The 5 best MMA fighters from Asia
While the Japanese MMA boom is now dead, some great fighters have come out of Asia. Here are five of the best.
While promotions like Rizin and ONE FC still run shows in places like Japan and Singapore, and the UFC continues to make headway into the continent with shows such as its most recent in Shanghai, the unfortunate truth is that Asian MMA peaked just over a decade ago with the height of PRIDE FC and has largely gone downhill since.
Sure, some Japanese fighters still compete well in the UFC today, but for the most part, the truly great Asian MMA fighters are now either retired or years past their primes. In the past though, Asia was responsible for producing some of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport – particularly those hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are the top five in my eyes.
Yushin Okami – ‘Thunder’ was a top ten contender and a mainstay of the UFC’s Middleweight division for the best part of a decade, basically from his debut in 2006 through to his release from the promotion in 2013.
During his time with the promotion, he defeated the likes of Alan Belcher, Hector Lombard, Evan Tanner and Nate Marquardt, and captured a title shot in 2011 against the legendary Anderson Silva, although he was unsuccessful in winning the belt. He recently made a return to the Octagon as a last-minute replacement.
Kyoji Horiguchi – Prior to leaving the UFC for Rizin last year, Horiguchi had earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous fighters in the world at 125lbs. He came into the UFC with a violent knockout of Jeremy Larsen and went on to defeat the likes of Louis Gaudinot and Ali Bagautinov.
A 2015 title shot against Demetrious Johnson was unsuccessful, but the loss remains Horiguchi’s only one since 2012. Even outside the UFC, he’s still one of the world’s best Flyweights.
Hayato Sakurai – ‘Mach’ began his professional career back in 1996 and remained unbeaten until 2001, when a then-little-known Anderson Silva defeated him to take away his Shooto Middleweight title.
An unsuccessful stint in the UFC followed, but Sakurai then resurrected his career as a 155lber in PRIDE, where he defeated the likes of Jens Pulver and Joachim Hansen. Perhaps his biggest career accomplishments were his two wins over Shinya Aoki – one of which was a 27-second knockout.
Megumi Fujii – ‘Mega Megu’ fought in the women’s MMA division before it exploded in popularity thanks to the likes of Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey. Despite being largely forgotten today, in her prime she was unstoppable – winning her first 22 fights and finishing 19 of them.
A short Bellator run in 2010/11 was unsuccessful, but by that point, she was in her late 30’s and way past her prime. But she remains one of the greatest pioneers of women’s MMA prior to the Rousey era.