THE BEST OF 2013: MMA-in-ASIA’s “Lucky 13” fighters, fights, and finishes

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2013 was a breakaway year for MMA in Asia. There were literally hundreds of events from Japan to Jakarta. UFC made waves with TUF China, Cambodia got its first MMA promotion, and Malaysia concluded a massive amateur tournament. Pancrase celebrated its 20th anniversary, RUFF crowned five new millionaires, and both Singapore and the Philippines saw their first native fighters get picked for the UFC.

ONE FC launched live on StarSports, KOTC touched down in the Philippines, Legend FC held its final fight, and DEEP started live streaming. ROAD FC started picking up Japanese talent like Riki Fukuda and others from the A-roster, Ben Askren joined Shinya Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes in spurning UFC for a juicy ONE FC contract, and Pancrase announced a partnership with WSOF.

Shuffling through all of these landmark events and the myriad of shows hosted in order to make picks for the “13 Best” fighters, fights, and finishes has turned out to be a daunting task indeed. So daunting for the staff, in fact, that we couldn’t narrow any of the lists down to just thirteen! So without further ado – because the list is going to be long enough to read – here are the stars who shined in 2013.

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THE BEST FIGHTERS OF 2013

“Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung (0-1) gets our first note for the height of his accomplishment this year. A UFC title fight – that saw him look to be turning the tide on the Champion like no one has before – deserves accolades. Dong HyunKim (2-0) is marching straight through every UFC opponent and making them look like chumps on his way into the top of the rankings. Takeya Mizugaki (3-0) extended his win streak in the UFC to 4 straight with action-packed 3-rounders and a solid showing against Nam Phan.

HyunGyu Lim (2-0) showed that he is indeed Korean Top Team’s “next BIG thing” as the 2 meter-wingspanned giant KOed both of his UFC opponents and earned a FOTN award. Krazy Bee’s Kyoji Horiguchi (3-0) won the Shooto 132-pound title then proved he was ripe for the big leagues with a KO in his UFC debut. There are quite a few more Asians following them into the UFC in 2014, looking to make a big impact.

“Korean Superboy” DooHo Choi (2-0) knocked out every single opponent DEEP has thrown his way and finally accepted the call into the UFC. Kazuhiro Nakamura (4-0) truly became King Kaz when he won the DEEP Middleweight Championship. The man with fists as big as 8kg kettle bells demonstrated he’s not content as a throne-sitter when he called out King of Pancrase Ryo Kawamura. Mizuki Inoue (3-0) caught international attention with a stellar striking performance in Invicta, then claimed the finals shot in the DEEP Jewels Lightweight Grand Prix. At 19, Inoue’s star is definitely on the ascent like a blazing comet. Satoru Kitaoka (2-1) won the DEEP Lightweight strap by stopping Daisuke Nakamura’s streak, and put in a choke at Pancrase for good measure as well. Masanori Kanehara (2-0) stayed on top of the DEEP pack with a submission and did his best to get looked at globally with a whopping 21 second KO in Pancrase.  And finally there’s Tatsumitsu Wada (3-0) who is still the king.

HEAT’s Welterweight Champion Kiichi “Strasser” Kunimoto (2-0) – other than being the most tanned man in Japan – grappled his way into a UFC slot. Kenta Sakuma (3-0) hopped out of the Shooto frying pan and into HEAT, where he took on much more experienced opponents by showing a very well-rounded game.

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Vuyisile Colossa (2-1) consistently delivered action-packed performances in ONE FC. His lone defeat to Lowen Tynanes (3-0) catapulted the wrestling prodigy into MMA prodigy status. The fan favorite South African then capped off his year with the biggest win of his career which he dedicated to Nelson Mandela on the eve of the great man’s passing. Yusup Saadulaev (2-1) scrambled his way through three amazing fights which showed off the best of grappling in MMA. His lone loss in the year, a thrilling 3-rounder with Leandro Issa (1-0) at ONE FC 8, sent his opponent double-legging straight into the UFC. Masakatsu Ueda (2-0) and Kevin Belingon (2-1) vied for the ONE FC Bantamweight Tournament pole position in a true style-versus-style bevy of rounds. Ueda claimed a beautiful brabo choke on his way to the finals, and Belingon avenged his loss therein with a subsequent highlight reel KO. While Koji Oishi versus Honorio Banario went 50/50 in the thrills factor for there two championship bouts, Oishi’s back to back KOs were impressive. And Shinya Aoki. Because no Asian MMA list is complete without him.

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King of Pancrase Mitsuhisa Sunabae (3-0) remained firmly seated in 2013’s game of thrones with unhesitating prowess. King Shintaro Ishiwatari (2-1) who championed his cause at home, took advantage of the Pancrase open door policy put on a fight of the year candidate with Horiguchi in the VTJ cage. Queen of Pancrase – or Venus – or whatever the moniker is now – Rin Nakai (2-0) stepped out of her cocoon and delivered two dominant performances against foreign fighters to prove she does deserve to be listed at the top of the women’s leader board. Eiji Ishikawa (3-0) proved he is still the man. Shinsho Anzai (2-0) KOed a much bigger opponent and remained on a 3-year win streak. BJJ brown belt Eric Fought (4-0-2) made his presence heard loud and clear with an opening KO and a year-end fight with legend Yuki Kondo. Yo Saito (4-0) earned two wins by his moniker Guillotine and earned a shot at King Ishiwatari.

23-year old Michinori Tanaka (3-0) gained and defended the PXC Bantamweight belt in amazing full-length contests of skill, heart, and aggression. Kim JangYong (2-0) made 2013 his year with a dominant win over fan favorite Mark Striegl by leg scissors choke to take the Featherweight Championship. Louis Smolka (3-0) showed incredible talent and speed in winning the Flyweight title and signing to the UFC. Asia-based fighter Will Chope, former URCC Featherweight champ, took a huge upset over King of Pancrase Takumi Nakayama that launched him into the UFC. Roldan Sangcha’an (2-0) and Zebastian Kadestam (2-1) both put themselves into contention with impressive back-to-back finishes in the promotion, and Harold Banario (2-0), the youngest of the Banario brothers, remained undefeated in his burgeoning career.

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Nam YuiChul (2-0) made a repeat performance against Kume Takasuke for the ROAD FC Lightweight belt, and delivered a top notch game to get the call up from UFC. ROAD FC sent Minowaman (3-1) into his 100th battle and he won by KO, to the delight of everyone but his opponent. Kwon BaeYong (2-0) delivered a fantastic performance with Michihiro Omigawa and then a KO by knee to the body of Kosuke Umeda. Lee YoonJun (3-1) was pushed out of the Bantamweight Tournament by finalist Song MinJung, then rebounded with a huge win over Takafumi Otsuka. Song MinJung (3-1) only dropped a very narrow decision in a thrilling title match to Champ Lee KilWoo (3-0), then dismantled fresh UFC vet Issei Tamura. Andrews Nakahara sees two draws in his first year with ROAD FC, but his performances with Bae MyoungHo and Cha JungHwan were nail-biters. Han YiMoon (4-0), Crying Fist winner, quietly went about racking up a stellar year for himself and proving he has a chin of concrete.

RUFF started off the year by crowning champions, and it by ended throwing Russians at them. Rodrigo Caporal (3-0) remained firmly in control of his belt even though RUFF tried dismantling him like a Rubic’s cube. Amu Rijirigala (3-0) had a stellar 2013 that included avenging both of the losses on his record with submission finishes, including Flyweight Champ Zhang MeiXuan. Lu ZhenHong (3-0) tore through the bantamweights to become the obvious threat and next title contender.

Yuta “Ulka” Sasaki (4-0) is the Shooto fighter on everyone’s lips after a stellar year mounting the rankings. Yuta Nezu (3-0) proved he’s not all heavy hands with a very tactical defeat of Motonobu Tezuka, in which he completely disallowed the wrestler’s toolbox of smashing maneuvers. Yusuke Yachi (2-1) started his year with a huge win over Yuji Hoshino, then dropped his hands and a loss in PXC. The young fighter came back stronger and smarter by defeating yet another legend, Lion Takeshi in VTJ. Speaking of Shooto legends, Caol Uno (3-0) had an incredible comeback year with a finish that earned him the cover of GONG Magazine. Yoichiro Sato (3-0) made a very impressive year as a journeyman after avenging his sole loss in Cage Force and defeating former HEAT Champ Fumitoshi Ishikawa. Shinji Sasaki (2-1) represented Shooto on the Pancrase 20th anniversary show and lost a faulty decision even though he out-punched, which was proved by an earlier KO over Shin Kochiwa. Notable up-and-comers include Nobumitsu Osawa (4-0) a.k.a. Tyson and Mikihito Yamagami (2-0).

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At VTJ, 18-year old Ryuto Sawada (2-0) made just about everyone impressed with his skills and speed. Malaysia’s Allen Chong went through 4 fights to become the amateur organization MIMMA Lightweight finalist and he weathered an onslaught on his way to a submission. Chong subsequently went on to be selected as a cast member for UFC TUF China. Rob Lisita (3-0), former Legend FC title contender, celebrated a big year by finishing DREAM contender Rodolfo Marques Diniz and legend Lion Takeshi. Jumabieke Tuerxun – the Chinese fighter who was signed to the UFC when RUFF let him go and then pulled back by Legend FC – went about fighting anyway, and has remained undefeated in uncountable and unrecorded MMA shows in China. Naoyuki Kotani (3-0) took on everyone thrown at him, including prodigy Vitali Krat, and remained undefeated in the year. Satoshi Ishii (6-0) racks up a huge year for himself and wraps up our report on the stellar fighters of MMA in Asia for 2013.

13 BEST FIGHTS

In alphabetical order of promotion in which they took place, here are the matches we picked out as the best, most competitive, exciting matches throughout the year.

DooHo Choi defeats Shoji Maruyama by TKO, rd 2, 2:23 – DEEP Cage Impact
Leandro Issa defeats Yusup Saadulaev by Decision – ONE FC 8
Koji Oishi defeats Honorio Banario by KO, rd 2, 1:45 – ONE FC 9
Masakatsu Ueda defeats Kevin Belingon by Decision – ONE FC 9
Yusup Saadulaev defeats Adriano Moraes by – ONE FC 12
Isao Kobayashi defeats Yoshiaki Takahashi by Decision, Pancrase 252
Michinori Tanaka defeats Kyle Aguon by Decision – PXC 40,
HanBin Park defeats Crisanto Pitpitunge by Submission, RNC, rd 3, 0:45 – PXC 41
Nam YuiChul defeats Kume Takasuke by Decision – ROAD FC 11
Kil Woo Lee defeats Min Jung Song by Decision – ROAD FC 13
Wanderlei Silva defeats Brian Stann by KO, rd 2, 4:08 – UFC Japan on Fuel TV 8
Kyoji Horiguchi defeats Ishiwatari by TKO, rd 5, 0:41 – VTJ 2
Will Campunado defeats Hideo Tokoro by Decision – VTJ 3

13 BEST WINS

With a lot on the line, such as rankings and revenge, here are the fights we selected as the best wins to go on record.

Yuki Motoya defeats Kiyotaka Shimizu by Decision – DEEP Impact 64
Kenjiro Takahashi defeats Katsuyoshi Beppu by Decision – DEEP Impact 64
Koji Ando defeats Jadamba Narantungalag by TKO, injury, rd 3, 0:47 – Legend FC 11
Tatsuya Mizuno defeats Rafael Silva by UD – ONE FC 11
Vuyisile Colossa defeats Caros Fodor by UD – ONE FC 13
Eduard Folayang defeats Vincent Latoel by Decision – ONE FC 13
Rin Nakai defeats Tara Larosa by Decision – Pancrase 252
Patricia Vidonic defeats Mei Yamaguchi by Decision – PXC 40
Rodrigo Caporal defeats Iftikhor Arbobov by TKO, rd 1 – RUFF 11
Amu Rijirigala defeats Zhang Meixuan by Submission, armbar, rd 2:3:30 – RUFF 11
Bekbulat Magomedov defeats Wang Guan by Decision – RUFF 11
Mikihito Yamagami defeats Mamoru Yamaguchi – VTJ 2
Yuta Nezu defeats Motonobu Tezuka by Decision – VTJ 3

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13 BEST KOs

The title says it all.

Yusaku Nakamura defeats Hiroshi Nakamura by KO, knee, rd 3 – DEEP Cage Impact
Alain Ngalani defeats Mamouhd Hasan by KO, spinning heel kick, rd 1, 0:31 – ONE FC 10
Kevin Belingon defeats David Aranda by KO, rd 1, 2:53 – ONE FC
Masanori Kanehara defeats Joe Pearson by KO, rd 1, 0:21 – Pancrase 252
Zebaztien Kadestam defeats Ross Ibanez by TKO, head kick, rd 1, 2:31 – PXC 39
Kyle Reyes defeats Tae Kyun Kim by KO, flying knee – PXC 40
Alberto Mina defeats Glenn Sparv by TKO, knee and punches, rd 1, 2:44 – Rebel FC 1
Taiyo Nakahara defeats Marcos Vinicius by KO, rd 1, 3:21 – Rebel FC 1
Minowaman defeats Kim Hoon by KO – ROAD FC 13
Koji Nakamura defeats Kwon ASol by TKO, head kick and punches – ROAD FC 13
BaeYong Kwon defeats Kosuke Umeda by TKO, knee to body – ROAD FC 13
Igor Subora defeats Marcus Valda by KO, rd 1, 0:27 – URCC 24
Mart Hunt defeats Stefan Struve by TKO, rd 3, 1:42 – UFC Japan on Fuel TV 8

13 BEST SUBMISSIONS

The title says it all.

Yusuke Kasuya defeats Damien Brown by Submission, arm bar, rd 3, 4:47 – Legend FC 11
Masakatsu Ueda defeats Jens Pulver by Submission, Brabo choke, rd 2, 3:52 – ONE FC 8
Shinya Aoki defeats Kotetsu Boku by Submission, RNC, rd 2, 2:01 – ONE FC 8
Eddie Ng defeats Peter Davis by Submission, armbar, rd 1, 1:46 – ONE FC 11
Shunichi Shimizu defeats Yuki Baba by submission, arm bar, rd 3, 1:20 – Pancrase 247
Jang Yong Kim defeats Mark Striegl by Submission, leg scissors triangle, rd 3, 1:43 – PXC 39
Johnny Pecyna defeats Troy Bantiag by Submission, Arm-Triangle Choke, rd 1, 3:10 – PXC 41
Rob Lisita defeats Takeshi Inoue by Submission, bulldog choke, rd 2, 3:19 – Rebel FC 1
Murat Kazgan defeats Hyung Seok Lee by Submission, guillotine choke, rd 1, 0:55 – ROAD FC 11
Joachim Hansen defeats Doo Won Seo by Submission, arm triangle, rd 2, 3:14 – ROAD FC 11
Song MinJung defeats Issei Tamura by Submission, RNC, rd 3 – ROAD FC 13
Reydon Romero defeats Ricardo Sapno by Submission, RNC, rd 3 – URCC 24
Adrian Hillana defeats Ali Khatibi by Submission, RNC, rd 1 – URCC 24

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13 BIGGEST UPSETS

There were a number of upsets in the other best categories of the year, and since they got that acclaim, we left this list to the remainder of fighters who deserve recognition.

Yusaku Nakamura defeats Hiroshi Nakamura by KO, knee, rd 3 – DEEP Cage Impact
Kenta Sakuma defeats Kazuma Sone by KO, rd 1, 4:05 – HEAT 26
Almiro Barros defeats Kian Pham by Decision – ONE FC 10
Hiroyuki Oshiro defeats Satoshi Inaba by Decision – Pancrase 250
Toby Misech defeats Yusuke Yachi by KO, rd 2, 1:18 – PXC 38
Zebaztian Kadestam defeats Ross Ebanez by TKO, head kick, rd 1, 2:31 – PXC 39
Will Chope defeats Takumi Nakayama by TKO, rd 3, 1:42 – PXC 40
Son HaeSuk defeats Ikuhisa Minowa by TKO, rd 3, 0:55 – ROAD FC 11
Lee YoonJun defeats Takafumi Otsuka by Decision – ROAD FC 12
Bae Yong Kwon defeats Michihiro Omigawa by Decision – ROAD FC 12
Amartuvshin Khuukhenkhuult defeats Wu Hoatian by TKO, rd 2 – RUFF 10
Kentaro Watanabe defeats Kiyotaka Shimizu by Decision – Shooto 3rd Round
Yusuke Yachi defeats Takeshi Inoue by Decision – VTJ 3

13 RUNNERS-UP PROSPECTS

Other fighters who entered MMA within the last 2 years and made an impact in 2013.

Bruno Pucci
Geje Eustaquio
Ernesto Montilla Jr
Gianni Subba
Gina Iniong
Hayato Suzuki
Han Bin Park
Herbert Burns
Takashi Soya
Toby Misech
Toshikazu Suzuki
Tristan Rebuyaco
Yoo JaeNam

13 RUNNERS-UP FIGHTERS

Other fighters who deserve mentioning for their contributions during 2013.

Daiki Hata
Daisuke Endo
Josh Calvo
Kazunori Yokota
Ken Hasegawa
Kleber Koike Erbst
Mikihito Yamagami
Noboru Tahara
Riyuichi Miki
Seiji Akao
Takeshi Kasugai
Yoshiaki Takahashi
Yushin Okami

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13 FIGHTERS TO WATCH IN 2014

Fighters who weren’t seen much in 2013 for reasons like injuries, promotion stalls, and unforeseen issues – or fighters that may not have ad a stellar year – that should remain as hot topics going into 2014.

Atsushi Yamamoto
Cha JungHwan
Eduard Folayang
Hideto Tatsumi
Ji Xian
Keita Nakamura
Kim DaeHwan
Kim SooChul
Koji Ando
Riki Fukuda
YongBok Gil
Yoshiyuki Nakanishi
Yusuke Kawanago