Some of ONE Championship’s greatest rivalries have been contested over the course of three bouts, but there is something extra special about a tiebreaking rubber match.
Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki vs. Eduard “Landslide” Folayang and Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes vs. Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio are just two examples of three-match series that have taken place on the global stage — with their decisive third battles drawing huge amounts of intrigue.
There is so much to fight for when the score is level at 1-1, including the chance to emphatically close the book on a competitive feud.
With that in mind, here are five mixed martial arts trilogies that we’d love to see decided by rubber matches inside the Circle.
#1 Angela Lee Vs. Xiong Jing Nan
In their first encounter at ONE: A NEW ERA in March 2019, Lee moved up from atomweight to challenge for the Chinese star’s ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title – and she came close to taking it.
However, Xiong used incredible durability to grit her teeth through tight submission attempts in round four before rallying for a TKO finish in the final stanza and handing the Singaporean her first career defeat.
The stakes were high in the rematch at ONE: CENTURY PART I in October 2019, with Lee’s ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title on the line this time.
Xiong dropped “Unstoppable” to the canvas in round four, but Lee bounced back to dominate the fifth frame, eventually securing the rear-naked choke to submit her rival with just 12 seconds remaining in the bout.
With both attempts at two-weight gold repelled by late finishes, the head-to-head series could not be any more finely balanced. Only a third encounter can separate the leading female stars — and it’s almost inevitable we’ll see it at some point.
#2 Joshua Pacio Vs. Yosuke Saruta
After a stunning late-notice debut win over Alex “Little Rock” Silva at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS in December 2018, Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta jumped at the chance to challenge Joshua “The Passion” Pacio for the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
But the pair rematched for the gold three months later at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR, and the Filipino squared things up with an incredible fourth-round knockout.
Saruta had dropped his rival earlier in the match and things were closely contested until “The Passion” launched a high kick at his incoming foe. His knee connected to the jaw, separating “The Ninja” from his senses.
Since then, Pacio has added two successful World Title defenses to his resume, while Saruta has racked up has back-to-back victories.
It looks like the time is right for their third ONE Strawweight World Title fight – a showdown that Pacio is looking forward to.
#3 Aung La N Sang Vs. Vitaly Bigdash
After stepping up to fight for the ONE Middleweight World Championship on just two weeks’ notice, “The Burmese Python” believed he could do better, and at ONE: LIGHT OF A NATION in June 2017, he did just that.
In front of a buoyant Yangon crowd, “The Burmese Python” edged out his Russian foe after 25 minutes of back-and-forth action to win the belt and become his nation’s first-ever World Champion.
The trilogy bout has been scheduled twice since then, with both men wanting closure after two close battles, but injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic put them on hold.
With “The Burmese Python” now reeling after losing his World Titles, and with Bigdash coming off a long layoff, they could be matched up in the near future to allow one of them to make a push back toward the gold.
- Pacio Eyes World Title Challenges From Saruta, Masunyane
- How To Watch ‘ONE Championship: Best Of 2021’ On 25 June
- Deeper Meanings: How ONE’s Muay Thai Stars Got Their Fight Names
#4 Martin Nguyen Vs. Marat Gafurov
With the ONE Interim Featherweight World Championship on the line at ONE: ODYSSEY OF CHAMPIONS in September 2015, a relatively green Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen bit off a little more than he could chew against Marat “Cobra” Gafurov.
The Vietnamese-Australian took the fight on late notice when then-World Champion Narantungalag “Tungaa” Jadambaa had to withdraw, but Gafurov submitted him in just 41 seconds with his signature rear-naked choke.
Two years, four wins, and four first-round finishes later, Nguyen was in a better place to challenge “Cobra” again. It looked like history might repeat itself when the Russian took his opponent’s back early in round one, but the matured Aussie got himself to safety.
In round two, it was Nguyen’s chance to unleash his favorite weapon, and he knocked out Gafurov with a thudding overhand right to become the ONE Featherweight World Champion.
After that match, Nguyen went on an epic run and even knocked out Folayang to take the lightweight belt and become the first two-division ONE World Champion in history. But he always kept his eye on a third contest with Gafurov so they could decide on a definitive winner.
#5 Adriano Moraes Vs. Kairat Akhmetov
Reigning ONE Flyweight World Champion Moraes is the most dominant force in his division’s history, but he needed to rebound from defeats to establish that legacy.
One of those losses came against then-undefeated Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (BEIJING II) in November 2015 when Akhmetov utilized his wrestling to eke out a split decision victory after five rounds.
Moraes earned his shot at redemption with back-to-back submission victories, including one for the division’s interim strap. Then, he effectively dismantled “The Kazakh” for a clear-cut unanimous decision win to hand his rival his first career loss and reclaim the crown at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in August 2017.
And with three straight victories of his own, Akhmetov could be the right match to make as both fighters look to break their deadlock with a trilogy contest.
Special Mention: Eddie Alvarez Vs. Shinya Aoki
Aoki submitted the American in 92 seconds when they first met, but in April 2012, Alvarez got his revenge in the United States. Though he needed slightly longer — 134 seconds — he stopped “Tobikan Judan” via TKO.
The pair have never faced off in ONE Championship, but the veterans could finally square things away with a third battle on the greatest stage of all.
Read more: ONE Feuds: Angela Lee Vs. Denice Zamboanga