ONE Championship’s bantamweight mixed martial arts division features the most dominant World Champion in promotional history, but the current crop of contenders could pose the biggest threat yet.
From grizzled veterans to rising stars, a plethora of skilled combatants are ready to take their shot at the reigning king.
With that in mind, let’s break down the current state of the bantamweight ranks and what fans can look forward to witnessing in 2021.
Ruled By ‘The Flash’
Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes first stepped into the Circle in August 2012. By October 2013, it was clear that he was the man to beat at bantamweight.
In that 14-month span, Fernandes amassed a perfect 3-0 slate, winning the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title against Koetsu Okazaki and then claiming the division’s undisputed crown with a victory over Soo Chul Kim at ONE: TOTAL DOMINATION.
Since then, the Brazilian legend has defended his throne eight times — more than any other divisional king in ONE history — with the only blemish coming via split decision to Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon back in November 2018.
With 11 World Title fight wins in 12 opportunities and a list of fallen challengers that includes the likes of Martin Nguyen, Reece McLaren, and Dae Hwan Kim, the next group of contenders knows there is a formidable foe at the top of the pile.
The #1 Contender Who Packs A Punch
The #1-ranked bantamweight contender needs very little introduction. John “Hands Of Stone” Lineker first earned his nickname in his native Brazil and then lived up to the hype on the North American circuit with his ferocious punching power.
Overall, Lineker has knocked out 15 opponents en route to 33 career wins, and he’s gone 2-0 since joining ONE in 2019.
He first defeated Muin “Tajik” Gafurov via unanimous decision and then finished Belingon via knockout in November 2020 – the only KO loss of the Filipino’s storied career.
There’s no doubt that Lineker’s blistering striking arsenal would make for a thrilling encounter against Fernandes’ world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, with both men capable of beating anybody in the world in their area of expertise.
While no challenger has been announced for “The Flash,” Lineker could be next in line for a shot at the belt.
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The Skilled Grapplers
Fernandes was narrowly bested by a striker in his only loss on the global stage. Nobody has been able to out-grapple the BJJ World Champion, but there are two contenders who would love to give it their best shot.
One of those men is #4-ranked bantamweight contender Yusup “Maestro” Saadulaev, who combines powerful wrestling with black-belt BJJ skills and an ever-improving striking game. He hasn’t lost at bantamweight since 2014, and he owns a mammoth run of eight straight wins in his favored weight class.
Meanwhile, Shuya “Stealth” Kamikubo — who currently holds the #5 contender spot — is a formidable Japanese wrestler with four consecutive wins in ONE. He’s barely lost a moment of any of those contests thanks to his high-pressure style that’s laden with ground-and-pound.
It would take a special performance to end “The Flash’s” reign on the canvas, but beating Fernandes on the ground would also make the most definitive statement.
The Wild Card
Fabricio “Wonder Boy” Andrade exploded onto the scene in 2020 and quickly established himself as a prominent threat in the division.
The Brazilian Muay Thai stylist outstruck and then submitted Mark “Tyson” Abelardo in his first promotional outing, earning himself a step up the ladder.
Still, when Andrade faced #2-ranked bantamweight contender Shoko Sato at ONE: UNBREAKABLE III earlier this month, many pundits believed the Japanese star’s form and experience would be too much to overcome.
However, “Wonder Boy” made good on his moniker and showed a phenomenal blend of striking and defensive wrestling to best the surging Sato over three rounds.
If he can defeat someone of Sato’s caliber already — at just 23 years old and in the early stages of his transition from Muay Thai to mixed martial arts — there’s no reason to doubt that Andrade could one day reign over the division.
Best Of The Rest
There are plenty of other elite contenders in the division who could thrust themselves into the World Title chase with a result or two in their favor.
As previously mentioned, #3-ranked Belingon is the only man to beat Fernandes in ONE, but his recent defeats have pushed back his hopes for any imminent crack at the gold. Still, the Team Lakay man is a perennial contender and a handful for any rival if he’s on point.
For his part, Sato looked set to earn a World Title opportunity until Andrade derailed his momentum, but the Japanese athlete was riding a hot streak of six finishes prior to that competitive decision loss. If he can get back on track quickly, Sato will be knocking on the door once again.