There’s no question that 2020 has been a difficult year for everybody, but amid all the turbulence, ONE Championship’s athletes proved their dedication to success.
It would have been easy to put things on ice and wait for all the issues to blow over, but that’s not how goals are reached and dreams are made.
From unbeaten streaks to World Title victories, the promotion’s mixed martial arts stars showed that anything is possible when you commit to your vision – no matter what obstacles are in your way.
Here are the ONE Championship mixed martial artists that delivered the best performances and stood out from the crowd over the past 12 months.
#1 Reinier De Ridder
At the start of this year, it was hard to imagine somebody unseating dominant two-division ONE World Champion Aung La “The Burmese Python” N Sang. However, Reinier “The Dutch Knight” De Ridder was always confident in his chances.
The Dutch grappling specialist kicked off 2020 with a decision win over perennial middleweight contender Leandro “Wolf” Ataides at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE in February, and that massive victory meant he would not be denied his crack at the gold.
Still, De Ridder was up against it. “The Burmese Python” had racked up seven straight wins with six straight finishes, and he had demolished every opponent who stood in front of him. Regardless, “The Dutch Knight” was not fazed and took it to the Myanmar icon at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX.
The Combat Brothers representative dragged Aung La N Sang down early in the first frame and worked from his rival’s back. After finally bypassing his foe’s excellent defense, De Ridder sunk in the fight-ending rear-naked choke to become the new ONE Middleweight World Champion.
With the win, De Ridder extended his perfect record to 13-0, and with performances like that, he looks capable of ruling the division for years to come.
#2 Thanh Le
Thanh Le exploded onto the global stage with back-to-back knockouts in 2019, and fans wondered whether the Vietnamese-American sensation could maintain that form against the featherweight division’s upper echelon.
Le’s answer to that question started with a knockout victory over Ryogo “Kaitai” Takahashi at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW in January. His demolition of the Japanese athlete earned him the next shot at ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
And when the 50/50 and Mid City MMA representative finally faced off against Nguyen at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX in October, he made an emphatic statement with a stunning KO of the division’s reigning king.
Le baited the Sanford MMA star into following him around the Circle with cerebral striking, and in the third round, his tactics paid off when “The Situ-Asian” lunged in to attack.
At that moment, the Vietnamese-American’s counter-right crashed into Nguyen’s chin, and the challenger finished his rival with a relentless barrage of punches to end another perfect year with two KOs — and the featherweight belt.
#3 Denice Zamboanga
Denice “The Menace” Zamboanga’s debut ONE Championship victory over Jihin “Shadow Cat” Radzuan in December 2019 sent her into 2020 with plenty of expectations. By February, she was a bona fide top contender.
The Filipina faced her toughest test to date in Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE and passed in style with a well-deserved unanimous decision victory over the two-time ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title challenger.
Yamaguchi had pushed “Unstoppable” Angela Lee to her limits in two World Championship encounters, but Zamboanga never looked to be in trouble as she boxed her way to a convincing three-round win. It earned her a World Title shot against Lee, but the United MMA star’s pregnancy has put that matchup on hold.
That night, Zamboanga only needed 88 seconds to dispatch her Thai adversary, stretch her unbeaten record to 8-0, and keep her World Title hopes on track.
#4 Christian Lee
Like most mixed martial artists over the past 12 months, Christian “The Warrior” Lee did not get to compete as much as he would have liked – but he was convincing when he did.
The reigning ONE Lightweight World Champion maintained his stranglehold on the division when he faced off against undefeated top contender Iuri Lapicus at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX.
Lapicus had blasted his way through Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai and Marat “Cobra” Gafurov to earn the World Title shot. He brought the heat to Lee from the opening bell, yet the young Hawaii resident showed that composure is key.
After getting rocked with a hard right in the opening seconds and then thrown to the canvas, “The Warrior” put his heart on display and battled to top position. Lapicus kept attacking, but when he failed with a footlock attempt, Lee made him pay with a crushing barrage of ground strikes to earn the win.
Lee will now enter 2021 with even more confidence in his ability to rule at lightweight. Meanwhile, challengers will line up and wonder if there’s a way to beat the well-rounded World Champion.
#5 Ritu Phogat
Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat’s journey from wrestling superstar to legitimate mixed martial artist has been rapid, especially following three stellar outings in 2020.
Phogat is one of the rare few to achieve a 3-0 slate in this testing year, and not only did she defeat increasingly tough opponents, but she looked markedly better every time she stepped into the Circle.
Things got underway at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE when Phogat defeated “Miss Red” Wu Chiao Chen via unanimous decision. In October, she stopped Kun Khmer World Champion Nou Srey Pov with a second-round TKO.
With each bout, the wins got quicker and more convincing. By now, the atomweight division is on notice as Phogat continues her run to the top.
Read more: The Top 5 MMA Fights Of 2020