Many athletes feel wrestling is the most effective martial art to use inside the cage, and for good reason. A world-class grappler has the capability to take opponents down, dictate where the battle takes place, and control the pace of the match. The more decorated the wrestler, the more dangerous he or she could be.
Here are five of the best wrestlers currently competing in ONE Championship.
The American has never particularly enjoyed competing in team sports, often preferring to participate in activities where he controlled his own destiny. Despite some initial setbacks, he became a grappling prodigy.
Askren has won numerous honors, most notably the Wisconsin State Wrestling Championship on two occasions, just as he did the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship. He capped off his stellar collegiate career with an incredible record of 153-8, and went on to represent the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
After his Olympic adventure, the 33-year-old successfully transitioned his world-class wrestling ability into the cage. He claimed the Bellator Welterweight Title in 2010, vacated it three years later, and then joined ONE, where he captured the ONE Welterweight World Championship from inaugural titleholder Nobutatsu Suzuki in August 2014.
The unbeaten Askren will defend the belt for the last time in his retirement match against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT on Friday, 24 November in Singapore.
Wrestling runs through the veins of Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov (24-1). The son of an amateur Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion, the young Kazakhstani followed his older brother into wrestling at age 12. He experienced quite a few losses at first, and even thought about quitting a couple of times. But through family support and more coaching, he became a champion. He won the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2002 and the Asian Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2003.
Following another competitive slump, his coach Aset Imanbayev, a 2008 Olympian and highly-decorated Kazakhstani wrestler, took Akhmetov’s game to the next level. He coached and mentored “The Kazakh” to three national Greco-Roman Wrestling Champions in consecutive years from 2009 to 2011.
By then, he had also used his innate wrestling talent to prosper inside the cage. Akhmetov debuted in 2010 and won 23 straight matches en route to capturing the ONE Flyweight World Championship. Though he lost the belt to Adriano Moraes in August, the 29-year-old is already on the comeback trail, and just defeated Geje Eustaquio via split decision at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY a few weeks ago.
Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito (12-0) is a late bloomer. The Chiba, Japan resident was influenced by his country’s martial arts scene, and alongside his brother, went to the famed Paraestra Matsudo gym and started his training at the age of 22. Although he never competed for any major wrestling championships, he has proven to be more than adept at submission wrestling, and has been one of the discipline’s most effective practitioners inside the cage.
Ever since making his professional martial arts debut in August 2012, Naito has leaned on his grappling strength and has been absolutely flawless, even capturing the Shooto Flyweight Championship in September 2014.
“Nobita” brought his skills to the global stage in May 2016, when he defeated inaugural ONE Strawweight World Champion Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke for the coveted title in his promotional debut. Five months later, he successfully defended it against Joshua Pacio in similar fashion, as he submitted the Filipino contender via rear-naked choke.
So, while the 33-year-old never competed for major wrestling championships, he effectively uses his wrestling for martial arts matches better than many of the discipline’s most decorated warriors.
Similarly, Japan’s Hayato Suzuki (17-0-2) picked up wrestling quickly. The Takahagi City, Ibaraki, native chanced upon wrestling while attending high school. He fell in love with the sport, calling the takedown his charm, and he endlessly drilled techniques with the school team.
As soon as he attended the Nippon Sport Science University, he entered the field of competition, and proved to be a force to be reckoned with, ranking fifth in the entire country.
Towards the end of his stay in college, a teammate brought him to the nearby Brave Gym, and he soon became fascinated with the idea of complementing his grappling skills with other martial arts. While still using wrestling as his base, he debuted in 2012 and has run through the Japanese scene, capturing the Grachan flyweight championship.
The undefeated Suzuki made his promotional debut at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in August, where he displayed that impeccable wrestling against Joshua Pacio and tapped him via rear-naked choke in the first round.
Ma Hao Bin
Ma Hao Bin (7-1) is one of the most promising Chinese athletes in the organization. The 23-year-old nicknamed “The Southern Eagle” is best known for his wrestling ability, which he discovered by chance as a teenager. He grew up on a farm in the southeastern province of Jiang Xi, but left his family in the porcelain-driven metropolis of Jing De Zhen to train with the provincial team in Nanchang. There, he developed the skills which would ultimately set him up for success.
Ma was admitted into Jinggangshan University in 2012, studied sports while competing on the wrestling circuit, and wound up claiming the prestigious National Wrestling Championship. He official retired from wrestling in 2016 to focus on a career in the cage.
Thus far, his freestyle wrestling ability has translated remarkably into the sport, as he immediately captured the ONE Changsha Bantamweight Tournament Championship upon his debut in January 2016. He has continued to gain experience in his journey, but has his eyes set on the ONE Flyweight World Championship. His inched closer to that goal by defeating Hexigetu at ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI.