ONE Championship’s heavyweight ranks have always featured some of the most talented and unique mixed martial artists on the planet. But in recent months, the division has gotten even bigger and it’s about to become more competitive than ever.
The weight class has been ruled by a dominant king for the past five years, but new talent acquisitions and a slew of established martial arts World Champions could pose a threat to the king’s reign.
With that in mind, we take a deep look at the promotion’s heavyweight division.
The Reigning Heavyweight King
There has only been one ruler in the heavyweight division, and he goes by the name of Brandon “The Truth” Vera. The Filipino-American has been absolutely dominant ever since he first stepped foot onto the global stage.
In his promotional debut back in December 2014, Vera used his fantastic Muay Thai arsenal to defeat Igor Subora via first-round TKO. Next, he knocked out Paul Cheng in only 26 seconds to win the inaugural ONE Heavyweight World Championship.
Since that time, “The Truth” has recorded two successful – and just as decisive – World Title defenses. He dismantled Japanese grappler Hideki “Shrek” Sekine with strikes en route to a first-round TKO victory in December 2016 and then knocked out Italian hard-hitter Mauro “The Hammer” Cerilli with a single punch in November 2018.
While Vera has also competed in the light heavyweight division, he’s never looked more comfortable or powerful than he does at heavyweight.
“The Truth” has a towering presence and is built like a refrigerator, while his accuracy and one-strike knockout power is deadly. He proved that in his victory over Cerilli, as a left hook off the back foot dropped “The Hammer” in just over a minute.
At the same time, Vera possesses very underrated grappling skills – skills that are rarely seen because his punches and kicks are so lethal. However, the Filipino-American does have a wrestling background, which he used briefly to defend Sekine’s takedown attempts.
Vera has simply been unrivaled in the heavyweight class, finishing every opponent in the opening stanza. However, there are some individuals who believe they can end the king’s reign and take his crown.
The Next Challenger
While Vera does have a grappling background, he does not own the credentials of his next challenger, Arjan “Singh” Bhullar, in that department.
The Indian comes from a proud wrestling heritage and even won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the sport.
Bhullar also holds a 10-1 professional record. And though he’s used his wrestling to great effect in many bouts, he leaned on his boxing during his promotional debut in October 2019.
That evening, “Singh” traded leather with Cerilli on the feet and outstruck the Italian en route to a unanimous decision victory.
When Bhullar challenges Vera for the belt, it will represent a classic matchup between the grappler and the striker. But just like “The Truth” can turn to grappling when needed, the Indian has some quality striking in his back pocket.
That combination could be the ticket to the heavyweight throne.
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The New Grapplers
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Over the past few months, a slew of world-class grapplers signed with The Home Of Martial Arts – and all of them have their eyes on ONE World Title gold.
Greco-Roman Wrestling World Champion Amir Aliakbari poses an immediate threat to the heavyweight ranks. The Iranian holds a 10-1 professional record, with seven victories by way of TKO. In addition to his stellar grappling, he has heavy hands and throws all of his strikes like sledgehammers.
Aliakbari is already hoping to challenge Vera. In fact, he politely asked the champ to put down the belt via Instagram – if he won’t, the Iranian is apparently prepared to “smash his face.”
Meanwhile, multiple-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and mixed martial arts veteran Tom DeBlass is another new addition to the ONE roster. The American, who is a coach for Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon, owns a 9-2 professional record with a 66 percent finishing rate.
DeBlass retired from the sport in November 2013 to focus solely on BJJ, but ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong reignited the athlete’s passion for mixed martial arts. Now, he is ready for a comeback and plans to return better than ever.
Also waiting in the wings is the highly touted Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, a 13-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion who’s been training at American Kickboxing Academy in anticipation of his mixed martial arts debut.
Though Almeida may not have competition experience in mixed martial arts just yet, his enormous potential is tantalizing, and he could become a serious contender in the next few years.
Two Phenomenal Strikers
There are two incredible strikers in the heavyweight division who could be just a few victories away from getting a World Title shot – the aforementioned Cerilli and Alain “The Panther” Ngalani.
Cerilli entered the promotion at the top of his game, riding a five-bout winning streak and as the Cage Warriors Heavyweight Champion. While Vera and Bhullar got the better of him in their respective battles, the Italian used his rarely seen grappling and destructive knee strikes to defeat Ngalani via TKO in March 2019.
Though he was unable to show it in that fight, Ngalani is perhaps the most dangerous striker in the entire weight class. The hulking behemoth is a four-time Muay Thai and Kickboxing World Champion who has created a slew of highlight-reel moments since making his mixed martial arts debut in September 2013.
Ngalani has defeated Subora, knocked out Mahmoud Hassan with a spinning heel kick in 31 seconds, and dropped Sekine with a single punch in 11 seconds. He also showed glimpses of his developing grappling game in a victory over Ariunbold Tur-Ochir.
While he may be a little far away from a shot at the belt, “The Panther” is determined to become a ONE World Champion, and he could dramatically improve his stock by beating Brazilian legend Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort, who could decide to make his home in the heavyweight division, too.