ONE Championship athletes are some of the most skilled mixed martial artists in the world. Adept at both striking and grappling, they have showcased some truly tremendous skill inside the ONE Championship cage over the course of 2016.
The real winners, however, must be the fans, who have thoroughly enjoyed the action. Let us now take a closer look at ONE Championship’s Fight of the Year 2016, as well as the runners-up.
#1 Angela Lee vs Mei Yamaguchi at ONE: ASCENT TO POWER, 6 May, Singapore
Undefeated female atomweight star Angela “Unstoppable” Lee appeared to be just like her moniker after five professional mixed martial arts bouts.
Lee, at just barely 20-years old, already had five solid victories under her belt when she stepped into the ONE Championship cage across Japanese veteran Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi. All five of Lee’s wins came by submission, and spectacular ones including a Twister, at that.
In addition, the bout against Yamaguchi, which was contested for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship, was expected to be Lee’s toughest, and for good reason.
Yamaguchi, at 33 years of age and 13 years Lee’s senior, was considered one of the finest female mixed martial artists in Asia. She began her career in 2007, and has since then amassed over 25 fights in total experience, capturing several titles along the way.
Despite Lee’s incredible raw talent, Yamaguchi’s experience was expected to put Lee’s unblemished record to the test. What transpired inside the cage was nothing short of epic.
Both Lee and Yamaguchi gave everything they had and by the end of the fight, the two female warriors were exhausted beyond imagination.
Not surprisingly, Yamaguchi owned the advantage in striking, having had longer time to hone her stand-up skills against various opponents throughout her career. Lee was thought to have the advantage on the ground, but Yamaguchi’s great knowledge and skill in the grappling arts made sure the gap was not as wide as what many initially thought.
In perhaps the most exciting sequence of the match, Yamaguchi landed a thunderous right hand as soon as the third round bell rang, dropping Lee to the mat. It was pandemonium from the stands as Yamaguchi looked to close the show with a spectacular finish.
And that’s when Lee dug deep and found her championship mettle, surviving the onslaught and successfully turning the fight around in her favor.
In the end, Lee was awarded a hard-fought, close unanimous decision victory that she deserved every bit. And as confetti rained down, Yamaguchi and Lee shared a warm embrace at the center of the ONE Championship cage, concluding what is undoubtedly ONE Championship’s 2016 Fight of the Year.
#2 Bibiano Fernandes vs Reece McLaren at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, 2 December, Manila
Running a close second place for Fight of the Year honors is the absolute classic between ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes and Australia’s Reece “Lightning” McLaren.
Fernandes is one of MMA’s most dominant champions. His inherent skill in both striking and grappling have brought him to the cusp of complete domination. Rarely have there been challengers who were worthy of sharing the cage with the Brazilian, until McLaren came along.
McLaren earned his shot at the ONE Championship title with two solid victories over the Philippines’ Mark Striegl and Tajikistan’s Muin Gafurov. Yet even though McLaren earned his chance at the belt, he was unsurprisingly the underdog against Fernandes, who is widely considered one of the finest mixed martial artists in the world.
In the first two rounds of the bout, it seemed as if Fernandes was simply too big and too strong for McLaren, who was just a half second slower than the champion in every exchange. Although the two fighters both held black belts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Fernandes had never been submitted in over 20 professional bouts. He also owned seven victories by submission.
To say Fernandes had the absolute advantage in every aspect of the fight would be accurate.
So when McLaren nearly finished Fernandes, breaking the champion’s nose in the third round and punishing him with punch after thunderous punch, the entire arena was ablaze with excitement. Fernandes had never before been met with this sort of adversity, at least not since he has been ONE Bantamweight World Champion.
For McLaren to come out and do what he did to the proud Brazilian warrior was truly out of the ordinary.
With his back against the wall however, is when Fernandes chose to turn in his grittiest display of heart. The champion dug deep into his reservoir, mustering enough determination to persevere and take back control of the fight.
Despite Fernandes ultimately taking the victory, many fans and observers felt the fight was too close to call. In fact, only two out of three judges gave the victory to the Brazilian, which resulted in a razor-thin split decision verdict.
Fans would probably not mind an immediate rematch, not if these two high-level fighters promise to perform exactly to the standard they had in the first bout. It was a truly memorable bout and one that will not only live on as one of 2016’s best fights, but also one of the best fights in the history of the promotion.
#3 Eduard Folayang vs Adrian Pang at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD, 13 August, Macau
Before the Philippines’ Eduard Folayang became the ONE Lightweight World Champion with his epic upset victory over Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki, he had to earn the shot at the title first. The fact that he had to do it against the tough-as-nails Adrian Pang meant he needed to earn every bit of the opportunity offered to him.
In one of the finest performances of his career, Folayang took on Pang in what was expected to be a real barnburner. The bigger, stronger Pang was a fearsome finisher who had previously stopped more than half of the opponents he had wins over.
Pang was known for his amazing ability to walk through the line of fire and come out unscathed, unleashing his own barrage of punishing blows on lesser men who simply could not take the heat. Those who own victories over Pang have either had to survive the onslaught as best as they could, or, beat Pang to the punch.
When Folayang was tasked with having to take on such a juggernaut, many did not know what to expect. Fans knew Folayang possessed the skills necessary for victory, but what they did not know was that if he could handle Pang’s power.
All doubt quickly dissipated as the two clashed from the opening moments of round one.
Folayang, behind his world-class wushu stance, repeatedly tagged Pang with a plethora of striking techniques, which included spinning back fists, wushu sidekicks and high-level boxing. He even dropped Pang on numerous occasions, and kept him out of range with a steady stream of offense that never stopped coming.
In times when the fight went to the mat, Folayang’s improved grappling shone through, frustrating Pang to no end.
Despite Folayang’s increasing accuracy, Pang seemed not the least bit fazed from all the landed shots. Pang smiled and braved every strike, stalking Folayang across the cage. Although Folayang was awarded the victory, it certainly did not come easy.
It was the most thorough performance of Folayang’s career, earning him the eventual title shot against Aoki. And of course, we all know how that one turned out.
#4 Martin Nguyen vs Li Kai Wen at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS, 15 April, Manila
Before authoring one of most exciting submission finishes of the year, Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen took on China’s most promising featherweight hopeful, the 21-year-old Li Kai Wen. Nguyen, the former Brace featherweight champion, met Li at the center of the ONE Championship cage looking for all-out war.
The two fighters blasted each other with powerful strikes from the get-go, bringing the fans to the edge of their seats in excitement. They wasted absolutely no time in tagging each other repeatedly with heavy-handed punches and kicks, which is what fans were expecting in a battle between two highly-aggressive fighters.
Li is the ONE Championship Beijing featherweight tournament winner, and lived up to expectations by giving Nguyen a stiff challenge. Yet despite Li’s constant attack, Nguyen was able to fight a smart, intelligent fight to earn one of the best finishes of his young career.
Recognizing Li’s inclination towards a striking battle, Nguyen worked hard to bring the fight to the mat where he felt more comfortable. On the ground, Nguyen stifled Li with his smooth transitions and ground control.
Within moments, Nguyen was able to take Li’s back and it was all downhill for the Chinese from there. Nguyen repeatedly blasted away at Li who covered up, scrambling to defend against the attack. That was pretty much all it took, and Nguyen earned a thrilling first-round technical knockout.
Despite the short duration of the fight, it was enough to earn a spot on this list.
#5 Ev Ting vs Rob Lisita at ONE: UNBREAKABLE WARRIORS, 2 September, Kuala Lumpur
After Malaysian stars Peter Davis and Ann “Athena” Osman both experienced setbacks in their careers, it became Ev Ting’s responsibility to fly the Malaysian flag in Kuala Lumpur.
Over the past couple of years, Ting has made a home for his noteworthy performances in Kuala Lumpur. He has headlined ONE Championship events in Malaysia’s capital city with tremendous success.
When the 27-year-old Ting took on perennial tough guy “Ruthless” Rob Lisita, however, fans knew that they had a potentially spectacular fight on their hands, and they were not disappointed.
Those who expected Lisita to come out swinging like he always does were shocked to see Lisita enter the bout with a more-calculated approach. Surprisingly, Lisita made use of his wrestling skills to drag Ting down to the mat easily for the first couple of rounds.
As the bout wore on, however, the better striker in Ting started to place his combinations more effectively, while Lisita began to tire.
From the middle of the bout, Ting put together an amazing display of grit and heart, tagging Lisita with multiple well-timed strikes while Lisita tried desperately to hang on. As Ting also began to tire, both fighters pushed each other to the limit in a test of physical and mental strength. Incredibly, the 33-year-old veteran Lisita was able to make it to the final bell.
It was, however, Ev Ting’s show in Malaysia as he earned the unanimous decision, and deservedly so. But it was one awesome matchup for fight fans in attendance.
After the epic bout, it became highly unlikely anyone would ever forget how much the two warriors sacrificed to delight the fans in attendance. With this contest, winning or losing mattered much less than the heart and determination showed by Ting and Lisita.