It was a landmark year for ONE Championship. In a year of highlights, the most notable were the debuts of high-profile American talents Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez, hosting three grand prix tournaments, the expansion of its kickboxing and muay thai programs, and its first nationally televised broadcast in the U.S.
We saw an array of talent excel for the Singapore-based promotion in 2019, but who were the best of the best? Here's the Top 10 ONE fighters of 2019.
Note: The rankings are based only on an athlete's 2019 matches and not their career as a whole.
10. Angela Lee
2019 Record: 1-2
Accomplishments: ONE atomweight world champion
Highlight: Fifth-round submission of Xiong Jing Nan to defend her title
On the surface, it was very tough to include someone who had a losing record in 2019 on this list. However, considering her two meetings with Xiong Jing Nan were probably ONE's bouts of the year and Lee successfully defended her atomweight belt in October on national television in the U.S., it helps alleviate her surprising defeat to Michelle Nicolini.
Despite losing to Xiong in March while attempting to become ONE's first female two-division champion, she evened the score in her final match of the year and set up a trilogy bout with the Chinese in 2020.
9. Martin Nguyen
2019 Record: 2-0
Accomplishments: ONE featherweight world champion
Highlight: Flying-knee knockout of Narantungalag Jadambaa
There weren't many ONE athletes more exciting in 2019 than Martin Nguyen.
Fully committing himself to defending the featherweight title after dropping the lightweight belt due to injury in 2018, The "Situ-Asian" faced former champion Narantungalag Jadambaa in April.
What followed was maybe the best knockout of the year, as Nguyen dropped Jadambaa with a vicious flying knee in the second round.
The 30-year-old then successfully defended his title for the third time by beating Koyomi Matsushima just four months later.
Nguyen has held the featherweight belt for two-and-a-half years and called out lightweight champion Christian Lee, whom he's fought and beaten twice before, to come down a weight class for the trilogy match.
8. Stamp Fairtex
2019 Record: 4-0
Accomplishments: ONE kickboxing atomweight world champion, ONE muay thai atomweight world champion
Highlight: Rear-naked choke submission over Asha Roka in her second mixed martial arts match
How good was 2019 to Stamp Fairtex? Entering the year, she was already the ONE kickboxing atomweight world champion. At the conclusion of it, she added a muay thai belt to her collection, becoming the first two-sport champion in ONE history. Not only that, but she continued her quest to become a three-sport champion by winning both of her mixed martial arts matches this year.
Despite questions being asked of her ground game heading into her MMA return, the 22-year-old Thai submitted Asha Roka in the third round and showed there's more to the phenom than just elite striking.
Stamp hopes to challenge ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee for her mixed martial arts belt in 2020.
7. Xiong Jing Nan
2019 Record: 1-1
Accomplishments: ONE women's strawweight world champion
Highlight: Fifth-round TKO of Angela Lee to defend her ONE women's strawweight world title
Xiong Jing Nan is one of two athletes who actually lost a match in 2019 but are included on this list.
Despite her defeat to Angela Lee in their rematch last October, the fact their two meetings were probably the bouts of the year in ONE Championship and Xiong successfully defended her strawweight belt in March is more than enough to put her among 2019's best performers.
The Chinese proved she's one of the top female strikers in the world, let alone ONE Championship. Her trilogy match with Lee is a near-certainty in 2020, and there's no reason not to expect another classic.
6. Giorgio Petrosyan
2019 Record: 3-0
Accomplishments: ONE kickboxing featherweight world grand prix champion
Highlight: Knockout of Jo Nattawut in ONE kickboxing featherweight world grand prix semifinal
Giorgio Petrosyan has been considered perhaps the best kickboxer in the world for years now, and 2019 only helped his argument.
Defeating Phetmorakot Petchyindee Academy, Jo Nattuwut and Samy Sana on his way to a world grand prix championship is an impressive feat, and doing so all by knockout or unanimous decision is an even greater one.
Signing Petrosyan to a full-time contract should be of utmost importance for ONE in 2020 as they continue adding kickboxing divisions to the promotion.
5. Nong-O Gaiyanghadao
2019 Record: 4-0
Accomplishments: ONE muay thai bantamweight world champion
Highlight: Fourth-round knockout of Saemapetch Fairtex
Winning a title is hard enough, but to do it and then defend the belt three times in a calendar year is unheard of in a promotion as big as ONE. In fact, it's the first time in ONE history that it happened.
The 33-year-old Thai overcame every challenge that fell his way, and for the most part, he did so in dominant fashion.
What's next for Nong-O is unknown, but a fourth title defense in 2020 would make him just the fifth ONE athlete to accomplish the feat.
4. Aung La N Sang
2019 Record: 2-0
Accomplishments: ONE light heavyweight world champion, ONE middleweight world champion
Highlight: Second-round knockout of Brandon Vera
Aung La N Sang defended each of his titles in 2019, defeating Ken Hasegawa in a much-anticipated rematch before beating ONE heavyweight world champion Brandon Vera in October's megafight.
Questions were asked of Sang's resume heading into his most high-profile bout to date, but he answered with aplomb as he knocked out the former UFC veteran in a brawl of a match.
ONE president Chatri Sityodtong has expressed interest in seeing Sang move up to heavyweight and rematch Vera in an attempt to become a three-division champion. Let's see if that is in fact next for the Burmese Python in 2020.
3. Rodtang Jitmuangnon
2019 Record: 5-0
Accomplishments: ONE muay thai flyweight world champion
Highlight: Majority-decision win over Jonathan Haggerty
Rodtang Jitmuangnon's relentless schedule probably would've gotten him on the list alone, but to be the only ONE athlete to compete five times in 2019 and go undefeated in that span is frankly absurd.
Also take into consideration his match-of-the-year candidate against Haggerty, and Rodtang proved he is just as much of an entertainer as he is the top muay thai flyweight in the world.
It's going to be nearly impossible for him to top 2019, but he can get 2020 off to a lightning start as he's set to rematch Haggerty on Jan. 10 in front of his hometown crowd in Bangkok, Thailand.
2. Demetrious Johnson
2019 Record: 3-0
Accomplishments: ONE flyweight world grand prix champion
Highlight: Submission of Yuya Wakamatsu
Having lost to current UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo in his final match before joining ONE Championship, Demetrious Johnson reminded everyone that he's still the best flyweight of all time and arguably the pound-for-pound best to ever do it when he entered the ONE flyweight world grand prix and defeated three of the promotion's best in a variety of ways.
First was Yuya Wakamatsu, a game opponent who managed to clip Johnson in the eye their first round before "Mighty Mouse" finished him with a guillotine choke in the second. Then, the 33-year-old faced his toughest challenger of the year when he defeated Tatsumitsu Wada by unanimous decision in what was a wrestling clinic from both competitors.
In the grand prix final, Johnson looked quicker than in his previous two matches as he controlled the tempo of the bout and earned another unanimous decision victory over Danny Kingad.
The world grand prix champion is still getting used to the length of ONE competitors who are considerably taller than the UFC flyweights, but ONE's investment in one of the world's most respected mixed martial artists is already paying dividends.
Johnson's next test will likely come in the form of Adriano Moraes, the ONE flyweight world champion.
1. Christian Lee
2019 Record: 3-0
Accomplishments: ONE lightweight world champion, ONE lightweight world grand prix champion
Highlight: Unanimous-decision victory over Saygid Arslanaliev
For years, we kept hearing about a young Christian Lee who could be the next big thing at ONE Championship. But then, he'd lose big matches against Nguyen and we as critics and fans felt it best to pull back on the hype train until he finally got a marquee win. Well, 2019 was finally Lee's year.
After defeating Kazuki Tokudome and Edward Kelly, the 21-year-old challenged for legend Shinya Aoki's lightweight belt and made major adjustments after being largely dominated in the first round to earn the TKO win in the second.
Five months later, Lee stepped in on two weeks' notice to face one of ONE's most feared lightweights, Saygid Arslanaliev, in the world grand prix final. Lee dominated the match on the mat and won by a unanimous-decision victory. At the moment, there's really no doubt he is the top lightweight in the promotion.
The biggest stain on his legacy up to this point are his two losses to Nguyen. With the featherweight champion challenging Lee to a trilogy match in 2020, he has a chance to redeem himself. Also in contention for a shot at Lee's lightweight belt is "The Underground King" Eddie Alvarez.
• Kiamrian Abbasov
• Petchdam Petchyindee Academy
• Eddie Alvarez
• Saygid Arslanaliev
• Regian Eersel
• Ilias Ennahachi
• Bibiano Fernandes
• Sam-A Gaiyanghadao
• Jonathan Haggerty
• Danny Kingad
• Timofey Nastyukhin
• Michelle Nicolini
• Joshua Pacio
• Samy Sana
• Yosuke Saruta
• Yuya Wakamatsu