Since its inception, ONE Championship has continuously churned out elite martial arts talent.
And though 2020 was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the year still featured many breakthrough performances on the global stage.
Some rising talents became legitimate contenders, others became genuine superstars, and one even became a World Champion.
Without further ado, here are ONE Championship’s top five breakthrough fighters of 2020.
#1 Allycia Hellen Rodrigues
The young Thai superstar was named ONE’s Breakthrough Athlete Of The Year in 2018 when she debuted with a World Title-winning performance.
Though Rodrigues only competed once on the global stage in 2020, she emulated Stamp by beating her to claim the ONE Atomweight Muay Thai World Championship in August.
The Brazilian came into ONE: A NEW BREED with a glowing reputation, but most fans expected the Fairtex representative to notch her ninth win in the promotion – especially because she was competing under her favored Muay Thai rules.
However, Rodrigues had other plans.
From the opening bell, the challenger scored with lightning-fast counter-kicks, and her defense was on point. As the fight wore on, Stamp started to slow down, while the 22-year-old from Fortaleza turned up the heat. Rodrigues landed some huge knees in the clinch and busted her rival’s face up with punches and elbows.
By the final bell, Stamp was resigned to her fate. Rodrigues usurped the atomweight Muay Thai throne and announced herself as a new star in the promotion.
#2 Denice Zamboanga
Denice “The Menace” Zamboanga elevated her status from prospect to #1 atomweight contender in less than 12 months.
The young Filipina showed she was one to watch when she debuted in The Home Of Martial Arts with a victory over Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan late last year, but that was nothing compared to her performances in 2020.
Zamboanga’s incredible year began with a difficult fight that few observers expected her to win.
That fight was a matchup with Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE in February. Yamaguchi was the atomweight division’s perennial top contender who had twice pushed reigning World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee to the brink of defeat.
However, Zamboanga overwhelmed Yamaguchi for three rounds. Even Lee had not dominated the veteran competitor like that.
Since then, the combination of COVID-19 and Lee’s pregnancy has denied Zamboanga a chance to compete for the atomweight belt, but she’s refused to sit on the sidelines and wait for her shot. Instead, “The Menace” stayed busy by returning at ONE: A NEW BREED, where she blew through Watsapinya “Dream Girl” Kaewkhong in just 88 seconds.
With the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix coming at some point in 2021, Zamboanga will have more opportunities to elevate her profile.
#3 Ritu Phogat
The Commonwealth Wrestling Championship gold medalist faced tougher and tougher opponents throughout the year, and she looked better and better every time she stepped inside the Circle.
“Miss Red” Wu Chiao Chen was a well-rounded competitor with more experience, but Phogat controlled her and dominated most of the action at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE.
The Filipina had more than three times Phogat’s experience in the Circle, but she was taken down and dominated. The elbows rained down and the TKO came inside of four minutes.
At this rate, the Indian could soon find herself challenging for the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title and potentially fulfill her dream of becoming her nation’s first Mixed Martial Arts World Champion.
#4 Wondergirl Fairtex
Two bouts, two knockouts. It’s tough to imagine a better start to life in ONE Super Series for Thailand’s Wondergirl Fairtex.
Great things were expected of the 21-year-old, who is a two-time Muay Thai Champion in her homeland – but she managed to exceed all that hype.
It was a banner year for this young force of nature, and it could be just a hint of what she is capable of as her skill set continues to develop.
#5 Yodkaikaew Fairtex
Yodkaikaew "Y2K" Fairtex ???????? has KICKS for days! Who do you want to see him take on next?
Posted by ONE Championship on Monday, September 7, 2020
With three wins in three fights across five months, Yodkaikaew “Y2K” Fairtex made quite the first impression in ONE Championship.
The Thai star, who arrived as a Max Stadium Muay Thai Champion, had previously experienced success on the regional mixed martial arts scene, and that carried over to the global stage.
Finally, Yodkaikaew’s biggest scalp came in December at ONE: COLLISION COURSE.
His split-decision win over Tatsumitsu “The Sweeper” Wada was not as emphatic as his first two triumphs, but by scoring the victory over the Japanese veteran, “Y2K” established himself as a true contender in the flyweight division.
Read more: The Top 5 MMA Fights Of 2020