The first half of 2021 delivered plenty of epic mixed martial arts encounters inside the Circle – but there is much more to come.
ONE Championship’s superstars always want the biggest fights and the toughest challenges, which means there will be plenty of high-octane action playing out over the final six months of the year.
With that in mind, here are the top five MMA matchups we want to see before the calendar flips.
Thanh Le Vs. Garry Tonon
Knockout artist Le has been in phenomenal form since joining The Home Of Martial Arts. He scored three straight knockout wins to earn his shot at Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen and then dethroned the Vietnamese-Australian with another stoppage last October.
Tonon’s ONE slate stands at 6-0, including five finishes. The unbeaten American has stormed up the rankings with his sensational grappling, and a recent victory over Koyomi “Moushigo” Matsushima proved that he belongs with the best.
While the bout is almost certain to happen before the year is out, it’s not clear when. But when it finally does, it will be a fascinating striker-versus-grappler matchup between two of the promotion’s most exciting stars.
Reinier de Ridder Vs. Kiamrian Abbasov
ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion Reinier “The Dutch Knight” de Ridder has stated his intention to challenge for heavyweight gold, but Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov wants to add another belt to his own collection.
The ONE Welterweight World Champion is on a four-fight winning streak in The Home Of Martial Arts, taking out the likes of James Nakashima, Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam, and Yushin “Thunder” Okami.
With those victories over many of the welterweight division’s top contenders, Abbasov has suggested that he could move up in weight to face the bigger men for another World Title.
Given his own goals, De Ridder surely cannot fault the aspirations of the welterweight king. And it’s clear that no high-level opponent is off the table after he recently stated, “Line them up and I’ll fight them.”
With Abbasov’s strong mix of striking and wrestling, he could ask questions of “The Dutch Knight’s” incredible grappling game, and it would be interesting to see whether “Brazen” could take his power up to the middleweight ranks.
- Pacio Eyes World Title Challenges From Saruta, Masunyane
- Martin Nguyen Fueled By Desire For World Title Rematch With Thanh Le
- De Ridder ‘Done’ With Aung La N Sang, Wants New Challengers
Arjan Bhullar Vs. Kang Ji Won
There are two men who’ve stood out above the rest in the heavyweight division this year.
Arjan “Singh” Bhullar dominated and defeated Brandon “The Truth” Vera to win the World Title, while “Mighty Warrior” Kang Ji Won knocked out two tough Iranians in his first two contests on the global stage.
Bhullar believes that Kang’s recent run of form earned him the next shot at the belt, and the undefeated South Korean would surely jump at the chance to compete for the coveted gold.
The boxing and wrestling of the Canadian-Indian have been his tickets to success, while “Mighty Warrior’s” concussive power and durability helped him overcome some tough spots to claim emphatic first-round victories.
Kang has been taken down and sustained damage, yet he’s always found a way to survive and turn the tables. Bhullar would be the highest-caliber opponent he’s faced to date, but even a split-second lapse in concentration could leave “Singh” on the canvas.
That’s the beauty of the heavyweight division, and it’s exactly why this pair should duke it out inside the Circle.
Martin Nguyen Vs. Kim Jae Woong
Safety protocols kept them apart earlier this year, and fans can’t wait for the Circle door to finally slam shut on the two blistering strikers.
Both men have Le’s featherweight gold in their sights, and a win could surely thrust the victor into a World Title challenge.
But from a viewer’s perspective — whether there is a lot at stake or not — having these two heavy hitters tee off on one another is almost guaranteed to result in a Fight of the Year contender.
Styles, motivation, and knockout potential would surely combine for a battle that can’t be missed.
Joshua Pacio Vs. Yosuke Saruta III
First, Saruta upset the Filipino star via split decision just two bouts into his ONE career.
“The Passion” won the belt back three months later with a stunning KO, and back-to-back World Title defenses mean he is firmly at the top of the strawweight tree.
For his part, Saruta has earned his way back up with two consecutive wins, including one over a former World Champion in Yoshitaka “Nobita” Naito.
Both men can grapple and strike at a high level, and they can push a frenetic pace for 25 minutes. Pacio is eager to settle the score, and a rubber match with “The Ninja” would be one of the most sought-after fights of 2021.