ONE Championship’s Lightweight division is one of the most talented and crowded groups in the promotion. The championship belt is one of the first the organization created and by far has the most history.
It’s changed hands seven times since its inception and we’re going to look at the five men that claimed it. From their ability to their legacy, we are ranking all the ONE Lightweight Champions.
#5 Kotetsu Boku – The Inaugural Champion
We already described Kotetsu Boku’s achievement of becoming a Champion in his very first fight with ONE Championship against Zorobabel Moreira at ONE: Rise of Kings.
Boku was brought in to test the Evolve fighter and complete his grooming to become Champion. The Shooto veteran however spoiled those plans with a vicious knockout in the third round and became the first ONE Lightweight Champion.
However, Boku finds himself at the bottom of this list because like most inaugural Champions, his reign was short and uneventful. For his first defense, less than a year later, Boku faced a monumental step-up in competition against Shinya Aoki.
Aoki sought to avenge his Evolve teammate and successfully added the ONE Lightweight belt to his awards cabinet with a Rear Naked Choke in the Main Event of ONE: Kings and Champions.
#4 Martin Nguyen – Two Division Greatness
Martin Nguyen will go down as one of the best to ever do it in ONE Championship history. His individual success allowed the sport to finally become legal in Vietnam and inspired an entire generation of aspiring fighters.
He put himself and Sanford MMA on the map when he defeated Eduard Folayang to become the first two-division world Champion in ONE. His overhand right is legend and his wins will forever be part of the organization’s best highlights.
He gets the second lowest spot on the list because of two reasons. First, he held the division up for a year, keeping the title hostage as he ventured to Bantamweight for a third title. Second, even after all that time, he didn’t defend his belt, choosing to vacate his ONE Lightweight championship instead due to injury.
Hope springs eternal, however, as he himself is aware of his shortcomings in the division. There is a chance that he makes a permanent move up in weight and face his biggest rival and current Lightweight Champion Christian Lee. Speaking of the current Champion.
#3 Christian Lee – ONE’s Young Lion
The current ONE Lightweight Champion, Christian Lee fulfilled his promise and destiny when he won the belt against Shinya Aoki at ONE: Enter the Dragon. His talent and ability since his debut were apparent and his becoming a Champion seemed only a matter of time.
Unfortunately, his path was blocked twice by Martin Nguyen at Featherweight, and after the second defeat, his prospects for gold were rather dim. In a strange turn of events, Shinya Aoki called him out after winning the title for a second time and the match was booked.
A shadow was cast over Lee’s early reign because of the way things rolled out. But all doubts were erased with his dominant performances over Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev and Iuri Lapicus. The hardest tests are still ahead of the young lion as more people see him as the final goal. Even without the belt, a victory over Lee might just be more prestigious than the title itself.
#2 Eduard Folayang – Shocks The World
We’ve talked a lot about the first Folayang and Aoki fight and ranked it as one of the best title fights in the history of the promotion. Along with the success of Angela Lee and Aung La Nsang in their respective divisions, that win gave ONE Championship the attention it needed to boost its growth in South East Asia.
Folayang won the title in spectacular fashion, but unlike Nguyen and Boku, Folayang was lucky to be able to defend the belt at least once before losing it. In addition, he’s also the only other man besides our number one pick to become the Champion twice in the division.
Folayang’s win put Team Lakay on the map and his second reign was part of a dominant 2018 where the gym had four simultaneous Champions. His contributions to sport can’t be overestimated and the promotion will be honoring him long after he hangs up the gloves for good.
#1 Shinya Aoki – Greatest MMA Fighter in Asia
Even before coming to ONE Championship, Shinya Aoki was already a global legend. His quality was a boon to the young promotion and it was only a matter of time before he claimed the title for himself. The only question people had was how long his reign would last.
As it turns out, they would be asking that question for the next three years. After winning the title to become the second Lightweight Champion, he defended the strap twice against Kamal Shalorus and Koji Ando. These are the most defenses of the title in its history.
He then avenged his loss to Eduard Folayang at ONE: A New Era via submission in the first round of their match. For now, Aoki’s record in the division is hard to top because of the massive amount of talent there.
Ranking all the ONE Lightweight Champions is an intriguing look at the legacies of those that stood at the top of the promotion’s premiere division. Do you agree with our list?
Featured Image Credits to ONE Championship
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