Despite some challenging times, 2021 delivered incredible mixed martial arts battles on the global stage – and fans should expect even more explosive action in the new year.
A pair of World Title fights are already scheduled for 14 January, but there are plenty more epic matchups to be made over the next 12 months.
With that in mind, here are five intriguing MMA showdowns we want to see inside the ONE Championship Circle in 2022.
#1 Joshua Pacio Vs. Jarred Brooks
There has already been a heated war of words between the Filipino titleholder and the brash American. Adding fuel to the fire, Brooks recently scored a dominant submission victory over Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang, who trains with Pacio at Team Lakay.
This backstory alone makes their potential fight intriguing, and that’s before you consider the varied skill sets of both athletes.
Pacio is a concussive striker with excellent scrambles and dangerous submissions. Meanwhile, “The Monkey God” is an elite wrestler who racks up plenty of air miles for his opponents before aggressively attacking them on the ground.
There’s no chance that a meeting between these two men would be anything less than fireworks. Throw the prestige of World Title gold into the mix, and you have a matchup that would highlight any card.
#2 Ham Seo Hee Vs. Denice Zamboanga
Ham Seo Hee and Denice “Lycan Queen” Zamboanga duked it out in the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Grand Prix quarterfinals in September, and the South Korean’s split-decision victory left fans wanting more.
In that meeting, Ham blasted her rival with fists, especially her arrow-like straight lefts that repeatedly found their mark. In reply, Zamboanga fired off heavy leather and closed the distance, looking to dominate in the clinch and on the ground.
All three rounds were riveting, but five would have been even better, as the action started to reach a crescendo late in the final frame when “Lycan Queen” got on top and went wild with her ground-and-pound.
Ultimately, it was too little, too late, as two of three judges favored the South Korean. However, Zamboanga and her fans have been adamant that she deserved to win, and a rematch seems inevitable.
If they do square off again, both athletes will be more aware of their rival’s strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll have extra motivation to end things more conclusively.
#3 Reinier De Ridder Vs. Arjan Bhullar
De Ridder is the ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion, while Bhullar holds the ONE Heavyweight World Title, so both men are at the top of their respective trees.
Next, “The Dutch Knight” hopes to become the first three-division World Champion in ONE history, while his Canadian-Indian rival would like to move down and claim the light heavyweight gold for himself.
Should they manage to book a date – whatever the weight – the fight would be a real chess match between two skilled warriors.
De Ridder’s judo and BJJ skills have seen him crush opponents and put together a flawless 14-0 slate. However, Bhullar’s wrestling is world-class, and if he can keep the fight standing, his boxing would be a real threat.
As always, talk is only worth something if it gets backed up in the Circle, and both stars have a lot to live up to in that regard.
#4 Dagi Arslanaliev Vs. Christian Lee
Before losing his ONE Lightweight World Title in September, Lee enjoyed a dominant reign over the division, which included a monumental decision victory over Arslanaliev in the 2019 ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Championship Final.
“The Warrior” used his wrestling to control that contest, although it was later revealed that his Dagestan-born foe was dealing with a serious illness just weeks before the match – perhaps explaining his uncharacteristic lack of explosiveness.
Arslanaliev is now back on track after dispatching tough Russian Timofey Nastyukhin in a wild three-rounder at ONE: WINTER WARRIORS earlier this month, becoming the #2-ranked contender in the process.
However, the former champ still holds the #1 contender spot, and his loss has only fueled a hunger to bounce back stronger. If Lee doesn’t get an immediate rematch with Ok, a World Title eliminator against Dagi would be just as entertaining.
#5 Ok Rae Yoon Vs. Thanh Le
While Thanh Le’s next assignment looks likely to come against featherweight contender Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon, he’s expressed an interest in switching divisions to face newly crowned lightweight king Ok.
The ONE Featherweight World Champion wants to join the small group of athletes who’ve stepped up to claim gold in two divisions, and if he defends his belt early in 2022, there’s a good chance we’ll see him face the South Korean later in the year.
Both men are impeccable strikers who have power in every limb, and so far in their ONE tenures, neither has met their match on the feet.
It’d be interesting to see how Le’s power transfers against a big lightweight like Ok, and whether the speed and movement of the smaller man would be a handful for the South Korean.
This matchup would be technically beautiful – on top of being exciting – and fans can only hope the stars align so Le and Ok can share the Circle at some point in 2022.