The ONE Championship made headlines outside the cage in 2019 with the debuts of former UFC champions in Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez as well as their first nationally televised broadcast in the United States.
Ultimately, though, the Singapore-based promotion is judged on the final product they provide inside the cage, and this year was arguably their best in terms of quality matches.
There were dozens of bouts worthy of consideration, but which were the best of the best? Here are the top five ONE Championship matches of 2019.
5. Angela Lee vs. Xiong Jing Nan II
Date: October 12
Result: Lee def. Xiong by fifth-round rear-naked choke
The pressure was on Angela Lee heading into this match. Having suffered her first career loss at their first meeting in March and then losing to Michelle Nicolini just four months later, the once-"Unstoppable" Lee needed a win to keep the 23-year-old's hype train on track and defend her atomweight championship.
In the main event of a stacked ONE: Century card that was part of the first nationally televised ONE broadcast in the U.S., Lee relied on her world-class mat work to get the win. Unlike in their first matchup, the Singaporean did not attempt to outbox the strawweight champion, who is known as a knockout artist.
As a result, the two best female competitors on the ONE roster have a victory over each other and a trilogy match is likely in 2020. Could both the 115-pound strawweight and 125-pound atomweight belts be on the line this time around at a catchweight? If so, ONE would crown their first two-division female champion.
4. Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Saemapetch Fairtex
Date: November 22
Result: Nong-O def. Saemapetch by fourth-round KO
ONE muay thai bantamweight world champion Nong-O Gaiyanghadao had perhaps the best year of anyone on the roster in 2019, winning the title before defending it three times. His last defense came against a game Saemapetch Fairtex, who went punch-for-punch with the legend in hopes of dethroning him.
The match nearly ended at the second round's conclusion after Nong-O landed an array of strikes, but Saemapetch managed to get up before the 10-count. The challenger came back firing in the third, landing big shots on Nong-O and looking rejuvenated as he tried to catch up on the scorecard. It was all for naught, though, as the champion landed a huge right cross in the fourth to knock Saemapetch out in what was an action-packed match.
3. Aung La N Sang vs. Brandon Vera
Date: October 13
Result: Sang def. Vera by second-round TKO
The highly anticipated megafight between ONE light heavyweight world champion Aung La N Sang and ONE heavyweight world champion Brandon Vera lived up to what you would expect from titleholders of the two heaviest divisions in mixed martial arts: a brawl.
Despite the match lasting less than two rounds, it was the "phone booth" approach taken by both men and the unhinged Tokyo crowd that gave this bout an old-school Pride or UFC vibe. Both competitors stood toe-to-toe looking to knock the other out. There was nothing fancy about it despite the striking of both competitors still being tremendous.
Although Vera landed heavy punches, Sang continued to eat every one of them like some reincarnation of the Terminator and pressed forward. The gas tank of Vera, who had never gone past the first round of a ONE match, clearly started to fade in the second, allowing Sang's world-class striking to put him out.
2. Jonathan Haggerty vs. Rodtang Jitmuangnon
Date: August 2
Result: Rodtang def. Haggerty by unanimous decision
The most technically advanced ONE match of the year was Jonathan Haggerty vs. Rodtang Jitmuangnon. Haggerty, who made a name for himself after his upset win over Sam-A Gaiyanghadao for the ONE muay thai flyweight championship in May, took on Rodtang, who was 4-0 at ONE heading in.
The 22-year-olds exchanged big strikes for the duration of the bout, jawing at each other while doing so. One kick from Haggerty nearly sent Rodtang out of the ring in the first round before the Thai rallied in the championship rounds to earn a unanimous decision. The Manila, Philippines, crowd grew louder during intermissions as both competitors egged the fans on.
We won't have to wait too long for the rematch as Rodtang defends his belt against Haggerty on Jan. 10.
1. Xiong Jing Nan vs. Angela Lee I
Date: March 31
Result: Xiong def. Lee by fifth-round TKO
The two most dominant female competitors in the promotion's MMA division met last March as Lee returned from a back injury that kept her out of action for five months. It was the female division's best striker in Xiong Jing Nan against one of the best submission specialists in the world in Lee, and the match still managed to exceed the lofty expectations that came with it.
The first three rounds was a feeling-out process for both competitors as they engaged with each other on their feet and on the mat. The drama really began in the fourth when Lee locked in a tight armbar that fans could have meant the beginning of the end for Xiong.
However, Xiong withstood the submission hold for nearly 90 seconds to conclude the fourth. She went into the final round swinging against a notably gassed Lee, who exerted an enormous amount of energy the previous round. The Chinese caught Lee with a wicked body shot that forced her to retreat toward the fence. Xiong began teeing off, leaving her foe unable to defend the barrage and forcing the referee to call the match.
- Geje Eustaquio vs. Adriano Moraes
- Demetrious Johnson vs. Yuya Wakamatsu
- Sam-A Gaiyanghadao vs. Jonathan Haggerty
- Ev Ting vs. Daichi Abe
- Danny Kingad vs. Reece McLaren
- Demetrious Johnson vs. Tatsumitsu Wada
- Petchdam Petchyindee vs. Ilias Ennahachi
- Rodtang Jitmuangnon vs. Walter Goncalves