Every single athlete who enters the ONE Championship cage deserves respect.
Each man and woman who puts on the gloves and steps into the cage to compete has endured a long, hard journey to place themselves under the bright lights, and in front of an audience of a billion people across 128 countries.
Every martial artist in ONE has a story to tell, but this year, there are certain athletes who have taken their stories to a new level — through triumph, perseverance, and a never-say-die spirit that encapsulates the very best of martial arts.
Here are ONE Championship’s Warriors of the Year for 2017.
WINNER: Martin Nguyen
Who else could get the top spot but Martin Nguyen?
“The Situ-Asian” has had one of the most remarkable years for any martial artist in 2017, as he became the first athlete in ONE history to hold world titles in two weight classes simultaneously.
His year began with a bang in January at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER, as he finished former title challenger Kazunori Yakota, handing the Japanese veteran his first knockout loss in seven years, to declare his readiness for a title rematch with his old nemesis, Marat Gafurov.
That bout took place in August at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS, as Nguyen survived an early rear-naked choke scare and exacted revenge on the Russian world champion, stunning him with a one-punch KO to capture the ONE Featherweight World Title.
Having completed his quest to avenge his 2015 loss to Gafurov and claim featherweight gold, Nguyen turned his attention to the weight class above, where he challenged Filipino national hero Eduard “Landslide” Folayang for the ONE Lightweight Title at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD.
Despite having to step up a weight class to take on the bigger, stronger man, Nguyen was more than up to the task, as he produced a sensational performance to dramatically and spectacularly knock out Folayang as the Filipino threw a spinning back kick.
It was one of the top moments of 2017, the top knockout of 2017, and cemented Nguyen’s place at the top of our list as the ONE Championship Warrior of the Year.
“The Situ-Asian” is not finished just yet. In 2018, he plans on becoming an unprecedented three-weight world champion, when he drops down to take on all-conquering ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
Runner-Up: Alex Silva
It has been a big year for Brazil’s Alex “Little Rock” Silva, who capped off 2017 by becoming the ONE Strawweight World Champion in the final event of the year. But his title win was only part of his story, as he completed a meteoric rise to the top to become a two-discipline world champion.
Silva competed three times in 2017, kicking off his hat-trick of wins in February with a third-round submission finish of Filipino former world title challenger Roy Doliguez at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS.
The world then sat up and took notice when Silva made his second appearance, as he faced off against the highly-regarded and undefeated Japanese champion Hayato Suzuki at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in November.
The bout was expected to offer up a fascinating clash of styles between Suzuki’s wrestling and Silva’s BJJ, but the bout finished in a flash, as “Little Rock” showcased just why he is a BJJ world champion. He locked up an armbar and submitted Suzuki from the Japanese athlete’s first takedown attempt of the bout.
The victory was so clean and so impressive the clamour for Silva to challenge defending champion Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito was simply too much to ignore. When the pair met at ONE: WARRIORS OF THE WORLD in December, Silva showed the world that he was much more than a grappler who could finish bouts quickly.
Against the seasoned, undefeated Naito, the Brazilian revealed other facets of his game, showcasing the slick striking skills honed during his time at Evolve MMA in Singapore, as well as his impressive cardio to last all five rounds.
When the time came for the judges to render a verdict, the winner was already clear, and Silva became the ONE Strawweight World Champion. The big question now is, having ended the undefeated runs of two of the division’s best athletes, who can step up and challenge Silva in 2018?
#3 Aung La N Sang
Myanmar’s hero Aung La N Sang has always made clear his desire to not only succeed inside the ONE cage, but inspire his fellow countrymen outside it. If that was his mission statement for 2017, then we can declare “mission accomplished” for the “Burmese Python.”
In a remarkable year, Aung La Na Sang turned crushing disappointment into elation, before overcoming a huge challenge at the end of the year.
His first bout saw him challenge ONE Middleweight World Champion Vitaly Bigdash in January at ONE: QUEST FOR POWER, only to come up short on the scorecards. The bout was a hugely competitive affair, with both men enjoying their successes. Such was the reaction to Aung La N Sang’s performance that night, the Myanmar martial artist was awarded a rematch.
In June, at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in his birth nation, Aung La N Sang became Myanmar’s first world champion in any sport, when he dethroned Bigdash with an incredible display full of drive and determination as he captured a unanimous decision after five punishing rounds.
That win catapulted the new ONE Middleweight World Champion’s star power into the stratosphere in his homeland. His hero status went even higher following his third and final bout of 2017, when he stepped into the cage for the promotion’s first-ever Open-Weight Super Bout against heavyweight knockout artist Alain “The Panther” Ngalani at ONE: HERO’S DREAM in November.
Despite his opponent’s clear size advantage, strength, and outright punching power, Aung La N Sang stood toe-to-toe with the hulking behemoth, eventually taking him to the mat and forcing a submission amid jubilant scenes at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium.
#4 Kevin Belingon
The top three athletes in our list all have one thing in common — they ended the year as ONE World Champions. Our fourth Warrior of 2017 may not have finished his year with a world title belt around his waist, but it seems certain he may be challenging for one as we head into 2018.
Kevin Belingon has come to be known as “The Silencer,” but he certainly made plenty of noise in 2017, claiming three hugely impressive victories to position himself as arguably the most dangerous contender for the ONE Bantamweight World Title.
The Filipino striker stopped Finnish star Toni Tauru in the opening round of their bout at ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY in April, finishing the former world title challenger with strikes at the mid-way point of the opening round.
He continued his impressive display of striking in his second appearance against Reece “Lightning”McLaren at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS in August.
The Australian had pushed defending ONE Bantamweight Champion Bibiano Fernandes all the way to a split decision last December, but Belingon made a huge statement to the champion, and the rest of the division, by finishing McLaren with strikes in just 62 seconds to put Fernandes on notice.
The Team Lakay standout finished the year with another impressive performance, as he used his striking and footwork to dominate the undefeated Kevin “Oldboy” Chung, and win by unanimous decision at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in November.
With Fernandes set to defend his belt in a champion-versus-champion super bout against Nguyen in March 2018 at ONE: IRON WILL, you can be sure that Belingon will be watching with interest, ready to challenge the winner.