While all ONE Championship athletes go out and give their all inside the cage, there are just a handful who have shown the true championship quality over the past twelve months. These competitors have gone above and beyond their personal limits, delighting fans with spectacular performances.
Moreover, these martial artists have captured the imaginations of fans in their home countries and fans from all over the world. Here are the top five martial artists who left an indelible mark on the ONE Championship stage this 2017:
#5. Aung La N Sang
Aung is Myanmar’s most successful athlete in history, whose constricting style has earned him the moniker of “The Burmese Python” as he owns 12 victories by way of submission. After starting his 2017 on a sour note by losing the first world title bout of his career on Jan. 14 at “ONE: Quest for Power” in Jakarta, Indonesia, he redeemed himself by stunning former undefeated champion Vitaly Bigdash of Russia in a highly-anticipated rematch to be crowned the new ONE Middleweight World Champion at “ONE: Light of a Nation” in Yangon, Myanmar on June 30.
Focused from the second he stepped into the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium, Aung was unstoppable once the bell rang. The 32-year-old hometown hero rocked the champion minutes into the contest and nearly secured a first-round stoppage victory.
Despite being grounded by the Russian in the following stanzas, Aung clearly did more damage in striking exchanges throughout the course of the bout. As a result, the Burmese fighter earned a unanimous decision nod and claimed the ONE Middleweight World Championship.
On Nov. 3, Aung concluded his 2017 by taking part of ONE Championship’s openweight super-bout against highly-decorated heavyweight kickboxer Alain “The Panther” Ngalani, which headlined “ONE: Hero’s Dream” in Yangon, Myanmar. The former, working in guard to defend himself from his opponent’s top game, weathered an early storm from the latter.
Recognizing an opening for a standing guillotine choke, Aung wrapped his arm around his Cameroonian heavyweight opponent’s neck. The Burmese fighter pulled guard to finish his opponent by submission in the first round.
#4. Christian Lee
Nicknamed The Warrior, he younger brother of reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee, began his professional career on an absolute tear, railing off five straight victories by thrilling finish. He has impressed fans with his ability to seek out stoppage wins over top-caliber opponents in 2017.
After steamrolling Chinese stalwart Wan Jan Ping at “ONE: Kings of Destiny” in Manila, Philippines on April 21, Christian toppled fellow top featherweight Keanu Subba of Malaysia in his most recent bout. The 19-year-old Singaporean martial arts sensation won by third-round submission in a competitive contest at “ONE: Quest for Greatness” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Aug. 18.
Christian took another step in fulfilling all of those on Dec. 9 as he delivered a masterful performance against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku at “ONE: Warriors of the World” in Bangkok, Thailand. In perhaps Christian’s most impressive performance to date, he brought his best against a dangerous opponent in Boku as he employed the perfect strategy and completed a rapturous knockout triumph that undoubtedly signals his readiness to challenge the upper tier of talent in the promotion’s most stacked division.
With powerful strikes, takedowns and submission attempts, Christian brought the action right to Boku and blasted the Japanese veteran. Just past the three-minute mark, Christian quickly took Boku’s back and executed a textbook trip takedown with such incredible power that it knocked Japanese veteran out.
The impressive win over Boku was Christian’s seventh first-round stoppage victory. Christian holds the promotional record for most finishes at eight while Angela has seven.
#3. Kevin Belingon
Representing the famed Team Lakay in Baguio City, Philippines, Belingon is one of the country’s most talented martial artists with a professional record of 16-5. Nicknamed The Silencer, he is known as a fierce competitor with the ability to finish opponents in a variety of methods.
The 29-year-old Wushu practitioner owns seven huge knockouts on his resume and is considered as one of the most feared strikers in ONE Championship’s deep bantamweight division. He has barged through his top rivals with a slew of fearsome striking performances and showcased his incredible punching power since losing to reigning ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes in January 2016.
It began with a thorough defeat of Tajikistan’s highly-touted Muin Gafurov in October 2016, followed by a complete first-round annihilation of Finnish submission wizard Toni “Dynamite” Tauru at “ONE: Kings of Destiny” in Manila, Philippines on April 21. Those two consecutive wins earned Belingon a showdown with top bantamweight contender Reece “Lightning” McLaren at “ONE: Quest for Greatness” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Aug. 11.
Belingon needed just 62 seconds to end matters abruptly as he began the bout-ending sequence by dropping McLaren with a well-placed overhand right. As the Aussie crashed to the canvas, the Team Lakay fighter followed with a relentless volley of punches to finish the contest.
At “ONE: Legends of the World” in Manila, Philippines on Nov. 10, Belingon scored his fourth straight victory by defeating Korean-American contender Kevin “Old Boy” Chung via unanimous decision. With Belingon’s recent excellence inside the ONE Championship cage, he is validating his case for a title rematch against Fernandes in 2018.
#2. Alex Silva
Silva just wrapped up a banner year in ONE Championship as the 35-year-old Brazilian submission wizard nicknamed Little Rock brilliantly defeated a pair of top contenders. He outclassed previously-undefeated titleholder Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito to clinch the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Following his third-round submission of Filipino journeyman Roy Doliguez at “ONE: Throne of Tigers” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Feb. 10, Silva displayed his elite Brazilian jujitsu skills on another elite Japanese martial artist. The Brazilian fighter met an unbeaten Hayato Suzuki, a highly-regarded wrestler and Grachan champion, on the undercard of “ONE: Legends of the World” Manila, Philippines on Nov. 10.
Fans expected a technical ground war with two talented grapplers each wanting to showcase their best techniques, but what they got instead was a complete shocker, and from out of nowhere, Silva out-scrambled Suzuki following a takedown attempt and latched onto an armbar that forced a quick tap from Suzuki.
The result marked Suzuki’s first loss in 20 bouts as a professional and conversely catapulted Silva to an eventual world title shot weeks later. On Dec. 9, Silva routed Naito by way of unanimous decision to bring home the ONE Strawweight World Championship in the main event of “ONE: Warriors of the World” in Bangkok, Thailand.
Before revealing who topped this list of the best ONE Championship fighters in 2017, it is worth noting that there are other fighters who did not make it to this list but deserve honorable mention. They are Amir Khan of Singapore, Mei Yamaguchi of Japan and Jomary Torres of the Philippines.
#1. Martin Nguyen
A highly-skilled finisher, Nguyen is one of the most talented martial artists in the world today. Sporting a 10-1 professional record, the MMA fighter from Sydney, Australia nicknamed The Situ-Asian has an all-around skill set that allows him to compete at the highest level of competition.
2017 had been a remarkable year for Nguyen as he captured two coveted world titles. He stepped into the ONE Championship cage on Aug. 18 at “ONE: Quest for Greatness” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, notching his first gold under the ONE Championship banner when he stopped former undefeated featherweight champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov to claim the ONE Featherweight World Championship.
On Nov. 10, Nguyen knocked out beloved Filipino martial arts superstar Eduard “Landslide” Folayang to bring home the ONE Lightweight World Championship in the main event of “ONE: Legends of the World” in Manila, Philippines. By doing so, the Vietnamese-Australian fighter wrote his name in history books as the first man to hold two world titles simultaneously in ONE Championship.