A Deep Dive Into ONE’s Heavyweight MMA Division

May 7, 2021

Over the past several months, ONE Championship’s mixed martial arts heavyweight division has become one of the promotion’s most exciting weight classes.

Several rising stars and well-respected veterans joined the heavyweight ranks, while fans were treated to a plethora of titanic clashes between the organization’s bruising martial arts behemoths.

Before the ONE Heavyweight World Title is contested in the main event of ONE: DANGAL on Saturday, 15 May, let’s take a closer look at the current state of ONE’s biggest division.

The Reigning King & Top Challenger

ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon “The Truth” Vera has always been the most dominant athlete in the division.

Ever since making his promotional debut in December 2014, the Filipino-American has destroyed the competition. Not only has Vera knocked out every single heavyweight opponent in the first round, but he claimed the inaugural World Title and has never let it go.

Vera has certainly established himself as ONE’s baddest man, but his belt – as well as his reputation – is on the line when he meets his most dangerous challenger yet at ONE: DANGAL.

That challenger is Arjan “Singh” Bhullar, who’s roared his way into the world’s largest martial arts organization.

The Indian is an Olympic wrestler with seemingly unbreakable confidence. He’s also developed the boxing skills needed to contend with the sport’s most dangerous strikers, which he proved in a victory over Italian hard-hitter Mauro “The Hammer” Cerilli at ONE: CENTURY PART II.

That combination is absolutely lethal, and it could lead Bhullar to dethrone ONE’s longtime heavyweight king and become India’s first-ever Mixed Martial Arts World Champion on 15 May.

The Next Stars Up

Anatoly Malykhin and Kang Ji Won

In recent months, a pair of rising heavyweights have shined on the global stage.

Undefeated Russian star Anatoly Malykhin has charmed the global fan base with his cheerful demeanor, his ugly Christmas sweater, and most of all, his dominating all-around game.

In a shocking performance, Malykhin stood toe-to-toe with former ONE World Title challenger Alexandre “Bebezao” Machado at ONE: FISTS OF FURY II, took the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt to the ground with relative ease, and disarmed any grappling threat by trapping him in a crucifix and using ground-and-pound to force a first-round TKO stoppage.

Also impressing has been Malykhin’s friend “Mighty Warrior” Kang Ji Won.

The South Korean phenom has registered two straight comeback victories in 2021, knocking out Iranian wrestling sensations Mehdi Barghi and Amir Aliakbari – both in the first round.

Malykhin and Kang may be friends, but they could also meet at some point to decide the next challenger for the heavyweight crown.

Stars On The Upswing

MMA heavyweight fighters Mauro Cerilli and Abdulbasir Vagabov compete at ONE: UNBREAKABLE II in January 2021

Those aren’t the only heavyweights who’ve gained some momentum.

Cerilli experienced some adversity when facing both Vera and Bhullar, but the Italian monster may be on the upswing.

“The Hammer” welcomed Abdulbasir “Dagestan Machine” Vagabov to the global stage at ONE: UNBREAKABLE II in January. It appeared to be a tough test, as the Russian was entering ONE with quite the resume – a 12-1 professional record, a 92 percent finishing rate, and 83 percent of his victories coming via first-round stoppage.

But that didn’t faze Cerilli, who controlled the proceedings and became the first man to finish Vagabov by earning a second-round TKO win.

Kirill Grishenko has also looked strong, as he stopped “Reug Reug” Oumar Kane’s hype train at the recent “ONE on TNT IV.”

The undefeated Belarusian nullified Kane’s Senegalese wrestling expertise, fired off knees in the clinch, and popped his foe with a short right at the end of the second round to earn a TKO.

Grapplers Looking For A Breakout

MMA Fight: Kang Ji Won fights Amir Aliakbari at ONE: FISTS OF FURY II

There are four talented heavyweights who could be right in the mix with a highlight-reel victory in their next showing.

Aliakbari entered the promotion with plenty of steam, and the Greco-Roman Wrestling World Champion was damaging Kang early in their bout before eating an untimely left hook that turned off his lights.

His AAA Team stablemate Barghi was in a similar situation just a few weeks earlier, but he ran out of gas and couldn’t contain ”Mighty Warrior.”

It was a tough break for the Iranian contingent, who looked absolutely dominant before joining the promotion. But if the two athletes patch up some holes, they could ascend to the top in no time.

Meanwhile, “Reug Reug” started 2021 with a bang, taking down revered striker Alain “The Panther” Ngalani and kickboxing star Patrick “Big Swiss” Schmid and pounding them both out to score first-round TKO victories. But in Kane’s last match, Grishenko’s ability to neutralize his wrestling attack proved to be his foil.

And though Machado is always a threat with his BJJ black belt pedigree, he ran into a freestyle wrestler who is seemingly a master of positioning.

Perhaps a few tweaks to both Kane’s and Machado’s games could see them take a rocket ship back to the top, too.

Waiting In The Wings

13-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Marcus Almeida

As if that group of fighters wasn’t enough, there are exciting heavyweight stars who will make their promotional debuts soon enough.

BJJ legend Tom DeBlass, 13-time BJJ World Champion Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, unbeaten knockout artist Islam Abasov, and undefeated Canadian destroyer Dustin Joynson are all on the verge of making their grand premieres in ONE Championship.

Between those new names and the existing superstars, the promotion’s heavyweight division promises to provide thrills for the rest of 2021 and beyond. 

Read more: Revisiting The Stacked Flyweight Division After ‘ONE On TNT’

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