It has been more than 18 months since Ariel “Tarzan” Sexton last stepped foot in the ONE Championship cage, but he has never lost sight of his long-term goals in the sport.
With three consecutive wins under his belt, Sexton (11-3) is poised to make a big splash in his return. He is set to collide with former ONE Lightweight World Title challenger Ev Ting (14-4) at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD, which emanates from the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday, 23 February.
As much as Sexton wanted to return to action sooner, injuries kept him sidelined throughout 2017. Nonetheless, he has kept his eyes on the prize.
“Tarzan” understands, as time passes, it is tougher to remember performances like his rear-naked choke submission victory over Eddie Ng in May 2015, or his astonishing TKO win over Roger Huerta in July 2016. So if there are any questions about the Costa Rican’s place in the stacked lightweight division, he hopes to answer them with his next performance at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD.
In anticipation of the forthcoming bout, Sexton explains what he has been doing during his time away from the ONE cage. He also shares his thoughts about Ting, the organization’s lightweight division, and his goals moving forward.
ONE Championship: You are on a three-bout win streak, which includes your most recent victory over Roger Huerta. But you have been out of action for quite a while. What have you been up to over the past year and a half?
Ariel Sexton: Most people do not know this, [but in] the Eddie Ng bout, he broke my arm in the first 30 seconds. I competed with a broken arm, but then I submitted him in the second round. I got an x-ray, my arm was broken in half, and I had to have major surgery — eight screws and a titanium plate put in my arm. I was out for a whole year, and that is why I did not compete [again] until Roger Huerta.
When I faced Roger Huerta, he cracked the orbital bone in my eye in the first round. My strategy was to use my jiu-jitsu, but he is a scrapper. He is a brawler. So as soon as he cracked my orbital in the first round, I went into brawl mode. My face went numb and I just started brawling with him.
I am always training to stay ready, but then I tore my ACL. I wrecked my knee pretty badly. I am 36, so it does not recover as fast. I did not get any surgery, and I had to heal it the old fashioned way with strength and conditioning, and a lot of herbal supplements.
The reason why you have not seen me in the ONE cage is because of injuries. That is why this bout [with Ev Ting] is so important for me. I am going to win, but I do not want to get injured because I want to be more active. I want to do three bouts this year. That is the idea.
ONE: Was it tough to deal with that? Because you had such great momentum, only to have it stall due to injury.
AS: I had so many things in my career and my life throw me off. I mean, the last bout I lost against Kamal Shalorus [in March 2014], one of my best friends overdosed and died the week of the bout. So I went into that one just depressed and crying, and I thought I could compete. I lost a decision, and I was just not there that night.
Momentum stops, but I am always training at the highest level. I do not believe in just training when you have a bout upcoming. That is when you can work on your weaknesses, so I train all day, every day, helping guys and helping them get ready. A lot of my success comes from helping them.
In my mind, I compete every day. You guys do not get to see me as much as I like, but all of my bouts are against quality, top-level guys.
ONE: Let’s talk about this upcoming contest with Ev Ting. How does your style match up with him?
AS: My frame is misleading. I have a long reach, and a lot of people do not know that I lived in Costa Rica for a long time, and I boxed with multiple world-class boxers for over 10 years. My boxing has a lot of holes in it if you look at it from a boxing standpoint, but from a martial arts standpoint, where you are able to fake and take people down, I have an unorthodox style of striking. I watch a lot of crazy movies, and things like flying knees, that all comes naturally to me.
I do not train kicks and punches all day long. I do not believe in pad work. I hit the heavy bag, and I drill and I work on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu. I am a jiu-jitsu athlete. I do not want to knock people out. I want to submit them. I want to tap them out. I want to be a human backpack. I want to take people down, and choke them out. That is the ideal way of competing for me.
I think that I have a very good advantage, plus my work ethic, and it all comes down to mindset. I am a little older, and I think my mind is able to see things a little differently than five or ten years ago, because I was always in a rush. Now, I am not in a rush. I do not feel like I have to prove anything. There are 15 minutes to do it, and it is going to happen my way.
ONE: Since you want to become the ONE Lightweight World Champion, what are your thoughts on the lightweight division as a whole, and its current world champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen?
AS: I would love that [match with Martin Nguyen]. We are all on the same path, we are all striving for the same thing. [We are] coming from nothing, and getting the opportunity. I am not going to think ahead too far, because I have to think about what I’ve got coming up soon with Ev Ting.
Anybody they put in front of me, I will be ready. I definitely want to face big name guys, and guys who are popular in ONE Championship. I like competing in ONE Championship, and being able to go to Asia, and meeting these amazing people is great for me. Martial arts is all about building bridges, and that is what I do it for. To travel around the world and compete is living a dream.
The great thing about the lightweight division in ONE is that it is so deep. You can get a lot of great match-ups, going from Roger Huerta to Ev Ting. These guys are all studs. Everybody works hard. Everybody is top, top level, and it is all very competitive.