While there may several decorated strikers in ONE Championship, there are just as many world-class grappling champions submitting their way to the top in the promotion too.
In fact, there are nine athletes in particular who have won numerous world titles in their respective fields of wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and pankration, and masterfully transitioned those skills for battle inside the cage.
Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes has dominated in all of his sporting pursuits. The 37-year-old, who was raised in poverty and even had to live in the Amazon Rainforest, is a five-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion.
He claimed the honors in the purple belt division in 2001, in the brown belt division a year later, and in the black belt division in 2003, 2005 and 2006. Also, he won the Pan American Championship three years straight, from 2004 through 2006.
Fernandes then put those world-class submissions skills to good use as a professional. The Brazilian won the DREAM Featherweight Championship in 2009, and dropped down a weight class and won the DREAM Bantamweight Championship two years later.
“The Flash” then joined ONE and captured the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Championship upon his debut in May 2013. He became the undisputed champion five months later, and has defended his belt a record seven times to date, and reigns as the organization’s most dominant titleholder.
She may be just 21, but Angela “Unstoppable” Lee has always worn gold.
Lee, who has studied multiple disciplines ever since she was a little girl, proved she was a world-class athlete as a teenager. She became a two-time Pankration World Champion in 2012, a Hawaii State Wrestling Champion in 2013, and the Destiny MMA Strawweight Champion in 2014.
After making a perfect start to her professional career in ONE Championship with a string of submission wins, she claimed the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship by defeating battle-tested veteran Mei Yamaguchi in May 2016. At 8-0, the undefeated champ will next defend the battle against Yamaguchi in a rematch sometime in 2018.
Roger Gracie is martial arts royalty. The 35-year-old, who was awarded his black belt nearly 15 years ago, may be one of the submission discipline’s absolute best.
The third-degree black belt is a 10-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Champion in the black belt division across multiple weight classes, and has unsurprisingly captured several ADCC, Pan American, and Brazilian national titles as well.
Impressively, he accomplished all this while concurrently competing in the cage. He made a successful professional debut in 2006, has amassed an 8-2 record, and tapped out Michal Pasternak in May 2016 to claim the inaugural ONE Light Heavyweight World Championship.
Shinya Aoki has long been considered the best martial artist of Asia’s modern era, and for good reason.
The 34-year-old Japanese athlete is a judo and BJJ black belt who started his professional career in 2003. He complemented it with submission grappling competition, winning an All-Japan Championship in the brown belt division in 2004, and in the black belt division a year later. He also became the ADCC Japan Trial Champion in 2005, the Shooto Grappling Champion in 2006, and the Deep X Superfight Champion in 2007.
Aoki’s greatest success, however, has been inside the cage. He claimed the Shooto Welterweight Championship in 2006, the inaugural WAMMA Lightweight Championship in 2008, the DREAM Lightweight Championship in 2009, and then the ONE Lightweight World Championship in April 2013.
Although Michelle Nicolini initially trained in capoeira at age 14 in her native Brazil, she turned her attention to BJJ three years later, and has since become the gentle art’s most successful female practitioner.
The 35-year-old black belt is a staggering eight-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, having won the prestigious honors across multiple weight categories since 2006. She is also a three-time Pan American Champion (2008, 2010, 2011), a World No-Gi Champion (2008 and 2010), and a World Pro Cup Champion (2012).
Having reached the pinnacle of BJJ, she turned her attention to professional cage competition, and made her way to ONE Championship. She has since won two bouts in a row via impressive submission on the way to a 4-1 record.
Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov may have been a combat sports kingpin in his native Kazakhstan, but in recent years, he has prospered beyond the country’s borders.
The 29-year-old was a natural grappler who achieved national fame early in his career. He captured the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship in 2002, and the Asian Greco-Roman Wrestling Youth Championship a year later, followed by a provincial taekwondo championship in 2006.
He eventually won the Kazakh Greco-Roman Wrestling Flyweight Championship three years in a row, and embarked on a professional career in the meantime. He then won the Alash Pride FC Flyweight Title in 2012, and soon became the ONE Flyweight World Champion in 2015 with a sparkling record of 23-0.
Despite losing the strap in August, he kicked off his comeback campaign in dramatic fashion, as he recently edged out Geje Eustaquio via split decision.
Marat “Cobra” Gafurov started his martial arts training when he was just 15 years old, and has enjoyed success every since.
The 32-year-old Russian captured the Dagestan BJJ Championship in 2010, World FILA Championships in Grappling and Pankration in 2011, and a National ADCC Grappling Championship in 2012. He also demonstrated his well-roundedness, winning the Eurasian Championship in military hand-to-hand combat.
Gafurov was decorated in a slew of different martial arts, and soon decided to put them to the test in the cage. In 2012, two years after making his professional debut, he claimed the M-1 Featherweight Title. Three years later, as an undefeated athlete, he captured the ONE Featherweight World Championship, setting a probably world record for the most consecutive rear-naked choke victories in the process.
He may have lost the belt to reigning champion Martin Nguyen this past August, but as Gafurov has shown all his life, he will be back, and better than ever.
A third-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, ONE Strawweight World Champion Silva has been winning grappling tournaments all throughout his adult life.
Now based in Singapore, where he trains and works as an instructor at Evolve MMA, Silva brings 15 years of competition experience into the cage. His trophy cabinet is home to several grappling titles he won back in Brazil, including the fabled Copa Do Mundo world championship.
Silva’s remarkable success carried on in the cage, as six of his victories have come via submission, with five of them coming in ONE Championship. This includes his Submission of the Year-winning first-round finish of previously undefeated grappler Hayato Suzuki, which propelled him into a world title bout against Yoshitaka Naito. Silva then outworked Naito over five rounds to claim the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi has quite the trophy case. Originally starting out in karate, the 34-year-old picked up Brazilian jiu-jitsu while attending college. She performed well in competition, winning several medals, including gold at the Pan-American BJJ Championships and the Asian Open Championships.
Thus far, the Japanese competitor has had an eventful year. She placed second at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam: Tokyo 2017 Tournament in the women’s brown and black belt 55kg division, and earned a third place finish at the IBJJF 2017 World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in the adult women’s brown belt division. Through those exploits, she earned her BJJ black belt.
In addition to her BJJ pursuits, Yamaguchi has accomplished plenty inside the cage. She won the Valkyrie Women’s Featherweight Championship in February 2010, and then the DEEP Jewels Featherweight Championship in May 2015.
Despite falling to Angela Lee for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight World Championship a year later, Yamaguchi has another chance to capture the belt and complete the treble. After defeating both Jenny Huang and Gina Iniong this year, she meets Lee in 2018, in what should be an epic rematch.