causing a pretty effective train crash and rhythm disruptor. The champ also has a very educated jab, he constantly sticks it in the face of his opponent, probing to draw counters and again, disrupting their forward momentum. He’s a fighter who fights fire with fire and is superb in all areas of kickboxing. He’s fast, accurate, lengthy, and has a calculated killer instinct which is a scary scary quality. No doubt, Roman is a battle-tested, highly skilled combatant and the champ for a reason. He has all the tools to deal with Stoica, it’s just a question as to whether he puts it all together on the night.
Stoica is a warrior, he always brings the fight and has a few things he does very very well. He has a great chin, scary knockout power, and a hard-nosed style which, when matched up with someone like Kryklia is bound to make for a firework show. Stoica throws everything with bad intentions, that right cross packs a hell of a punch, not to mention those patented hooks we all know and love, when he hurts you, you’ll know about it as that flurry of hooks will be colliding with the side of your face before you can even say the word Andrei. Another large part of his game is those thudding leg kicks he swings like a baseball bat, they accumulate and when you’ve got Mr. KO feeding them to you, it’s going to be a long night for sure. Stoica always throws to hurt and hits like a truck but he can be inconsistent depending on the style. Often, we see him try to create an opening in the center and when the opportunity presents itself, he pounces like a cat and guns for that finish in a calculated yet venomous fashion, other times though he just hasn’t turned up.
Again, I’ll use Khbabez as an example, we know Tarik has a game built off pressure, something which Stoica had no answers for when they fought, as opposed to Kryklia who dissected him. Stoica really got bullied by Khbabez, was constantly pressured against the cage, overwhelmed with a tremendous volume of hooks, and really had no answer but a few leg kicks and power shots which couldn’t get through. This makes me wonder, maybe Kryklia may try to implement a pressure-based game plan just in a more calculated manner. One thing is for sure though, Andrei is never out of the fight, he always plugs away no matter how far behind, he has bags of heart and just that warrior-esque style. It only takes one shot from Mr. KO and he won’t let you off the hook. It’s a tough task for the Romanian but he can claim gold no doubt, he needs to find that opening and make it a FIGHT, he needs to dictate the pace and not allow Roman to pressure him and lead the dance. If he can control the pace, handle himself at distance and create the opening for that right hand he may very well sneak it through and get that small whiff of blood he needs to flip that switch and end the night.
This is a very tough test for Stoica but he is battle-tested, he has that fight-ending power and the means to utilize it. It’s just a question of if he can negate and adapt to the many faces of Roman Kryklia’s game. Roman is long, he’s crafty, and seemingly a very difficult fighter to find a way around. Kryklia is a guy who always seems to be improving and has an answer for most styles he is to face. The champ is out for his first defence of the belt and will no doubt be on top form. Will Stoica’s activity prime him for an upset or will Kryklia, the champ add another name to his tally and keep that gold belt around his waist? Tune in on Friday to find out!
Featured Image Credits to ONE Championship
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