Former ONE Featherweight World Champion Narantungalag “Tungaa” Jadambaa is set to make his return to the ONE Championship cage at the age of 42.
The Mongolian hero was one of ONE’s shining stars during the first few years of his run with the organisation – with his all-action style powering him to the belt.
Now, after an 18-month hiatus, Jadambaa is ready to return to the fray once again at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER, where he’ll meet Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in Macau.
The bout represents the latest step in a lifelong martial arts journey that started as a youngster in Bulgan, Mongolia, when he discovered the classic martial arts movies of the late, great Bruce Lee.
“I fell in love with martial arts through Bruce Lee’s movies around 1990,” he says.
“We imitated the things we saw in his action movies. We agreed how to punch and kick in advance, and we trained defending against each other.”
His rudimentary training led to formal martial arts classes. His skills would eventually be put to the test in a real-life situation, when he found himself in an altercation on the streets of Mongolia’s second-biggest city, Erdenet.
Jadambaa intervened when he saw his friends being confronted by strangers, and he found himself face-to-face with the police as a result.
“I was interrogated by police officers because of a street fight when I was young,” he explains.
“I fought against someone to help my friends and defend myself. Because I had hurt him, I was interrogated about the crime by the police many times, and I was about to be punished.”
Fortunately for Jadambaa, the police didn’t pursue any further punishment, and he was free to leave. But that experience resonated with the Mongolian, who resolved to learn more about the law and to deal with disagreements and disputes without the use of force.
“I felt the necessity of learning the laws at the time,” he says.
“I thought that I would be able to understand different people’s perspectives without fighting, and not be involved in a crime if I learned and researched the law.”
He moved to the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, where he studied at the Law Enforcement University of Mongolia and graduated in 2007 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law.
Despite his dedication to his studies, Jadambaa’s passion for martial arts remained undimmed.
He earned black belts in both karate and judo before competing as a kickboxer at the highest level. Eventually, he also transitioned his skills to the cage and, by 2009, he had won the Legend FC Lightweight Championship.
That martial arts pedigree earned him a spot in ONE Championship, where, in 2014, he became the ONE Featherweight World Champion by defeating Koji Oishi. His achievements in martial arts were recognised by the Mongolian government, who awarded him the Mongolian Order of Merit, which was presented to him by the President of Mongolia himself.
Jadambaa’s title run ended at the hands of Russian submission ace Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in November 2015, and despite winning his way back to a rematch a year later, the Mongolian star was unable to gain redemption against the Russian. As a result, he stepped away from active competition.
“After competing against Marat Gafurov, I thought that I needed to improve my wrestling and grappling skills, and my physical strength,” Jadambaa explains.
“Now, I think that I have improved myself even more than before.”
Ready to return and make another run towards the sharp end of the ONE featherweight division, Jadambaa makes his comeback against Filipino contender Kelly at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER in Macau.
But while the lure of a possible title shot lies just beyond his comeback bout, Jadambaa says he’s keeping his focus firmly fixed on his upcoming opponent.
“I am only thinking about the fight with Edward Kelly now,” he says.
“If I beat him, I think it would be right to continue to fight, and it will motivate me to train more as a result.”
The return of an on-form Jadambaa would add even more intrigue to an already exciting ONE featherweight division. The acid test of that possibility should make for fascinating viewing when he faces Kelly on Saturday, 23 June.