2018 Asia MMA Awards breakdown: Male Fighter of the Year

The 2018 Asia MMA Awards, hosted by The Fight Nation, will take place on September 14, 2018 in Hong Kong. The gala will bring together elite MMA performers, promoters, teams and brands from across the continent in celebration of their achievements.

The Awards are based on events and bouts which took place in the period between May 31, 2017 to May 31, 2018. The shortlists of nominees were developed in consultation with industry specialists and journalists. They reflect those who have delivered outstanding and notable performances.

This is the first in a series of breakdowns for each Awards category. The breakdown of each nominee will share their title, background, career brief, and accomplishments which led them to be nominated.

Below is the shortlist for Male Fighter of the Year (in alphabetical order by family name).

Male Fighter of the Year

Mansour Barnaoui – ROAD FC
Kyoji Horiguchi – RIZIN
Li Jingliang – UFC
Martin Nguyen – ONE Championship
Aung La Nsang – ONE Championship

Mansour Barnaoui
Mansour Barnaoui, Male Fighter of the Year nominee

Mansour Barnaoui

Title: Road FC $1 Million Lightweight Tournament Finalist, former M-1 Challenge Champion, former Bamma Champion

Background: Barnaoui is 25 years old. He was born in Tunisia, and fights out of Team Magnum in France and Tristar in Canada. His father was a judoka on the Tunisian national team. Barnaoui grew up with three younger brothers and always knew he wanted to be a fighter. He credits lute livre as his base, and competed his first time when he was 15.

Career brief: Barnaoui made his pro debut into MMA when he turned 18 by winning an 8-man one night tournament, defeating 3 opponents all by submission. He won another one night tournament in 100% Fight, then fought in other promotions around Europe, and finally settled into M-1 and Bamma where he became the reigning and defending champion of both promotions between 2013 to 2015. In 2016, Barnaoui joined KSW and challenged for the lightweight belt, but dropped the decision to the champ, Mateusz Gamrot. It was his final loss, and he’s never been finished in a fight. Barnaoui fought once more in KSW, won by KO in the first round, and joined the Road FC $1 Million Lightweight Tournament, and won his first match with a round 1 submission.

2017-2018: In the Awards period, Barnaoui choked his way through the Road FC Tournament to go 3-0. In the opening round of 16 men, he submitted Kim Chang-Hyun in the first; in the quarterfinals he demolished and choked out Nandin-Erdene; and in the semifinals he strangled Shimoishi Kota. Barnaoui will next face Shamil Zavurov in the finals of the tournament.

Video: Road FC 46: Mansour Barnaoui defeats Shimoishi Kota by Submission

Kyoji Horiguchi
Kyoji Horiguchi, Male Fighter of the Year nominee

Kyoji Horiguchi 堀口恭司

Title: Rizin Bantamweight Champion, former Shooto Champion

Background: Kyoji is 27 years old. He is from Gunma, Japan, began MMA with Krazy Bee, and now fights out of American Top Team in the US. He started karate at the age of five, and continues practice to date, as he believes that is his foundation. At 16, Kyoji discovered PRIDE, and at 18 he finished school and committed to MMA full time at Krazy Bee in Tokyo.

Career brief: Kyoji started fighting in amateur Shooto in 2009. He transitioned to pro a year later, and within 2 years he was 6-0 with KOs over Sage Akao and Yuta Nezu. In the finals of the 2015 Survivor Tournament, Kyoji suffered his first defeat, a decision to former Shooto champ Masakatsu Ueda. He followed up with 3 good wins and challenged for the title, winning it by choking out Hiromasa Ogikubo. One more fight, and Kyoji was called to the UFC where he went 7-1, defeating Dustin Pague, Chico Camus, and Neil Seery, only seeing the second loss of his career in a huge title match with Demetrious Johnson – a literal last second tap to an armlock. Kyoji decided not to re-sign with the UFC and returned to Japan to compete in Rizin, were he defeated Deep champ Yuki Motoya to re-establish his home court dominance.

2017-2018: Kyoji fought 5 times within the Awards period, winning all with four knockouts and one submission. In the first round of the Rizin 61kg Grand Prix, he dispatched Hideo Tokoro. In the weekend New Years Eve event, he plowed through Gabriel Oliveira, Manel Kape, and Shintaro Ishiwatari. On Rizin 10, Kyoji brought his record to 24-2 with a 9 second KO of Ian McCall.

Video: Rizin Confessions #2: Kyoji Horiguchi

Li Jingliang
Li JingLiang, Male Fighter of the Year nominee

Li Jingliang 李景亮

Title: UFC fighter, former Legend FC Champion

Background: Leech is 30 years old. He was born in Xinjiang, China and fights out of China Top Team in Beijing. He wrestled in high school, and learned sanda from Bao Li Gao, one of China’s first MMA coaches. Before he was 20, he moved to Beijing and became a full time MMA fighter under Zhang Tiequan.

Career brief: Leech began his pro career in 2007 at China’s Art of War and other Chinese promotions. He transitioned to Legend FC in 2010. By 2013 he he had brought his record to 8-2 with wins over Dan Pauling and Luke Jumeau, and earned the Legend FC welterweight championship. This launched his career into the UFC, as only the second fighter from China after his coach, Zhang Tiequan. In the following three years, Leech went 4-2 in the UFC, knocking out Dhiego Lima and Bobby Lash (in a candidate for Fight of the Year), while feeling his first ever defeat by choke to K-Taro Nakamura.

2017-2018: During the Awards period, Leech fought 3 times in the UFC. In Singapore, he spoiled Frank Camacho’s UFC debut; in the UFC’s first Shanghai card he was the co-main event and earned a Performance of the Night with a first round knockout of Zak Ottow; and in Australia he earned a loss but a Fight of the Night bonus against Jake Matthews. While it’s past the cutoff period, Leech’s last appearance was a fun win over Daichi Abe in Singapore, cementing his respect in the division.

Video: USA Sports: Li Jingliang vs Bobby Nash highlights

Martin Nguyen
Martin Nguyen, Male Fighter of the Year nominee

Martin Nguyen

Title: One Championship Featherweight Champion, One Championship Lightweight Champion

Background: Nguyen is 29 years old. He was born in Sydney, Australia and fights out of KMA Top Team. He played rugby in school, and started MMA at the ripe age of 21 as a hobby and to lose weight.

Career brief: In 2012, Nguyen fought in Brace and after one year, won the featherweight title. With a 3-0 record he then signed with One Championship in 2014. In the next three years, Nguyen worked his way up the featherweight division, going 5-1 with all finishes, and his only loss being an early featherweight title challenge to Murat Gafurov. He choked out Edward Kelly and Christian Lee to draw ahead of the prospects list, and stunningly stopped veteran Deep featherweight champion Kazunori Yokota to set up the title shot.

2017-2018: During the Awards period, Nguyen became not a one, but a two division champion, and challenged for a third. He fought four times. He took revenge against his sole loss and claimed the featherweight title from Gafurov; he moved to lightweight and KOed Eduard Folayang to take his belt; and he made a third belt challenge that was a split decision loss for Bibiano Fernandes’ bantamweight strap. In his last fight, Nguyen made his first defense of his featherweight title successfully against former rival Lee.

Video: One Championship: Martin Nguyen defeats Marat Gafurov by TKO

Aung La Nsang
Aung La Nsang, Male Fighter of the Year nominee

Aung La Nsang

Title: One Championship Middleweight Champion, One Championship Heavyweight Champion

Background: Aung La Nsang is 33 years old. He was born in Myanmar, and his family moved to the US when he was 18. He fights out of Crazy 88 BJJ in Maryland, US. In university, Nsang began studying BJJ and training MMA.

Career brief: Nsang made his MMA debut in 2005. He fought in regional US promotions for the first 4 years, compiling a record of 10-4. In 2011 he began to face national level talent in Ring Of Combat, such as Costas Philippou and Uriah Hall, which launched him into Bellator, where he defeated Jesus Martinez. Then Nsang was a staple in Cage Fury, bringing his record to 15-9, when he signed to One Championship. Nsang slammed through four fights in the middleweight division, defeating Alexy Butorin and Michal Pasternak, so was given a title shot against Vitaly Bigdash in early 2017, in which he came out on the wrong side of the scorecards with a decision loss.

2017-2018: During the Awards period, Nsang surmounted every challenge across 3 fights. First, he avenged his loss to Bigdash and claimed the One Championship middleweight title. Then he choked out Alain Ngalani at heavyweight. So his next shot was to win the heavyweight tile by KOing Alexandre Machado in under a minute. Although he most recent fight is past the cutoff date, Nsang delivered a slugfest with Ken Hasegawa that will go down in history (and certainly a candidate for next year’s Awards!), to defend his middleweight belt by highlight reel KO in the 5th round.

Video: One: Spirit of a Warrior: Aung La Nsang defeats Ken Hasegawa