Past history teaches us to expect the unexpected in mixed martial arts, especially at its highest levels. The 11 men and women currently in possession of One Championship gold will enter their respective 2022 campaigns with a sense of anticipation. Some will be rewarded with extended title reigns while others will endure very public falls from grace. Such is the nature of the beast in a sport where chaos and tumult lurk around every corner, even in an organization where the pantheon has remained relatively stable. Only three of the 11 undisputed championships changed hands at least once in 2021. Who will be the last men and women standing when the calendar flips to 2023? A look into the crystal ball:
Heavyweight: Anatoliy Malykhin
With incumbent champion Arjan Singh Bhullar’s future with the company up in the air due to an ongoing contract dispute, One Championship elected to install an interim title in his stead. Malykhin will put his perfect 9-0 record on the line against the unbeaten Kirill Grishenko when they determine the fate of the temporary belt in the One Championship “Only the Brave” main event on Jan. 28 in Kallang, Singapore. The 33-year-old Malykhin has finished all nine of his opponents, seven of them inside one round.
Light Heavyweight: Reinier de Ridder
The 31-year-old Dutchman remains one of MMA’s best-kept secrets despite his growing list of accomplishments. De Ridder captured the light heavyweight title—he was already the promotion’s middleweight champion—on April 28, when he took a five-round unanimous decision from Aung La N Sang in the One on TNT 4 main event. Forced to go the distance for just the second time in his career, the victory pushed his overall record to 14-0 and left him in charge of two One Championship weight classes.
Middleweight: Reinier de Ridder
De Ridder linked arms with One Championship as an undefeated but unproven prospect in January 2019 and rose to the top of the 205-pound rankings with consecutive wins over Fan Rong, Gilberto Galvao and Leandro Ataides. “The Dutch Knight” made the most of his momentum when he laid claim to the organization’s middleweight crown with a rear-naked choke submission of the aforementioned Sang in the first round of their One Championship “Inside the Matrix” headliner on Oct. 30, 2020. De Ridder now waits for the next No. 1 contender to emerge.
Welterweight: Kiamrian Abbasov
In possession of the One Championship welterweight title for more than 800 days, Abbasov has quietly pieced together 15 wins across his past 16 appearances and enters 2022 on the strength of a five-fight winning streak. However, questions about staying power abound due to recent inactivity. Abbasov last competed at “Inside the Matrix 2” on Oct. 30, 2020, when he cut down James Nakashima with fourth-round punches to retain the 185-pound championship. The current landscape features a number of worthy challengers, with Murad Ramazanov and his pristine 11-0 record perhaps topping the list.
Lightweight: Christian Lee
Lee burst on the global scene in May 2019, when his second-round technical knockout of the great Shinya Aoki brought with it the undisputed lightweight championship. Two successful title defenses against Iuri Lapicus and Timofey Nastyukhin followed—both resulted in first-round finishes—and had the Hawaiian well on his way to becoming one of the company’s brightest stars. However, Lee lost his grip on the throne at One Championship “Revolution,” where he dropped a five-round unanimous decision to Korean upstart Rae Yoon Ok. A rematch between the two seems likely in 2022.
Featherweight: Garry Tonon
Thanh Le has yet to defend the One Championship featherweight belt, a third-round stoppage of Martin Nguyen having swept him into power on Oct. 30, 2020. Despite the prolonged absence, the Dana White’s Contender Series alum remains one of the organization’s most exciting fighters and has yet to go the distance in 14 professional appearances. Tonon—an acclaimed and accomplished submission grappler who wields a second-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu—made his long-awaited transition to mixed martial arts in 2018 and has since compiled a 6-0 record with five finishes.
Bantamweight: John Lineker
One Championship’s road to bantamweight glory has run through longstanding champion Bibiano Fernandes for eight-plus years. However, the AMC Pankration export has not competed since he retained the 145-pound championship with a rear-naked choke submission of Kevin Belingon on Oct. 13, 2019. He turns 42 in March; his advancing age and lack of activity point toward an increasingly tenuous hold on the title. Lineker appears to be next in line. The former Jungle Fight titleholder and Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran has delivered 16 of his 34 career victories by knockout or technical knockout.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
An all-time great by any standard of measure and still one of the most complete mixed martial artists on the planet, “Mighty Mouse” heads into 2022 with legitimate questions surrounding his future. Johnson has not fought since being knocked out by a second-round knee strike from Adriano Moraes at One on TNT 1 in April. It was the first stoppage loss of his stellar 35-fight career. Now 35 years of age, the longtime Matt Hume protege will need to make the most of the opportunity if he nets a desired rematch with Moraes—a man who has suffered only three defeats as a pro, all by split decision.
Strawweight: Joshua Pacio
The burgeoning Filipino star carries the look of a dominant champion, and at just 25 years old, he still has room to grow into his prodigious talent. Pacio retained his 125-pound title in his lone 2021 assignment, as he completed his trilogy against Yosuke Saruta with a first-round technical knockout at One Championship “Revolution” on Sept. 24. It was the ninth first-round finish of the Lakay MMA rep’s career. A clear No. 1 contender has not yet emerged for Pacio, through Jarred Brooks might fit the bill if he can get past Koha Minowa at One Championship “Only the Brave” on Jan. 28.
Women’s Strawweight: Jingnan Xiong
Xiong has had the strawweight division on lockdown for nearly four full years. “The Panda” struck gold at 125 pounds with a fourth-round technical knockout of Tiffany Teo on Jan. 20, 2018 and has successfully defended the title on five separate occasions. Xiong has never lost at her current weight. She will be tested right out of the gate in 2022, when she risks her strawweight crown against Akaya Miura in the One Championship “Heavy Hitters” main event on Jan. 14 in Kallang, Singapore. Miura, 31, has won seven of her past eight bouts but figures to be a prohibitive underdog.
Women’s Atomweight: Angela Lee
A true homegrown star for the One Championship organization, Lee has held its undisputed atomweight title since May 6, 2016, her reign having already crossed the 2,000-day threshold. The “Unstoppable” Hawaiian last appeared at One Championship Century: Part 1 on Oct. 12, 2019, when she submitted the aforementioned Xiong with a rear-naked choke in the fifth round of their champion-versus-champion showdown. Meanwhile, Nong Stamp cemented her claim as the next No. 1 contender by submitting Ritu Phogat with a first-round armbar to win the One Championship atomweight grand prix on Dec. 3, likely setting the stage for one of the company’s most anticipated matches of 2022.
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