ONE Championship will make its highly-anticipated return to the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar, with ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD on Friday, 23 February.
The blockbuster event’s name could not be any more appropriate.
In the main event, reigning ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang will attempt to make history once again, as he faces Brazil’s Alexandre “Bebezao” Machado for the vacant ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship.
Aung La N Sang and Machado are not the only martial artists to look out for when the organization arrives in Yangon. In fact, on the same card are four athletes vying to become the next lightweight world title challenger, and a slew of local talents and rising stars are looking to continue their quests up the ranks.
Before all these heroes collide on the global stage, let’s take a look at four athletes who could become the next big martial arts superstars.
Ariel “Tarzan” Sexton
Though Ariel Sexton has not been in action for quite some time, the promise of his career has not diminished by any means.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie, the 36-year-old is one of the promotion’s top lightweight fixtures. Now healed from his injuries, the Costa Rican martial artist will try to make a splash in one of the organization’s deepest divisions.
Sexton sports a professional record of 11-3, with all 11 of his wins coming by way of dynamic stoppage. Not only does the proven finisher have a whopping eight submission victories on his record, but “Tarzan” also has three knockouts, too. Some of his most notable victories include triumphs over Malaysia’s Peter Davis, Singapore’s Eddie Ng, and international star Roger Huerta.
After being away from competition for nearly two years, however, Sexton now draws a tough task in his return. He meets former ONE Lightweight World Title challenger Ev Ting in what should be an action-packed showdown of elite talents.
Things have not come easy for Timofey Nastyukhin.
Despite making a spectacular entrance onto the global stage with an emphatic flying knee finish of beloved Filipino martial arts hero Eduard Folayang in December 2014, the heavy-handed Russian dynamo’s time inside the ONE cage has not been without challenges.
He experienced a minor setback in 2015 when he lost to Herbert Burns via submission, but soon returned to knock out “Ruthless” Rob Lisita in just six seconds, tying the record for the fastest finish in ONE history. But in his very next bout in November 2016, Nastyukhin suffered a broken tibia during his clash with Kotetsu Boku.
Following nine months of extensive rehab and self-reflection, the Russian stalwart was determined to continue pursuing his martial arts dream. He successfully returned to defeat Koji Ando last August, and now he takes on Singaporean rising star Amir Khan in a colossal clash between proven knockout artists.
At just 23 years of age, Khan is an accomplished martial artist with poise and polish beyond his years.
When he was younger, he dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. As a teenager, however, Khan discovered martial arts, and he quickly fell in love with the sport, as it also helped him to control his Tourette Syndrome. Today, he is one of the most talented lightweight competitors on ONE’s world-class roster of athletes.
The Muay Thai specialist made his ONE debut in 2014, and has only lost to Thai martial arts pioneer Shannon Wiratchai in a thrilling bout by razor-thin split decision. He boasts nine solid victories, including one submission and seven knockouts — the most KOs in ONE’s history.
Five of his last six victories have come by spectacular finish, including notable wins over Vaughn Donayre, Jaroslav Jartim, and Adrian Pang. He takes on perhaps his toughest assignment yet in Nastyukhin, in a bout that will surely bring Khan to the brink of a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship should he emerge victorious.
Myanmar’s martial arts scene has experienced a boom in popularity over the past few years, brought about by the recent rise of ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La N Sang. Home to the ancient art of lethwei, it comes as no surprise that some incredible talents are beginning to emerge from the country as well.
One such martial artist is 33-year-old Phoe “Bushido” Thaw, who has made a lasting impact in the ONE cage with epic performances. Also a professional lethwei star, the unbeaten Thaw has exhibited astonishing striking skills, which has resulted in four of his five career victories ending in crowd-pleasing finishes.
He made his cage debut in 2015 with an assertive technical knockout victory over countryman Kyal Sin Htoo. He then railed off three additional first-round stoppages, capturing the ONE Myanmar Featherweight Tournament 2016 championship in the process, before meeting the toughest test of his career in Saw Ba Oo, whom he went the distance with in a close split decision win at ONE: HERO’S DREAM last November.
Next up, it is lethwei versus Kun Khmer, when “Bushido” takes on Cambodian martial artist Sor Sey in what promises to be an action-packed striking battle.