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9 Of ONE Championship's Most Accomplished Grapplers

September 26, 2017

While there may several decorated strikers in ONE Championship, there are just as many world-class grappling champions submitting their way to the top in the promotion too.

In fact, there are nine athletes in particular who have won numerous world titles in their respective fields of wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and pankration, and masterfully transitioned those skills for battle inside the cage.

Ben Askren

Ben Askren is arguably the best wrestler to ever compete professionally. The “Funky” American owns an incredible 153-8 wrestling record, and experienced an equally impressive amount of success.

Askren was a two-time Wisconsin State Wrestling Champion (2000 and 2001), a two-time NCAA Division I  Wrestling Champion out of the University of Missouri (2006 and 2007), and even made the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad.

However, following his bitter Olympic loss in Beijing, he turned his attention to martial arts and smoothly transitioned his wrestling skills to the cage. Ever since making his professional debut in February 2009, he has steamrolled the competition.

He is undefeated at 17-0 (1 NC), captured the Bellator Welterweight Championship in October 2010, and then vacated it to join ONE, where he claimed the prestigious ONE Welterweight World Championship in August 2014. He has held it ever since.

On Friday, 24 November, the 33-year-old champion expects to cap off an incredible career at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, as he defends the belt and competes for the last time against Shinya Aoki.

Bibiano Fernandes

Just like Askren, Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes has dominated in all of his sporting pursuits. The 37-year-old, who was raised in poverty and even had to live in the Amazon Rainforest, is a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion.

He claimed the honors in the purple belt division in 2001, in the brown belt division a year later, and in the black belt division in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Also, he won the Pan American Championship three years straight, from 2004 through 2006.

Fernandes then put those world-class submissions skills to good use as a professional. The Brazilian won the DREAM Featherweight Championship in 2009, and dropped down a weight class and won the DREAM Bantamweight Championship two years later.

“The Flash” then joined ONE and captured the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship upon his debut in May 2013. He became the undisputed champion five months later, and has defended his belt a record seven times to date, and reigns as the organization’s most dominant titleholder.

Angela Lee

She may have just turned 21, but Angela “Unstoppable” Lee has always worn gold.

Lee, who has studied multiple disciplines ever since she was a little girl, proved she was a world-class athlete as a teenager. She became a two-time Pankration World Champion in 2012, a Hawaii State Wrestling Champion in 2013, and the Destiny MMA Strawweight Champion in 2014.

After making a perfect start to her professional career in ONE Championship with a string of submission wins, she claimed the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship by defeating battle-tested veteran Mei Yamaguchi in May 2016. At 8-0, the undefeated champ will next defend the battle against Yamaguchi in a rematch at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.

Roger Gracie

Roger Gracie is martial arts royalty. The 35-year-old, who was awarded his black belt nearly 15 years ago, may be one of the submission discipline’s absolute best. The third-degree black belt is a 10-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion in the black belt division across multiple weight classes, and has unsurprisingly captured several ADCC, Pan American, and Brazilian national titles as well.

Impressively, he accomplished all this while competing in the cage as well. He made a successful professional debut in 2006, has amassed an 8-2 record, and tapped out Michal Pasternak in May 2016 to claim the inaugural ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship.

Shinya Aoki

Shinya Aoki has long been considered the best martial artist of Asia’s modern era, and for good reason.

The 34-year-old Japanese athlete is a judo and BJJ black belt who started his professional career in 2003. He complemented it with submission grappling competition, winning an All-Japan Championship in the brown belt division in 2004, and in the black belt division a year later. He also became the ADCC Japan Trial Champion in 2005, the Shooto Grappling Champion in 2006, and the Deep X Superfight Champion in 2007.

Aoki’s greatest success, however, has been inside the cage. He claimed the Shooto Welterweight Championship in 2006, the inaugural WAMMA Lightweight Championship in 2008, the DREAM Lightweight Championship in 2009, and then the ONE Lightweight World Championship in April 2013.

While he eventually surrendered the belt to Eduard Folayang in November 2016, Aoki is moving up a weight class, and is scheduled to return on Friday, 24 November. He will challenge Askren at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT for the ONE Welterweight World Championship in the undefeated American’s retirement bout.

Michelle Nicolini

Although Michelle Nicolini initially trained in capoeira at age 14 in her native Brazil, she turned her attention to BJJ three years later, and has since become the gentle art’s most successful female practitioner.

The 35-year-old black belt is a staggering eight-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, having won the prestigious honors across multiple weight categories since 2006. She is also a three-time Pan American Champion (2008, 2010, 2011), a World No-Gi Champion (2008 and 2010), and a World Pro Cup Champion (2012).

Having reached the pinnacle of BJJ, she turned her attention to professional cage competition, and made her way to ONE Championship. She has since won two bouts in a row via impressive submission on the way to a 4-1 record.

Kairat Akhmetov

Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov may have been a combat sports kingpin in his native Kazakhstan, but in recent years, he has prospered beyond the country’s borders.

The 29-year-old was a natural grappler who achieved national fame early in his career. He captured the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2002, and the Asian Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship a year later, followed by a provincial taekwondo championship in 2006.

He eventually won the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Flyweight Championship three years in a row, and embarked on a professional career in the meantime. He then won the Alash Pride FC Flyweight Title in 2012, and soon became the ONE Flyweight World Champion in 2015 with a sparkling record of 23-0.

Despite losing the strap in August, he kicked off his comeback campaign in dramatic fashion, as he recently edged out Geje Eustaquio via split decision.

Marat Gafurov

Marat “Cobra” Gafurov may have gotten a late start to his martial arts training at 15 years old, but he more than made up for it during adulthood.

The 32-year-old Russian captured the Dagestan BJJ Championship in 2010, World FILA Championships in Grappling and Pankration in 2011, and a National ADCC Grappling Championship in 2012. He also demonstrated his well-roundedness, winning the Eurasian Championship in military hand-to-hand combat.

Gafurov was decorated in a slew of different martial arts, and soon decided to put them to the test in the cage. In 2012, two years after making his professional debut, he claimed the M-1 Featherweight Title. Three years later, as an undefeated athlete, he captured the ONE Featherweight World Championship, setting a probably world record for the most consecutive rear-naked choke victories in the process.

He may have lost the belt to reigning champion Martin Nguyen this past August, but as Gafurov has shown all his life, he will be back, and better than ever.

Mei Yamaguchi

Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi has quite the trophy case. Originally starting out in karate, the 34-year-old picked up Brazilian jiu-jitsu while attending college. She performed well in competition, winning several medals, including gold at the Pan-American BJJ Championships and the Asian Open Championships.

Thus far, the Japanese competitor has had an eventful year. She placed second at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam: Tokyo 2017 Tournament in the women’s brown and black belt 55kg division, and earned a third place finish at the IBJJF 2017 World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in the adult women’s brown belt division. Through those exploits, she earned her black belt.

In addition to her BJJ pursuits, Yamaguchi has accomplished plenty inside the cage. She won the Valkyrie Women’s Featherweight Championship in February 2010, and then the DEEP Jewels Featherweight Championship in May 2015.

Despite falling to Angela Lee for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship a year later, Yamaguchi has another chance to capture the belt and complete the treble. She meets Lee at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT on 24 November in an epic rematch.