ONE Championship athletes pulled out all the stops in 2016, and Asian MMA has never been in a better position.
The year also saw dozens of highlight-reel knockouts taking place within the ONE Championship cage, and to commemorate the most spectacular ones, here are the five best knockouts of 2016 in ONE Championship.
#1 Leandro Ataides’ flying knee KO of Mohamed Ali at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, 2 December, Manila
Leandro Ataides of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has not really done as well as he would have liked inside the ONE Championship cage. The proud warrior suffered a series of heartbreaking setbacks against the toughest fighters at middleweight, beginning with his TKO loss to Igor Svirid in 2014 for the inaugural ONE Middleweight World Championship.
Against Polish fighter Marcin Prachnio, Ataides did slightly better, but still fell short of victory, dropping a closely-contested split decision.
So when he went up against Egypt’s Mohamed Ali in Manila at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, Ataides fought with a certain degree of urgency. What transpired was one of the most compelling knockout victories of his career.
After figuring in a back-and-forth battle in the first round, in which both fighters had their moments, Ataides began to open up in the second. Despite Ataides’ high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree, the former title challenger opted to keep the fight standing to trade with Ali at the center of the cage.
The sensational end came with Ataides flying three feet into the air, finishing Ali off with a perfectly-placed flying knee. The way Ataides leapt at Ali with such speed and velocity was absolutely awe-inspiring. Ali was out like a lamp.
It must have felt great for Ataides who was able to snap a three-fight skid, finally earning his first victory inside the ONE Championship cage since 2014. An ecstatic Ataides went on to celebrate a hard-earned victory in front of thousands of screaming fans in Manila.
He will now enjoy the added satisfaction of knowing it was the top-rated knockout of 2016 in the promotion.
#2 Burn Soriano stops Mario Satya Wirawan via spinning back fist at ONE: TITLES & TITANS, 27 August, Jakarta
Burn “The Hitman” Soriano is relatively new to the promotion, having just made his debut last April in a loss to Indonesian fighter Sunoto.
He would go on to face Sunoto’s countryman, Mario Satya Wirawan, himself a bonafide finisher. Wirawan is best remembered for his six-second knockout of Cambodia’s Chan Heng back in December of 2015. Against Soriano, Wirawan was expected to showcase his knockout power once more.
Soriano, however, had other plans. It had been extremely rare to see knockout victories featuring spinning back fists up to this point, and Soriano was about to change that. 15 seconds into the first round, Soriano unleashed the spectacular move as Wirawan had him pressed up against the fence, and the Indonesian fighter just was not prepared for it.
The punch landed right on Wirawan’s temple, putting the Indonesian to sleep almost immediately. A hammer fist then landed for good measure. It was a great win for Soriano, and one that he would look back upon for years to come as part of his highlight reel.
#3 Narantungalag Jadambaa turns off Eric Kelly’s lights at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS, 2 July, Hefei, China
The Philippines’ Eric “The Natural” Kelly is one of the most talented fighters in ONE Championship’s featherweight roster. He is highly-regarded as a legitimate contender, and one of the few fighters in line for a shot at the ONE Featherweight World Championship belt currently held by Marat Gafurov.
However, before Kelly could be awarded with a title shot, he would have to get past former titleholder Narantungalag Jadambaa. Unfortunately for Kelly, the Mongolian veteran had his own eyes set for a rematch with the Russian champion.
In a main-event matchup, Jadambaa reminded the world just how awesome his power is in knocking out the Philippines’ top featherweight in less than a minute. Eric Kelly never knew what hit him.
In a swift end to what was touted to have been a compelling bout, Jadambaa stalked Kelly up against the cage fence and uncorked a devastating right hand that landed flush on the Filipino fighter’s jaw. Kelly crumbled to the mat at once.
Jadambaa landed another punch for good measure, and that was all it took for the referee to step in.
The victory earned Jadambaa another crack at Gafurov, the promotion’s reigning champion, and although he fell short of victory in the rematch, nothing can take away one of the most electrifying victories of his career against the Philippines’ finest.
#4 Timofey Nastyukhin’s stunning combination knockout of Rob Lisita at ONE: KINGDOM OF CHAMPIONS, 27 May, Bangkok
It seems the only thing that has proven to be able to stop Timofey Nastyukhin’s rise to the top of ONE Championship’s lightweight ranks is an injury. The hard-hitting Russian dropped a technical knockout to Japan’s Kotetsu Boku in his last bout, after suffering an injury to his right leg and being deemed unable to continue.
However, when he is at a hundred percent physically, there is just no stopping the man. Prior to the Boku bout, Nastyukhin delivered a terrific knockout performance against the tough-as-nails Australian brawler “Ruthless” Rob Lisita.
Tying the record for fastest knockout in ONE Championship history at just six seconds, Nastyukhin registered his most devastating performance to date against Lisita. Nastyukhin dropped Lisita with the first combination he threw, a straight right and a left hook, which both landed right on the button.
Lisita immediately fell to the mat, and was pretty much out before he hit the ground. If there is any doubt as to whether or not Nastyukhin’s power is legitimate, there should be no doubt now. Lisita is one of the toughest opponents in ONE Championship’s lightweight division, and for someone to manhandle him like that truly speaks volumes.
Nastyukhin is the total package. Out of 10 victories so far in his career, Nastyukhin owns four wins by submission and an impressive six wins by knockout. A true action star in every sense of the word, none of his fights have gone the distance.
Look for Nastyukhin to completely recover from his leg injury and regain his status as one of the most terrifying prospects in mixed martial arts in 2017.
#5 Geje Eustaquio takes out Saiful Merican with a counter left hook at ONE: CLASH OF HEROES, 29 January, Kuala Lumpur
Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio of Team Lakay is widely known as one of the smoothest strikers in Filipino MMA. The wushu practitioner is famed for being able to remain calm in the face of danger, expertly laying back in the pocket to deliver his lightning-quick strikes.
Early in 2016, Eustaquio ventured into enemy territory when he took on Saiful “The Vampire” Merican in front of the Malaysian fighter’s hometown crowd in Kuala Lumpur.
Eustaquio, who is no stranger to operating behind enemy lines, challenged the young Malaysian star to a stand-up battle. Needless to say, it did not end well for Merican.
Just slightly a little more than a minute into the first round, Eustaquio delivered one of his most exciting performances. The former ONE Flyweight World Championship title challenger showcased his trademark counter-striking style against Merican, who opted to press the bout and stalk Eustaquio across the cage.
That aggressiveness proved to be Merican’s downfall. Bouncing up and down and looking light on his feet, Eustaquio waited for Merican to overcommit on his strikes to offer an opening. After Merican opened up with a left hand to close the gap, Eustaquio countered with his own left hand over the top which landed right on Merican’s temple.
The blow was so powerful that it turned the lights off on Merican even before he hit the canvas. With Merican slumped face-first into the mat, the referee had no choice but to step in and call a halt to the contest, awarding Eustaquio with a spectacular knockout victory.