The biggest stars in ONE Championship aren’t hard to find. Angela Lee, Aung La N Sang, Martin Nguyen and even newcomers like Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez are household names who currently carry the torch for the promotion.
As great as those martial artists are, they won’t reign forever. We took a look at performers who really stood out in 2018 and came up with five young and talented martial artists ready to break out in 2019.
As one of the more recent signees during ONE Championship’s massive influx of new talent in the last quarter of 2018, Sage Northcutt might not have generated as much hoopla as Alvarez and Johnson. However, at just 22 years of age, Super Sage‘s best days are likely ahead of him.
He’s already had 13 professional bouts and he’s amassed an 11-2 record in those matches. He has yet to debut for ONE, but he has said he’s open to competing in multiple disciplines for the promotion. Northcutt believes that the blend of competition will only help to strengthen his mixed martial arts game.
He’s now training at Urijah Faber’s famed Team Alpha Male gym, and presumably getting better every day. ONE Championship is going to get a prime version of Northcutt, and that could be a scary thing for his future opponents.
As KO artists go, few are more explosive and as prolific as Petchdam Kaiyanghadao. The 20-year-old Thai kickboxing prodigy lit up highlight reels all year. He scored two of the most impressive KOs of 2018 in finishing Kenny Tse and Josh Tonna.
But Kaiyanghadao not only possesses destructive power–especially in his left leg–he’s also one of the more colorful personalities in the promotion.
The sky is truly the limit for him. There is a chance he could take his game to other disciplines, but he is so gifted as a striker, he may already be competing within the sport that best suits him. In any case, Kaiyanghadao should be on everyone’s radar in 2019.
After establishing himself as one of the world’s best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, Garry Tonon is now grappling his way up the ladder. Tonon began his mixed martial arts career in 2018 with three straight wins and with such a solid base, the 27-year-old has a promising future.
Tonon’s three wins came over Richard Corminal, Rahul Raju, and Sung Jong Lee. Each opponent he was fed offered a different challenge, but Tonon managed to finish each of them. In 2019, expect to see Tonon’s level of competition increase.
While he’s not quite ready for the big time, there are a number of intriguing matchups for him in the lightweight division down the road.
Tonon vs. Shinya Aoki has all the makings of a grappling masterpiece, but the American will have to win a few more times before he can earn that kind of matchup. If he can maintain his current level of dominance, a battle like that could come sooner rather than later.
With the possibility of Angela Lee leaving the women’s atomweight division, there might be room for a new queen. Longtime contenders like Mei Yamaguchi will attempt to move to the front of the line if Lee vacates the title. However, the veteran could have some stiff competition from Jihin Radzuan.
The Shadow Cat is just 20 years old, but she has already made a name for herself. Radzuan is 4-0 as a professional with three of those wins coming in 2018. The biggest of the three was a unanimous-decision victory over former World Title challenger Jenny Huang.
The match represented a major step-up in competition for Radzuan, but the young Malaysian warrior responded with a win. We’ll have to wait to see what happens with Lee when she faces Xiong Jing Nan for the strawweight title, but I’d expect Radzuan to be in the atomweight title picture before the end of 2019.
As the younger brother of Angela, Christian Lee must feel like 2Pac at times. All eyes are on the athletically gifted and rugged young martial artist, and expectations are high. Because he’s already had 13 professional bouts, it’s easy to forget he’s just 20 years old.
Christian’s 2018 had its ups and downs, but there is a reason to be excited for 2019. He finished out the year with a first-round stoppage win over Kazuki Tokudome at ONE: HEART OF THE LION, and that was an important bounce-back performance after back-to-back tough losses to Martin Nguyen (split decision) and Edward Kelly (DQ).
Lee’s defeats were encouraging. He likely would have beaten Kelly were it not for the disqualification due to an illegal suplex, and he battled Nguyen to a split decision after being submitted by the Situ-Asian back in August 2016 when Christian was just 18 years old.
If there is one word that can be used to describe the events that transpired in Christian’s career in 2018, it is growth. Signs point to 2019 being a big year as his mind and body continue to mature.