When it comes to ONE Championship’s standout stars of 2021, Ok Rae Yoon – and his incredible journey to the ONE Lightweight World Title – simply can’t be overlooked.
The South Korean striker only made his ONE debut in April, but he quickly impressed the global fan base with a string of stunning upset victories.
Within five months, the 30-year-old had taken out three of the best lightweights on the planet and claimed the division’s coveted belt.
That meteoric rise from a highly touted regional titleholder to a World Champion is the stuff of legend, and because of it, OK has deservedly been named ONE’s 2021 Male MMA Fighter of the Year.
To mark the occasion, let’s relive all three victories that got him to this monumental point.
“Cobra” previously held the ONE Featherweight World Title, and his grappling has dispatched an array of high-level adversaries, but Ok absorbed all of Gafurov’s offense and kept himself firmly in the match.
The Busan native blasted his foe with elbows to defend against takedown attempts and worked actively from his back when the Russian succeeded in bringing him to the canvas. Ok’s stand-up skills became apparent as the bout wore on, and he pummeled his foe with punches and kicks out in the open.
At the closing bell, it was the South Korean’s striking that stood out most for the judges, as they handed him a massive unanimous decision. With the debut win, Ok took Gafurov’s #5 contender spot in the lightweight rankings and announced himself as a threat.
The biggest moment came when the Busan Team MAD athlete dropped Alvarez in the opening frame, although the durable American somehow survived the following onslaught and then turned the contest into an epic three-rounder.
“The Underground King” tried to bring the action to the ground, but Ok’s takedown defense shone through again, and he stayed upright and dangerous on the feet.
Though it was close, the rising star’s damaging output was enough to score him another unanimous decision.
Ok was now just two fights into his ONE tenure, but those back-to-back upset victories over tough opponents earned him a shot at Christian “The Warrior” Lee‘s ONE Lightweight World Title in September.
Lee had been a dominant force in the division since claiming the strap in May 2019, winning three more bouts against dangerous contenders. That didn’t intimidate Ok, though, as he produced his biggest upset of all at ONE: REVOLUTION.
The pair went back and forth for five hard-fought rounds, with both men hitting the canvas over 25 minutes of truly elite combat. There wasn’t much between them when the decision went to the judges, but Ok’s right hand, knees, and low kicks allowed him to grab the remarkable unanimous decision.
With that, a relative newcomer on the global stage had become the ONE Lightweight World Champion, completing an improbable run that won’t soon be forgotten. And while Lee believes there’s some unfinished business, Ok has other contenders itching for their crack at the division’s new top dog.
One way or the other, 2022 should provide some exciting options for the South Korean titleholder, and if the past year is any indication, fans will be in for a treat.