Breaking Down Every Fighter with a Belt on ONE Championship’s Roster

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    Stateside MMA is almost entirely about the UFC with a little Bellator sprinkled in, but don’t let that fool you into thinking top-quality fighting isn’t happening around the world. Singapore’s ONE Championship has been making moves in the sport since it launched in 2011, and it sports 11 divisions with a bevy of talent.

    A big reason ONE continues its growth is that it has embedded smart veterans of the sport into the organization, such as Rich Franklin, Miesha Tate and Matt Hume. Individuals with an eye for talent continue to help fill out ONE’s ranks as it proves to be a force within the industry.

    ONE Championship has a strong slate of champions who put forth competitive, fun fights throughout the year and a few names who are breaking through the barrier to become internationally known.

    Who are the fighters with gold around their waists?

    Let’s take a look at the titleholders within the ONE Championship roster as they look to make major strides in 2019.

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    ONE Championship/Getty Images

    Division: Atomweight (115 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 9-0

    Overall Record: 9-0

               

    Let’s start with the face of the organization. Angela Lee is the most recognizable and popular star in ONE Championship. Even better, she has backed up the hype each time in the cage.

    At just 5-0, Lee defeated Mei Yamaguchi to claim the atomweight crown in May 2016. She has defended the title three straight times and now looks to become the first female two-division champion in the company’s history. The champion vs. champion matchup against flyweight titleholder Jing Nan Xiong was supposed to happen in 2018, but an injury forced Lee to pull out.

    It has been rebooked for March 31 as a co-main event of ONE: A New Era.

    Perhaps even more remarkable than her title run is that Lee is only 22.

    “Unstoppable” has proved to be just that. As she sets her sights on bigger challenges, she is making a big play for a significant legacy in the sport. Lee has been able to generate interest without being part of the UFC roster, which is remarkable, and it is why she is so important to the ONE Championship brand.

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    Division: Strawweight (125 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 2-0

    Overall Record: 19-8-3

             

    Former Shooto standout Yosuke Saruta made his ONE debut in December, having won seven of his previous nine outings. Saruta suffered an eye injury against Takumi Tamaru in his final Shooto bout, which went down as a loss after he could not continue.

    In his first ONE event, Saruta defeated Alex Silva to earn a strawweight title bout against Joshua Pacio in January.

    Their fight instantly became an early contender for 2019’s Fight of the Year. Saruta edged out Pacio with a split-decision victory.

    When Saruta signed, he told ONE, “I want to win in a way that makes people around the world remember my name.” He has held up his end of the bargain through just two fights by becoming the champion.

    Can he get through 2019 and become a figurehead of the division, or will ONE prove volatile and see quick turnover with a fresh face? It will be intriguing to watch how the 125-pound division develops considering the landscape of the weight class across the world.

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    Division: Strawweight (125 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 4-0

    Overall Record: 13-1

            

    We already know Jing Nan Xiong is set to defend her title against Angela Lee next month, but how did she grab the gold?

    Xiong made her ONE debut against April Osenio in 2017 and won with a first-round TKO. The performance earned her a shot at the vacant strawweight title against the undefeated Tiffany Teo. The bout went into the championship rounds, but Xiong upended Teo by TKO in the fourth round.

    She is on an eight-fight win streak since her lone loss to Colleen Schneider in 2015.

    Xiong has defended the belt twice already and will look to take care of atomweight champ Lee for her third defense. It will be her toughest task to date. At 31, Xiong will have to rely on her maturity to overcome the talented Lee.

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    ONE Championship/Getty Images

    Division: Flyweight (135 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 9-3

    Overall Record: 18-3

            

    Adriano Moraes didn’t start his ONE career on the right note, dropping a split decision to Yusup Saadulaev in 2013, but he was able to return quickly and grab back-to-back victories. The two wins netted him a title opportunity for the vacant flyweight strap against Geje Eustaquio in 2014. Moraes won with a second-round guillotine choke.

    After just one defense, Moraes lost his second pro bout when Kairat Akhmetov edged him via split decision. But gold wouldn’t be too far off. Moraes took the interim title with a rear-naked choke against Tilek Batyrov in 2016.

    When Akhmetov was set to return, the unification bout was set for August 2017. Moraes got his win back and became the undisputed champ once again.

    After a successful defense against Danny Kingad, Moraes put his belt on the line versus Eustaquio. His third loss echoed his previous two—another split decision. Another rematch was booked, and in January, Moraes took back his title via unanimous decision.

    Moraes has shown champion’s resolve throughout his tenure. He lost his belt multiple times but always came back strong to reclaim the title. It’s a testament to his character and championship mettle.

    The 135-pound division will be a major storyline in 2019 after a trade between ONE and the UFC sent Demetrious Johnson to the promotion. Johnson debuts on the stacked March 31 event, and a win could guarantee him a title shot.

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    ONE Championship/Getty Images

    Division: Bantamweight (145 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 11-5

    Overall Record: 20-5

             

    Kevin Belingon made his ONE debut as a 9-0 prospect at ONE FC 3, and he found life was much more difficult in a premier organization. He dropped his first two ONE bouts and went 4-5 in his first nine ONE fights, including a loss to then-champion Bibiano Fernandes.

    The title tilt proved to be a turning point. After that loss, Belingon went on a six-fight win streak, including an interim title win over Martin Nguyen, to earn another shot at Fernandes.

    Fernandes was considered at one point the best lighter-weight-class fighter outside the UFC, a true top-10-level opponent on the world stage. Belingon got revenge and became the new bantamweight champion with a narrow split-decision win.

    The trilogy fight is on for March 31 as part of a stacked main card filled with championship bouts.

    A win will truly legitimize Belingon and make him one of the best 145-pound fighters regardless of promotion affiliation. The stakes are high, and the rise of the Filipino star has been nothing short of spectacular.

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    ONE Championship/Getty Images

    Division: Featherweight (155 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 8-3

    Overall Record: 11-3

             

    Martin Nguyen’s time as a “champ champ” has already come to an end. Because of injury, Nguyen forfeited the lightweight title. While he remains injured, Nguyen will return to the featherweight division as its king when he is ready.

    Nguyen’s talents were obvious early on. He joined ONE as a 3-0 prospect and beat Rocky Batolbatol. After suffering his first pro loss to Marat Gafurov, Nguyen went on a six-fight win streak. The final two bouts of that win streak are where Nguyen picked up both of his title belts. The featherweight win was even sweeter for Nguyen as he was able to exact revenge on Gafurov.

    The talented 29-year-old attempted history in 2018 on two separate occasions. He tried dropping to 145 pounds to capture a third title but was turned away by both Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon.

    There is no sure timetable for Nguyen’s return, but it is safe to say when he does, he will be a can’t-miss addition to any fight card. He has shown top-level talent and a willingness to chase the toughest matchups possible. That is a fighter every fan can get behind.

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    Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

    Division: Lightweight (170 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 11-4

    Overall Record: 21-6

              

    If you follow ONE Championship, you’ve become familiar with Eduard Folayang. He has been a member of the roster since the first event in 2011. He had uneven results through the first three years, which saw him lose three times while picking up just four wins in ONE.

    After taking 2015 off, Folayang returned in 2016 and picked up back-to-back wins. ONE granted him a shot at Shinya Aoki and the lightweight title. Folayang avoided the dangerous submission game of Aoki and finished him in the third round by TKO to win the belt.

    Folayang defended the belt against Ev Ting before suffering a KO loss to Martin Nguyen. He rebounded with a win over Kharun Atlangeriev.

    Nguyen vacated the title in September because of injury, setting up a fight between Amir Khan and Folayang for the vacant lightweight belt. Folayang recaptured his title when the scorecards ended up in his favor.

    A rematch with Nguyen seems enticing if Nguyen returns in the near future, but if that is to happen, Folayang will have to take care of Aoki once more. Folayang vs. Aoki will main-event the March 31 fight card for the belt. 

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    ONE Championship/Getty Images

    Division: Welterweight (185 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 3-1

    Overall Record: 11-4

             

    Zebaztian Kadestam first appeared in ONE in 2017. He got a knockout win over Luis Santos, and the victory put him in a position to challenge for the middleweight title.

    It would not go his way. Ben Askren’s dominance was on full display during their meeting, and Askren would stop Kadestam in the second round.

    Following the defeat, Kadestam beat Agilan Thani in 2018. Then, with Askren’s departure, the welterweight crown became available, and ONE booked a title fight between Kadestam and Tyler McGuire. It took until the fifth and final round, but Kadestam finally put an end to McGuire and became the champion.

    Now Kadestam is set for his first title defense March 9 opposite Georgiy Kichigin. In the post-Askren life of the division, this fight will help set the tone moving forward of just how competitive and fluid it can be without a dominant force atop the mountain.

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    Division: Middleweight and Light Heavyweight (205 lbs and 225 lbs)

    ONE Championship Record: 9-1

    Overall Record: 24-10 (1 NC)

               

    Aung La Nsang made his ONE debut at 15-9 (1 NC) in 2014 after a loss to Jonavin Webb. It would have appeared to most, with good reason, that Nsang was just a journeyman fighter. Instead, he reeled off four straight wins with three stoppages among them.

    Those three wins earned him a shot at the middleweight title and Vitaly Bigdash. He lost a decision, but ONE Championship made an immediate rematch where he won the gold with a unanimous-decision victory.

    After an open-weight fight against Alain Ngalani, which ended with a first-round submission, Nsang met Alexandre Machado for the light heavyweight title last February. Nsang only needed 84 seconds to capture a second title and become the only active dual-division champion.

    Nsang capped off his 2018 run with two middleweight title defenses.

    Nsang has come into his own and made a quality run through the ranks. He is one of the most fun champions to watch and has two titles to defend in the new year.

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    Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

    Division: Heavyweight

    ONE Championship Record: 4-0

    Overall Record: 16-7 (1 NC)

                

    For the casual audience, Brandon Vera is the most recognizable name on the ONE Championship roster. He just so happens to be its heavyweight champ.

    The former UFC fighter has only fought four times since his 2013 exit from the Octagon, but during that span he has steadily reestablished himself in the sport. After a first-round TKO win in 2014 in ONE, Vera returned to fight for the title a year later. It was a 26-second knockout showing against Paul Cheng.

    The next year, Hideki Sekine was the victim of another first-round TKO. It would be nearly two years before Vera defended the title again. It took only 64 seconds for him to violently oust Mauro Cerilli for his second heavyweight title defense.

    It would be great to see him more active, but the infrequency of his bouts has helped him recapture some of what made him a fighter to watch ages ago. Vera’s resurgence has been a pleasure to watch and a feel-good story in a sport that desperately needs more positivity.

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