Victor Cui, CEO of ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC), believes that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has the potential to become Asia’s most prominent sport, proving beyond every realm of reason that MMA has a fast, furious, and bloody rise in the continent.1
With the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) recording rapid fan-base growth in Asia’s most populous nation, China, and other countries, it is time to consider some of the promotion’s best Asian fighters in MMA history, especially those who have fought in the best MMA promotion in the world.2
Kyrgyzstan’s Valentina Shevchenko is valiantly decorated among the female folk, and China’s Li Jingliang has a beautiful record.
However, the list continues with legends and other current fighters in the picture. We now present the most outstanding Asian UFC fighters in history!
Best Asian UFC Fighters
15. Yuki Kondo
Without a doubt, Yuki Kondo would admit to not having the best of UFC careers.
Nevertheless, we can appreciate his efforts to compete in a foreign league where his people are seldom seen.
Rather than sulk on his unsatisfactory UFC record, Kondo will derive joy from winning over sixty from 110 professional contests.
Kondo triumphed once in three UFC contests but enjoyed his spell with Pancrase, winning the Pancrase Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, and Openweight championships.
14. Kyoji Horiguchi
Horiguchi had the potential to become one of the best Asian fighters if he fought more in the UFC.
He had an impressive 7-1 record in the promotion, proving true to his 11-1 record that lured the UFC into signing him.
He did not win any honor or title in the UFC but made up for it by winning the Bellator Bantamweight World Championship and the RIZIN Bantamweight Championship twice (current).
13. Yushin Okami
While Yushin Okami might not be among the names one call when asked about MMA titles, they will be tempted to list him among fighters with impressive records.
Okami has won thirty-seven from fifty-one matches throughout his MMA career, of which fourteen came in UFC contests, losing seven in the promotion and fourteen overall.
Such a sequence of stunning performances puts Yushin Okami among Asia’s greats.
12. Song Kenan
Although Song Kenan is one of five matches in the UFC, he sits as one of the best active Asian fighters, giving him a shot among the all-time bests since there are not many Asian fighters in UFC compared to other regions.
Song has won four promotional contests with two honors, including the Fight of the Night and Performance of the Night.
His reputation before his UFC debut proceeds him, winning fourteen from eighteen contests for a 77.8% win record.
11. Yadong Song
The “Kung Fu Kid” lives up to his name with an 8-2-1 UFC record, but what is more impressive is a 67.9% win percentage from a 19-7-1-(1) career record.
He also has four Performance of the Night and one Fight of the Night award in eleven UFC contests.
At 24, Yadong Song is one of China’s and Asia’s best active UFC representatives; he has the potential to inscribe his name amongst the all-time bests with age on his side if he continues this form in the promotion.
10. Mark Muñoz
Although retired, Muñoz’s days as a professional in the UFC will last a while in the minds of his Filipino enthusiasts.
He has a 9-6 UFC record, but even better stats illustrate his entire MMA career, as his six UFC defeats are all he suffered from a combined 20.
Claiming the Fight of the Night honor in a UFC 112 victory against Kendall Grove would remain one of Muñoz’s memorable UFC nights.
9. Zhang Weili
Valentina Shevchenko is not the only woman worthy of a spot amongst the best Asian UFC fighters in MMA history; China’s Zhang Weili has the profile that places her amongst the male folk.
“Magnum,” as fans hail her, is a former UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion with one successful title defense; remarkably, this title helped her to become the first-ever Chinese champion in the promotion’s history.
Magnum has a 75% win record in the UFC, winning six from eight UFC bouts.
She also has one Fight of the Night and two Performance of the Night honors and earned the UFC President’s favor of being his Fight of the Year in 2020.
8. Choi Doo-ho
Nationality: South Korean
At 31, Choi Doo-ho is already a UFC Hall of Famer; little wonder fans fondly call him
“The Korean Superboy.” We may wonder what he has done to earn such a massive accomplishment from three wins in three UFC contests, but we do well to remember his unanimous decision loss to Cub Swanson won the Fight of the Night and 2016 Fight of the Year3 honors.
The Fight will later earn a 2022 Hall of Fame induction into the UFC Fight Wing.4
Choi won two other Fight of the Night honors against Jeremy Stephens in UFC Fight Night: Stephens vs. Choi and Charles Jourdain in UFC Fight Night: Edgar vs. The Korean Zombie and two Performance of the Night awards.
7. Li Jingliang
China boasts of being one of the world’s largest economies, and it would not slack in representing Asia in the UFC’s octagon.
Here comes Chinese fighter Li Jingliang with an impressive 11-6 UFC record.
He only lost two from ten outside the UFC but would not regret fighting in the promotion with seven honors and a record to his name.
Li Jingliang is a five-time Performance of the Night winner, a two-time Fight of the Night winner, and an eight-time knockout winner, a record he shares with Thiago Alves and Vicente Luque, placing second in the UFC Welterweight division history.
6. Valentina Shevchenko
An MMA career record amassing twenty-three victories from twenty-six bouts puts Valentina Shevchenko amongst males in our ranking.
The Kyrgyz fighter is a fast and precise counter-striking fighter with reliable grappling skills, helping her to a 12-2 UFC record.
She earned fame for winning UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship, defending it seven times (the most in UFC Flyweight history) since then to become the first woman to defend the title and remain the current champion.5
She has three Performance of the Night honors to her name and holds several UFC records. Shevchenko has more consecutive (nine), title (eight), and Knockout (four) wins than anyone in UFC Women’s Flyweight division history.
She has completed more takedowns (thirty-one) than anyone in the UFC Flyweight division history and comes second in finishes.
5. Yoshihiro Akiyama
Yoshihiro Akiyama was no amateur to accolades and achievements when he signed for the UFC, having won the 2001 Ulaanbaatar and 2002 Busan Asian Championships and Games as a judoka.6
For the books, Akiyama had amassed a 12-1 record and a light heavyweight championship in K1-Hero as an MMA fighter, generating media hype as a showman upon putting pen to paper for the UFC.
Akiyama’s fight-selling and crowd-entertaining ability prompted the UFC to put him on the UFC 100 main card, setting him against Alan Belcher in a match he won via split decision.
Before leaving the UFC, the Japanese would only win one of his following five matches.
Still, Asian UFC fans would remember his performances that secured three Fight of the Night honors in seven UFC contests.
4. Takanori Gomi
Takanori Gomi offered his home-based fans many memories as the only World Lightweight and Grand Prix Winner in Pride FC history.
He also maintained a ten-fight winning streak between 2004 and 2006 and entertained the crowd with his sprawl and brawl style that earned him the name “Fireball Kid.”
Gomi’s UFC career might not have reached his Pride FC prime, but he managed to win two Fight of the Night and one Knockout of the Night honor.
His records include being one of the four Pride World Champions to compete in the UFC and one of the six Pride Grand Prix Champions to compete in the UFC.
3. Chang Sung Jung
Nationality: South Korean
Fans have grown fond of Chang Sung Jung’s nickname “The Korean Zombie” for his zombie-like ability to keep fighting aggressively, even after taking knockout-worthy blows.
His UFC record proves true, winning seven from eleven bouts with a seventh-placed position in the September 19th UFC featherweight rankings.
While Chang Sung Jung is yet to win a title, he has an impressive UFC resume that puts him among Asia’s most reputable fighters.
He is a two-time Submission and Fight of the Night winner, one-time Knockout of the Night winner, and three-time Performance of the Night winner.
He holds the record for the first fighter in UFC history to finish with a Twister submission and ties with Yair Rodríguez for the second-most fight-night bonuses in the UFC Featherweight history.
2. Dong Hyun Kim
Nationality: South Korean
Dong Hyun Kim was a sensational fighter, keeping a 9-0-1 professional record before signing for the UFC. With a 13-4-1 (1) UFC record, you can relate to why UFC fans between 2008 and 2017 chanted “Stun Gun.”
Home supporters might have expected Stun Gun to wear the welterweight belt, but he would remain only a serious contender until he retired in 2017.
Despite the relative disappointment, Dong Hyun Kim won the 2014 Knockout of the Year award, claimed the Performance of the Night award against John Hathaway in an event he headlined — The Ultimate Fighter China Finale: Kim vs. Hathaway, and took home the Knockout of the Night honor against Erick Silva in UFC Fight Night: Maia vs. Shields.7
He also became the first in the promotion’s history to win with a spinning elbow knockout in the bout against John Hathaway.8
1. Kazushi Sakuraba
Perhaps, younger MMA fighters may enjoy recency bias with the hope of becoming legends, but 53-year-old Kazushi Sakuraba has long written his UFC chapter during its early days.
While he currently fights in the Rizin Fighting Federation, Sakuraba earned early fame as “The Gracie Hunter,” thanks to his heroics in defeating four members of the celebrated Gracie family, including UFC Hall of Famer and inaugural UFC Tournament Champion Royce Gracie.9
Sakuraba himself is a UFC Hall of Famer, inducted into the Pioneer Wing in 2017, and the first-ever Japanese champion in UFC history after winning the UFC Japan Heavyweight Tournament in 1997.
The UFC has seen several fighters achieve greatness in mixed martial arts, but not so many come from Asia.
In light of this, Kazushi Sakuraba, Dong Hyun Kim, Choi Doo-ho, and females, including Valentina Shevchenko and Zhang Weili, do well in selling their continent’s arts in the American UFC promotion.
Current fighters Yadong Song, Li Jingliang, and Song Kenan also share in the spoils of current Asian greats as they look to keep their place forever.
These fighters are proof of the possibility of success outside one’s comfort zone.
Old age might be catching up with some of these hero, but they remains one of the most charismatic fighters in the sport’s history and would always be regarded as part of the best Asian UFC fighters of all-time, capable of taking down favorites even when deemed the underdog.
References & Notes
- Asia is grappling with this billion-dollar industry. CNBC
- Fighting for Success: Expanding Into the Diverse Markets of Asia. CSQ
- TOP TEN – THE BEST FIGHTS OF 2016. UFC
- Cub Swanson vs Doo Ho Choi Joins the UFC Hall of Fame – Fight Wing. YouTube
- Valentina Shevchenko tops Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win flyweight belt. ESPN
- Yoshihiro Akiyama Signs With The UFC. Bleacher Report
- Top 10 UFC Knockouts of 2014. UFC
- Video: Dong Hyun Kim’s spinning elbow KO of John Hathaway at TUF China Finale. MMA Junkie
- The Legend of “The Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba vs The Gracie Family. Bjee