Prospects to Watch at ONE Championship: Big Bang

Amir Aliakbari hoists his nation's flag. Credit: Martin Gabor, United World Wrestling.

Singaporean-based combat sports promotion ONE Championship has held multiple events during the COVID-19 era, showcasing champions, established contenders, and upcoming prospects across their MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai rosters.

ONE returns with an event loaded with both MMA and kickboxing action, ONE Championship: Big Bang, on Friday, December 4.

In the main event, the organization’s heavyweight kickboxing title will be on the line, as Ukrainian champion Roman Kryklya faces Turkey’s Murat Aygun.

Below are some of the event’s top prospects to keep an eye on. For the purpose of this article series, a “prospect” will usually be considered to be a fighter under the age of 30, but the total number of fights a fighter has will not be considered either qualifying or disqualifying as part of the criteria.

However, due to his late start in mixed martial arts, Iran’s Amir Aliakbari will be considered a “prospect.”

Garry Tonon (5-0)

  • Name: Garry Tonon
  • Nationality: USA
  • Division: Featherweight (155 pounds)
  • Age: 29
  • Record: 5-0 MMA, 5-0 ONE

When it comes to the best grapplers in mixed martial arts, New Jersey native Garry Tonon (5-0) must always be in the conversation.

A black belt under grappling legends Tom DeBlass and Ricardo Almeida, Tonon rose to prominence due to his athletic wrestling base and aggressive, submission-oriented style. Tonon earned his stripes as a colored belt, placing at numerous IBJJF Pan American and World championships from blue to brown belt in both the gi and without.

As a black belt, however, Tonon made his mark without the gi. He became a household name after standout performances at the prestigious Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI), capturing a record four EBI tournament victories from lightweight to light heavyweight.

Tonon, a leglock wiz who sports a 70% submission rate according to jiu jitsu database BJJHeroes, has medaled at ADCC and defeated stars like Bellator’s Dillon Danis and A.J. Agazarm, soon-to-be UFC title challenger Gilbert Burns, PFL finalist Vinny Magalhaes, and dozens more.

Since transitioning to MMA in 2018, Tonon has racked up five straight wins – and five finishes – in ONE, scoring two knockouts in addition to three submissions. The American has faced an increasingly strong slate of competition, showing improved standup in the process to pair with his world-class grappling game.

Tonon will face his stiffest test yet in Japan’s Koyomi Matsushima (12-4), a former title challenger in both ONE and Pancrase. Matsushima is coming off of a third-round TKO of Jae Woong Kim (10-5) in February and holds seven knockouts to his name.

With a win over Matsushima, Tonon positions himself at the top of the division for a title shot against lightweight champion Christian Lee (14-3). It will be interesting to see how Tonon fares against a dangerous Matsushima at ONE: Big Bang.

Amir Aliakbari (10-1)

  • Name: Amir Aliakbari
  • Nationality: Iran
  • Division: Heavyweight
  • Age: 32
  • Record: 10-1 MMA, 5-1 RIZIN FF

Long considered one of the best heavyweight wrestlers on the planet, Iran’s Amir Aliakbari (10-1) transitioned to MMA in 2015 following a series of doping violations that forced him from his first combat sporting endeavor.

The 6’4″ Aliakbari thrice placed at the United World Wrestling (UWW) World Championships, earning a bronze medal in 2009 (96 kg), a gold medal in 2010 (96 kg), and a second gold medal in 2013 (120 kg) on the strength of a career 14-1 record in the tournaments. Aliakbari’s second gold medal was stripped following his second doping failure, which earned him a lifetime ban from the sport from the International Wrestling Federation, FILA.

Aliakbari was also barred from competing at the 2012 London Olympics following his first doping offense.

The 32-year-old Iranian began his MMA career in Asia, competing for Full Metal Dojo and REAL before finding a home in Japan’s RIZIN. Beating such names as Bellator prospect Valentin Moldavsky and UFC veteran Heath Herring, Aliakbari developed a reputation as a powerful, ground-and-pound oriented wrestling threat.

Aliakbari suffered his first and only loss via TKO to MMA legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović in the Grand Prix finals of RIZIN’s 2016 tournament. He would rebound well, scoring five straight wins over experienced foes in RIZIN and Russian promotion Absolute Championship Berkut (ACB) from 2017 to 2019.

He signed with ONE Championship in August of 2020, immediately calling out champion Brandon Vera (via ESPN). In his promotional debut, Aliakbari was set to face Russia’s Islam Abasov (6-0), who has all of his fights on the regional scene by knockout in the first round, most of them coming within the opening minute of the fight.

However, news broke late Sunday evening that Abasov has been removed from the fight for undisclosed reasons. The promotion is said to be confirming a late notice replacement.

With a win over his new opponent, Aliakbari will likely earn his coveted title shot or face UFC veteran and fellow 10-1 wrestler Arjan Singh Bhullar, who was scheduled to challenge Vera at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.