This past Friday, the South Korean mixed martial artist used his slick striking to edge past longtime king Christian “The Warrior” Lee by unanimous decision – stopping Lee just short of clearing out every ranked contender.
The result has also given the lightweight ranks a slightly different texture, with new opportunities ahead and plenty of exciting matchups to make.
Let’s break down the divisional landscape following the crowning of its new leader.
The New World Champion
Ok’s unlikely rise to the top has been one of the biggest storylines on the global stage in 2021.
The 30-year-old’s debut win over former featherweight king Marat “Cobra” Gafurov was the start of his breakout, and he solidified his world-class status with a victory over MMA legend Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez at “ONE on TNT IV” in late April.
Still, fans weren’t sure how Ok would fare in his biggest test yet when he challenged Lee for the gold. But the Team Mad man rose to yet another level, as he earned the nod after five hard-fought rounds where nothing came easy.
The South Korean had to overcome adversity and escape difficult positions while also using his incredible striking offense to narrowly sway the judges in his favor.
However close the margins, the sensational performance earned Ok the ONE Lightweight World Championship, and he can now look ahead to the next test – defending his crown.
#1-Ranked Contender Christian Lee
Lee needs no introduction. He’d been the dominant force at lightweight since 2019 when he earned both the ONE Lightweight World Title and the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix.
He’d also demolished every opponent in front of him until he met Ok, and he believes he did enough to win Friday’s match against the South Korean.
But while “The Warrior” disagrees with the decision, his World Title reign is over, and he’ll have to regroup before attempting to reclaim the gold.
The memorable five-round war against Ok means an immediate rematch could be in the cards. And while Lee’s beaten every other top-five contender, this could also be the perfect time to arrange a much-anticipated clash against Alvarez after the two exchanged choice words earlier this year.
#2-Ranked Contender Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev
Saygid “Dagi” Guseyn Arslanaliev’s ferocious run came to an end when Lee defeated him via decision in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship Final at ONE: CENTURY in 2019, and the Turkish phenom has not competed since then.
However, you can be sure he’s been adding to and honing his skill set for a return. Aside from a disqualification in 2017, the loss to Lee was “Dagi’s” only professional defeat, and he’ll be hungrier than ever to regain the form that earned him a coveted contender spot.
With concussive punches and excellent wrestling, he would offer up some real issues for Ok, who was rocked by “The Warrior’s” shots in their bout but showed impressive resilience to keep on battling.
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#3-Ranked Contender Shinya Aoki
One man who will never be out of the World Title conversation is Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki.
The iconic Japanese grappler has already ruled ONE’s lightweight division for two stints. And since losing the belt to Lee in 2019, he’s earned four straight victories, with three coming by submission.
That strong momentum has put Aoki in a prime position to chase the gold for a third time. Drawing from his judo background, “Tobikan Judan’s” effective clinch game on the Circle Wall would pose new questions to Ok’s defensive wrestling capabilities, which have been almost impenetrable so far.
On the canvas, there are few who can survive the legendary submission specialist. But on the feet, Aoki would be at the South Korean’s mercy. Their matchup would be a true clash of styles.
#4-Ranked Contender Iuri Lapicus
However, the Moldovan sensation has shown he’s more than capable of competing against elite opponents. He gave Lee an early scare, ran through Gafurov, and showed his diversity against Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai.
With a combination of striking, submission, and clinch skills, Lapicus is a threat no matter where a fight takes place. He measures up well against Ok, and he could offer an intriguing challenge in every range.
#5-Ranked Contender Timofey Nastyukhin
With finishing power in every limb, Nastyukhin is one of the most feared lightweights in the world. His relentless pressure and intensity would put Ok’s counterstriking to the test and ask questions of his chin.
Their matchup would feature a nonstop battle for supremacy, which could end with Nastyukhin getting clipped as he charges in, or Ok eating a bout-ending strike at any point.
That prospect is sure to excite fans who favor the stand-up game.
The Best Of The Rest
Alvarez went to the wire with Ok earlier this year and insists he should have taken the nod.
That came just weeks after his dominant display against Lapicus, which ended when errant strikes resulted in the no contest.
“The Underground King’s” original three-round battle with Ok was a phenomenal 15 minutes of action, and not many would object to them running it back – though Alvarez would likely need to earn a spot in the rankings with another win first.
The burgeoning Chinese athlete owns an impressive slate of 31-11-2, with 22 victories in his last 25 outings. He’s certainly in form, and another win could place him among the division’s upper echelon.
“Crazy Dog” Dae Sung Park is now 4-0 in ONE following a landmark win over Amir Khan at ONE: COLLISION COURSE II last December, and he’s clamoring for a chance to test himself against ranked opponents.
Throw the likes of Gafurov, Pieter “The Archangel” Buist, Antonio “The Spartan” Caruso, and James Nakashima into the fray, and you have a seriously competitive lightweight division that’s sure to provide elite-level entertainment no matter what bouts are made.
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