With 2017 coming to an end, the athletes of ONE Championship were motivated to leave it all out in the cage, and provide fans with a lasting memory before heading into the new year.
As a result, there were several action-packed cards to close out 2017, and fireworks ensued. While there were plenty of incredible battles to choose from, here are five of the best matches of 2017’s fourth and final quarter.
Amir Khan Outlasts Durable Veteran Adrian Pang
Amir Khan is a highly-skilled offensive innovator. A Singaporean Muay Thai champion, Khan pairs explosive combinations with top-notch grappling, which has resulted in seven knockouts in eight finishes – both ONE Championship records.
After winning his fifth straight bout last September, the Evolve MMA standout challenged a top lightweight contender in Australia’s Adrian Pang at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, which broadcast from the Singapore Indoor Stadium this past November.
Pang, a veteran known for his incredible durability and raw strength, proved to be a dangerous opponent. The Aussie constantly threatened to turn the lights out on his younger foe instantly with his massive punching power.
If the 23-year-old Khan were to survive three whole rounds against such a juggernaut, he would have to do so intelligently. With Pang’s ability to walk through power shots, he needed to find some way to keep his opponent at range.
In a masterful striking performance, Khan showed the maturity of a seasoned professional, bombarding Pang with a wide range of dynamic striking combinations, all while circling away from danger and keeping out of counterpunching range. The Singaporean often made his Australian rival miss, and then made him pay with pinpoint accuracy.
The match went the distance, and the judges rendered a unanimous decision in Khan’s favor. This was the Singaporean’s best performance yet, and he sent a loud message to the division that he is ready to compete with the top talent among ONE’s lightweight ranks.
Phoe Thaw’s Gutsy Performance Against Saw Ba Oo
ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang opened the door for martial arts in his home country of Myanmar, and now there are plenty of promising young martial artists showcasing their skills on the global stage.
Two of those talents are Phoe “Bushido” Thaw and Saw Ba Oo. Both are experienced lethwei practitioners, so when this bout was announced as the co-main event of ONE: HERO’S DREAM last November, fans expected nothing less than an all-out war.
That is exactly what they got. In an inspiring display of heart and tenacity, Phoe Thaw and Saw Ba Oo exchanged their best offense, testing each other with a flurry of diverse strikes. While both men were stunned at times, neither wanted to surrender. The two poured out their energy, and gave everything they had until the bell sounded to end the third and final round.
Phoe Thaw nabbed the split decision verdict, as two of three judges awarded the contest in his favor due to his cleaner and more powerful strikes. The 33-year-old narrowly escaped defeat to maintain his unblemished record, and while Saw Ba Oo suffered a bitter loss, he raised his stock in the process.
Mei Yamaguchi’s Earns Redemption Against Gina Iniong
Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi and Team Lakay standout Gina “Conviction” Iniong met in the cage before, albeit under a different promotional banner three and a half years ago. At the time, Yamaguchi and Iniong crossed paths as two hungry athletes working their way up in the Asian martial arts circuit. On that fateful night in May 2014, “Conviction” earned a split decision win that could have gone either way.
At ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, the 34-year-old Japanese martial arts veteran met her Filipino rival again, but under different circumstances.
Iniong stepped in as a last minute replacement for ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee, who was injured in a car accident just a few weeks prior. But “Conviction” had been in training camp, and recently dominated Priscilla Hertati Lumbangaol without taking much damage, so she was ready.
This time, however, it was Yamaguchi who emerged on the winning side.
Yamaguchi made full use of her wide array of techniques and outclassed Iniong from start to finish. The Japanese competitor’s experience and cage savvy effectively nullified Iniong’s best weapons, and she displayed her grappling mastery throughout the contest. In the end, all three judges saw the bout in favor of “V.V.,” awarding her with the unanimous decision victory.
The win solidified Yamaguchi’s spot as the number one contender for Lee’s ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title, and the two are expected to compete in a highly-anticipated rematch in 2018.
Muhammad Aiman’s Intense Victory Over Yang Fei
When “Jungle Cat” Muhammad Aiman joined ONE in 2016, a lot of eyes were on the young talent. The 22-year-old made a name for himself back home in Malaysia as a MIMMA Featherweight Champion.
Featuring a well-rounded skill set, Aiman has since moved down to flyweight, and has impressed inside the ONE cage. He decisioned Hisyam Samsudin, and stopped BJJ champion Eduardo Novaes in his first two appearances for the promotion.
After losing a narrow decision to Filipino flyweight contender Danny Kingad however, Aiman knew he had to make stark improvements to his game.
At ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, he filled-in as a late replacement against Chinese debutant “The Pugilist” Yang Fei, and looked to showcase the changes he made to become a better martial artist.
“Jungle Cat” would get back on the winning track with a thorough performance, completely outworking Yang in a tactical three-round battle. Utilizing his speed and power, Aiman accurately picked his spots, and repeatedly connected with a series of thudding strikes to force the usually aggressive Chinese athlete to play defense.
The Malaysian took home the unanimous decision victory for his efforts, and reminded everyone that he remains one of the most talented flyweights in the organization.
Rika Ishige And Rome Trinidad’s Spirited Battle
What they go was a thrilling contest between two extremely talented female martial artists.
Making her way back to competition following a heartbreaking loss just last August, the first of her young career, Ishige was determined to prove to the world that she was capable of improvement. Heavily criticized for her lack of striking skills, Ishige bulked up and put on some muscle, worked on her kickboxing, and proceeded to take the action right to her opponent.
Comfortably exchanging blistering combinations with Trinidad at the center of the cage, “Tinydoll” showcased a new dynamic to her growing offensive arsenal. Though Ishige was known to be dangerous in the grappling department, she showed an improved striking attack, too.
The Bangkok native traded her best strikes with Trinidad before taking matters to the ground, where she put her Brazilian jiu-jitsu to good use.
Towards the end of the second round, Ishige’s grappling once again was on full display, as the Thai standout took Trinidad’s back and expertly sunk in a bout-ending rear-naked choke to force the tap.