In an earlier article, we highlighted the Champions that had the briefest glimpses of glory before tumbling back down to earth. Those short reigns demonstrate exactly how difficult it is to stay at the top.
This time, we’ll be looking at the most dominant athletes to ever step in the ONE circle. These men were so far ahead of everyone else that nobody thought they could lose. These are the longest title reigns in ONE.
This list does not include incumbent Champions at the time of this writing. This means no Angela Lee, Xiong Jing Nan, or Brandon Vera. Let’s get started.
Martin Nguyen (Featherweight) – 3 Years, 2 Months, 12 Days
The Featherweight division was once the most dangerous division in the entire promotion. Every single Champion that held the belt seemed to be unstoppable in their moment of victory.
Koji Oishi was a respected Pancrase Champion when he defeated Honorio Banario twice. Narantungalag Jadambaa is a wall of muscle that bulldozed through Oishi, making it hard to imagine him losing ever.
Then Marat Gafurov came along and choked people out for six fights straight. Every single time a new Featherweight was crowned that looked legit, they lost to an even more dangerous killer.
Martin Nguyen changed all that when he landed his overhand right at ONE: Quest for Greatness. He defended the belt three times, against Christian Lee, Jadambaa Narantungalag, and Koyomi Matsushima.
No challenger was too intimidating or skilled. Nobody could handle the Situ-Asian. Both up and comers and former Champions fell before the Nguyen’s unstoppable aura and destroyed anyone that got close.
It took another unstoppable force to finally break the Champion’s spell as Thanh Le challenged Nguyen at the biggest card of 2020 ONE: Inside the Matrix. Le was given the shot on the strength of three straight knockout wins and made the most of his opportunity. Only time will tell whether the Viet-American can beat the Viet-Aussie’s record.
Aung La Nsang (Middleweight) – 3 Years, 4 Months
The Hero of Myanmar immortalized himself at ONE: Light of a Nation when he beat Vitaly Bigdash for the ONE Middleweight title. It’s difficult to qualify the real effect this night had on both Aung La and the country of Myanmar because even hyperbole might not be enough to describe it.
No single promotion can boast commanding the undivided attention of an entire country until ONE Championship announces an Aung La Nsang fight. The company can and will thank Nsang for years to come on his contributions to their rapid growth.
Unlike his Sanford MMA teammate Martin Nguyen, Nsang’s reign was fraught with much more difficulty. Nguyen won his belt with a knockout, Nsang won his through a drag out brawl that went down the wire against a man he just couldn’t finish. Vitaly Bigdash is a Champion that’s as tough as they come, and no matter what both men tried the match would not end within the distance.
The same storyline followed Nsang’s first title defense against Ken Hasegawa. In what turned out to be the best title fight in ONE Championship history, the two fighters demolished each others minds, bodies, and spirits. Until finally Hasegawa’s legs just gave up in the dying seconds of the fifth and final round.
That fight more than anything showed Nsang’s heart and elevated his status even more in the eyes of his admirers. He would defend the title twice more against Mohammad Karaki and Hasegawa again.
His loss to Reinier de Ridder at ONE: Inside the Matrix was a shock to everyone. Not only that it happened, but how seemingly easy it happened. The warrior that brawled and left everything in the Circle was submitted early in the first round.
We’re still waiting to hear what he wants to do next. But one thing is clear, Nsang’s story isn’t done and his legacy is secure.
Shinya Aoki – 3 Years, 7 Months, 6 Days
From homegrown talents, we move to living legends. There’s nothing much to say about Shinya Aoki that hasn’t already been said. We recently ranked him as the best Lightweight Champion in the title’s history. Part of that was his longevity with the belt.
Absolutely nothing and no one had a chance of ever beating him. The best anyone could hope for was a shot and do their best as the Japanese legend did his work on the ground.
Part of the reason why Aoki’s reign was so long was that no one wanted any part of him. ONE had a few challenges in mind for the Lightweight strap, but they never looked ready to seriously challenge Aoki. Only the ones that had external experience were confident enough to take the chance. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
Kamal Shalorus was a WEC veteran and even fought Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rafael dos Anjos in an unlucky brief stint with UFC before coming to ONE. Meanwhile, Koji Ando was a Legend FC Champion before joining the promotion. They were literally the best the division had to offer and they both fell flat.
The only reason Aoki faced Folayang was because Tobikan Judan already ran off with the elite and Landslide was just next in line. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
Ben Askren – 4 Years, 1 Month, 23 Days
Perhaps the least appreciated Champion in ONE, Ben Askren literally had everything going for him during his time with the promotion. Not only was he already one of the best in the world at his weight class even before coming to the promotion, but his division is naturally thin in this part of the world. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
Despite the horror show of his first defense against Luis Santos, he’s defended the strap three times – the most in divisional history. In addition, none of them were even close.
Agilan Thani was nowhere near ready to face someone like Askren in his young career, and he’s never looked the same since. Eventual Champion Zebastian Kadestam is a prominent striker and had zero answers for the Funky One’s wrestling.
Even Shinya Aoki who was supposed to put up a grappling show for the ages was knocked out in the first round in a weird twist of fate. ONE had to poach a former Champion from another weight class to face Askren, that’s how bereft of talent the division was.
After the Aoki win there was literally no one not just in the division but in the promotion left to challenge Askren. The only option the promotion had was bringing someone in to specifically challenge the Champion, and no one was going to bite on that.
Even Askren knew there was nothing left for him at ONE and vacated the title going into his first retirement. Ben is special among all the fighters in ONE as he’s the only one to come in and leave undefeated for his tenure. It’s a feat that no one will be able to replicate ever again, and he deserves to be appreciated more by fans of the promotion.
Bibiano Fernandes – 5 Years, 22 Days
Pick a random year in the past decade and there’s a 50% chance that Bibiano Fernandes was the ONE Bantamweight Champion. That’s Anderson Silva’s level of dominance.
Similar to the Ben Askren situation, Fernandes was a big fish that got dropped into a much too small pond. He was a legitimate UFC level athlete that simply didn’t want to work for Dana White. Even in ONE’s early years, Fernandes stood out in the international MMA community as the best of the lot.
He took this perception and made it an unavoidable reality over the course of his reign in the Bantamweight division. A cursory glance at his career tells people that Fernandes has the most successful title defenses of any ONE Champion at seven.
But looking at it closer you discover the quality of every single one of these opponents and it elevates Fernandes even more. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
His first defense was against Masakatsu Ueda who was considered the best Bantamweight in the world for a time. Then came a slew of elite challengers including Dae Hwan Kim, Toni Tauru, Kevin Belingon, Reece McLaren, Andrew Leone, and Martin Nguyen.
There is a lot of talent in ONE’s Bantamweight division. In fact, all the challengers and even the current Top 5 can become Champions in other promotions right now. But the gap between them and Fernandes is just that wide. Even when he lost the title to Kevin Belingon in the rematch, there was a convincing case for why Fernandes should have won.
There’s a lot of excitement going around now regarding a potential fight with UFC veteran Jon Lineker after he demolished Kevin Belingon at ONE: Inside the Matrix III. This will only be the latest in a long line of tough challenges that arguably the best fighter in the promotion has already faced before. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
There you have it. All of the longest title reigns in ONE Championship history. There will definitely be changes to this list if and when either Brandon Vera or Angela Lee end their current incumbency. As it stands they’re both already in the Top 2 or 3 spots, whether they will surpass Bibiano is a question we’re still waiting to answer. Longest Title Reigns in ONE
Featured Images Credits to ONE Championship
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