It takes a special sort of individual to step inside the ONE Championship cage.
The very act of being willing to test your skills against the best martial artists in the world already demands immense courage. However, there are an elite few who showed they truly embodied the meaning of the word, tackling overwhelming adversity head-on.
Here are six of the greatest displays of courage that transpired in the ONE Championship cage.
Vitaly Bigdash Against Igor Svirid At ONE: TIGERS OF ASIA
In an intense skirmish inside the ONE Championship cage, Vitaly Bigdash took on then-ONE Middleweight World Champion Igor Svirid for the title. Svirid had just won the belt in his previous bout, and looked to establish his reign by making his first title defense against a dangerous undefeated challenger in Bigdash.
Svirid began the bout with a non-stop barrage of punches that caught Bigdash off guard. The champion knocked Bigdash down an incredible four times, with the Russian rising to his feet each time in an incredible show of warrior spirit.
Towards the end of the first round, however, it was obvious Svirid had expended all his energy, swaying the momentum firmly in Bigdash’s favor. The Russian even landed a flush knee on Svirid, dropping him to the mat where Bigdash sank in a rear-naked choke attempt. Svirid would be saved by the bell.
In the second round, Bigdash looked to put the finishing touches on an incredible comeback. Svirid could do nothing to stop the Russian, who ended matters with a thunderous right hand and follow up ground-and-pound to claim the title he still holds today.
Eric Kelly Against Rob Lisita At ONE: WAR OF DRAGONS
In one of the greatest displays of heart and perseverance in promotional history, top Filipino featherweight Eric “The Natural” Kelly headlined ONE’s first event in Chinese Taipei with a classic showdown against Australia’s “Ruthless” Rob Lisita.
Lisita, who was then at the height of his prowess, was known as a relentless offensive machine, capable of ending fights in an instant with his powerful strikes. Conversely, Kelly’s strength lay in grappling, and it was obvious from the opening bell that he was at a disadvantage on the feet.
The Australian battler dominated Kelly for the majority of the bout, and looked to have the contest wrapped up when a devastating punch landed flush in the second round to stun Kelly. Lisita continuously hunted for the finish, but the Filipino defended admirably, despite being visibly shaken.
Suddenly, Kelly dug deep into his reserves, and scrambled out of Lisita’s back control to sink in a rear-naked choke out of nowhere. The Australian had no choice but to tap. For his bravery, Kelly clinched the hard-earned victory, and deservedly became the first-ever recipient of a US$50,000 ONE Warrior Bonus, which is only awarded to martial artists who showed immense fighting spirit.
Angela Lee Against Mei Yamaguchi At ONE: ASCENT TO POWER
Ever so often, something magical happens inside the ONE Championship cage. Warriors with incredible tenacity and unwavering perseverance put on a showcase of heart and daring that is simply unforgettable.
When 19-year-old Angela Lee stepped onto the battlefield against Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi with the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship on the line, it was a bout that represented the undefeated Lee’s toughest test to date. The two women warriors would proceed to put on an instant classic that was nominated for several Fight of the Year awards around the world.
After two evenly-matched rounds, Lee suddenly found herself stunned by a huge overhand right that sent her crashing to the canvas. The momentum had swung firmly in Yamaguchi’s favor, and the Japanese was determined to finish Lee and secure gold around her waist.
However, the young Lee showed immense composure beyond her years, picked herself up off the mat, and gave the performance of a lifetime. Instead of wilting in the face of overwhelming odds, she turned the bout on its head, and did enough to earn the unanimous decision victory.
With the win, Lee became the youngest mixed martial arts world champion in history, and also earned a US$50,000 ONE Warrior Bonus for her efforts.
Zebaztian Kadestam Against Luis Santos At ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES
This one is still fresh in the minds of those who witnessed the incredible comeback in May 2017. Former PXC welterweight champion and ONE Championship newcomer Zebaztian Kadestam took a short-notice fight against the monstrous Luis “Sapo” Santos at the recently concluded ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, and what a battle it was.
Santos, known for his tremendous striking ability and incredible knockout power, battered Kadestam for two whole rounds, making it seem as if the Swede just had too little time to prepare for a fighter of Santos’ caliber.
Unknown to the world, it was all part of Kadestam’s design. It takes immense courage to bet on being able to take Santos’ best shots for over 10 minutes and survive, but that is exactly what “The Bandit” planned to do in an attempt to tire Santos out. The Brazilian obliged.
When he sensed the time was ripe, Kadestam went for broke, and brought the fight to Santos. By the middle of the round, a trio of knees on the ground from side control had knocked the hulking Brazilian out, sealing the deal and turning Kadestam into an overnight contender for ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren’s title.
Amir Khan Against Vaughn Donayre At ONE: DEFENDING HONOR
With Filipino fan favorite Vaughn Donayre determined as ever to claim victory inside the ONE Championship cage, it was up to Singaporean lightweight standout Amir Khan to deny him. The 22-year-old Khan had progressed very nicely up to this point in his career, but facing a veteran the likes of Donayre would turn out to pose a worthy challenge.
After dominating Donayre for the majority of the bout, the young Khan suddenly found himself in a precarious position in the second round, when Donayre caught the Singaporean prospect in a deep kimura armlock. It seemed to have been all but over.
In a display of sheer force of will and immense courage, however, Khan battled through physical pain and his own self-doubt to escape unscathed. It was an incredible showcase of tenacity, and Khan ended up finishing Donayre off in the third stanza with a submission of his own.
Aung La N Sang Against Vitaly Bigdash At ONE: QUEST FOR POWER
Their first bout in January earlier this year didn’t go as Aung La N Sang had hoped. The 32-year old middleweight standout took on reigning ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash on less than two weeks’ notice, and inevitably fell short of victory in his first shot at a world title.
Despite the loss, however, the “Burmese Python” proved to everyone watching that he wouldn’t go down without a fight. Aung La N Sang put on an inspiring display of courage that showed the world that he had the true heart of a champion.
The contest was evenly-matched for the first two rounds, but midway through the bout, Bigdash landed a powerful kick to the head of the Myanmar hero that had everyone watching convinced it would be all over soon. Aung La N Sang had other ideas.
For the remainder of the fight, Aung La N Sang became an embodiment of incredible toughness and resolve, defending against Bigdash’s relentless assault while managing to mount a credible offense of his own. The Yangon native took Bigdash’s best shots and responded, lasting to the final bell in a valiant showing.
Although he wasn’t able to claim victory, Aung La N Sang will challenge Vitaly Bigdash once again this 30 June at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION. This time, he will be well-prepared with a full training camp, and he is determined to make history for Myanmar by claiming the country’s first-ever world championship in front of a hometown crowd at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.