As ONE Championship’s spectacular 2017 campaign has come to an end, we look forward to these five stories in 2018.
Martin Nguyen’s meteoric rise
Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen might have been the story of 2017, but his 2018 campaign is sure to be even more enthralling.
Nguyen, who now reigns over the featherweight and lightweight divisions, is set to challenge long-time bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes in March at ONE: Iron Will.
The matchup is sure to be one of the most exciting fights of 2018, and the result will largely determine Nguyen’s pathway for the rest of the new year. Which title will he defend first? Who will challenge for Nguyen’s titles? Can anyone take Nguyen’s right hand?
All of these questions will be answered in 2018.
The return of Angela Lee
It’s only been seven months since we’ve seen Angela Lee inside the ONE Championship cage, but that’s already far too long for one of the most exciting female mixed martial artists in the world to be sidelined.
At the age of 21, Lee has lived up to the moniker “Unstoppable” by winning all eight contests in her short career. With seven submissions to her name, including an impressive anaconda choke at ONE: Dynasty of Heroes, Lee has not just been dominant but also fearless in her approach.
The dreams of MMA fans were scheduled to become a reality in November 2017 as Lee was booked to face Mei Yamaguchi in a rematch of their incredible war that took place in May 2016. However, the rematch was postponed after Lee was involved in a devastating car accident.
Now, fight fans can look forward to Angela Lee’s return in what is more than likely to be another attempt at scheduling the Yamaguchi rematch.
What will happen with the welterweight division?
Ben Askren is so 2017.
Well, not really. But because the mixed martial arts superstar dominated the ONE Championship division ever since his arrival in 2014, no one else has tasted welterweight gold since that year.
With six ONE Championship victories to his name, Askren took out all the best challengers that the 170 lbs division had to offer. In fact, Shinya Aoki was asked to step up two divisions when Askren ran out of suitable welterweight opponents. His beatdown of Aoki will be our last memory of “Funky” Ben Askren inside the ONE Championship cage.
On a positive note, that means that the ONE Welterweight World Championship is now vacant. While the welterweight division isn’t deep by any means, there are a couple of contenders who are likely to earn their shot at the organization’s 170 lbs title sometime in 2018.
Although Ben Askren had expressed interest in seeing the organization hold a welterweight tournament of sorts, it seems all the more likely that ONE Championship might just call up Agilan Thangalapani and Zebaztian Kadestam for a head-to-head battle as two of the most in-form welterweights.
Before being manhandled by Ben Askren in Shanghai, Kadestam stunningly defeated Luis Santos with a series of brutal knees.
Agilan Thani worked his way through the welterweight division before also being dominated by the welterweight champion. However, Thani since bounced back with a victory against Sherif Mohamed in Kuala Lumpur.
Garry Tonon’s MMA debut
One thing is for certain in 2018; when Garry Tonon makes his MMA debut, there will be many thousands of eyes watching.
Tonon, who is one of the most accomplished submission grapplers in the world, recently signed to ONE Championship.
While we are unsure when Tonon will make his first appearance as a professional mixed martial artist, he is likely to be a feature story of ONE Championship as the year progresses.
Interestingly, Chatri Sityodtong had toyed with the idea of a Ben Askren vs. Garry Tonon super match. Tonon also fits right into the next chapter of ONE Championship’s welterweight division, which was previously discussed in detail.
Who will be the women’s strawweight champion by the end of the year?
The lid has been lifted on a new ONE Championship title in 2018.
Tiffany Teo and Xiong Jing Nan are scheduled to compete for the Women’s ONE Strawweight World Championship on January 20 at ONE: Kings of Courage in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Teo, who spoke to The Body Lock in the lead-up to her championship bout, could be the first Singaporean to win a ONE Championship title. But standing in her way is a fierce and powerful Chinese fighter in Xiong, who scored a brilliant first-round TKO victory over April Osenio at ONE: Warriors of the World in December.
While Teo and Xiong were the two clear front-runners for the division’s inaugural championship bout, there are a number of other athletes ready to make their mark on the newly formed title.
“Mighty” May Ooi successfully debuted in ONE Championship when she took out Ann Osman in the first round in Kuala Lumpur last year. In November, Ooi scored yet another submission victory when she took out Vy Srey Khouch 3:58 into the first round. Ooi announced in the post-fight interview that she wanted ‘a title shot early next year’.
Also waiting for her chance at a ONE Championship title is Michelle Nicolini, who is 2-0 since debuting in the organization in November of 2016. Nicolini, who has won her two contests via first-round submission, announced on Facebook that ‘she is waiting for her chance’ at the Women’s ONE Strawweight World Championship.
What story are you most looking forward to as we enter ONE Championship’s 2018?
Jake is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief, based in Tasmania, Australia.