When you think of mixed martial arts, you think of guys like Conor McGregor, or Jon Jones. But did you know that Asia is also well-represented in the world of MMA?
There are actually a plethora of Asian-American superstars. Here are the five top Asian-American athletes who are today inspiring the world with their incredible stories.
“The Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang
Perhaps the most popular Asian-American mixed martial artist actively competing today is Myanmar’s Aung La N Sang. Aung La is the reigning ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion — a rare concurrent two-division world champion who has inspired the people of Myanmar to embrace unity.
Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, whenever Aung La makes the thousand mile journey back to Myanmar, he is mentally prepared to face a throng of passionate fans. As soon as he steps onto Myanmar soil, he is mobbed by his countrymen, all wanting a photo and an autograph. He’s a rockstar in every sense.
When Aung La became champion for the first time in 2017, he took the microphone and in front of a packed Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in his home country’s capital of Yangon, brought everyone to a standing ovation with his iconic speech.
“I cannot do this without God. I cannot do this without my teammates. I cannot do this without you, Myanmar,” said Aung La N Sang. “I’m not talented. I’m not good. I’m not fast. But with you, I have courage, I have strength, I have what I need to win the world title!”
Hailing from a country known for its incredible martial arts stars such as the great Manny Pacquiao, legends Ceferino Garcia and Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, and former lightweight king Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, Filipino-American Brandon Vera has warrior spirit coursing through his veins.
The reigning ONE Heavyweight World Champion is a mixed martial arts veteran, and one of the most dominant world champions in MMA. His charisma is undeniable. A gentle giant, he treats everyone with respect, just the way his grandmother taught him.
But inside the circle, Vera is an absolute beast. He is unrivaled in the heavyweight division and has finished all of his opponents so far in ONE Championship.
Outside of the cage, he’s also a budding action movie star in the Philippines.
“Unstoppable” Angela Lee represents her father’s home country of Singapore, but grew up in Canada and Hawaii. Lee is counted among the rare air of Asian martial arts superstars such as UFC star Michelle Waterson and former boxing world champion Ana Julaton.
What makes Lee so endearing is her bright smile and positive attitude despite the adversity she has had to face in her career. With a professional record of 9-2, Lee is one of the most talented athletes to ever grace the circle. The reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion, she is the cream of the crop in terms of competitive talent.
In 2016, Lee became the youngest female mixed martial arts world champion in the history of the sport when she overcame tough veteran Mei Yamaguchi to win by unanimous decision at the age of 20. Many fans look up to Lee for inspiration, especially young girls who want to follow in her footsteps.
In the same vein, Angela’s kid brother Christian Lee is equally as talented. Like his sister, Lee holds the distinction of being the youngest male mixed martial arts world champion in history after defeating legend Shinya Aoki to capture the ONE Lightweight World Title also at age 20.
Nicknamed “The Warrior”, Lee is one of the most exciting young talents in mixed martial arts today. All 12 of his career victories have come by spectacular finish. He’s only experienced defeat three times and at such a young age, has years of a great career still ahead of him.
Both Angela and Christian come from a martial arts family. Father Ken and mother Jewelz both hold black belts in various disciplines, and both train their children in martial arts. #FamilyGoals.
29-year-old Vietnamese-American star Bi Nguyen is a newcomer in ONE Championship, but has already established herself in mainstream pop culture.
In 2018, Nguyen landed a role in the hit reality TV series, “Survivor”, where she competed amongst several “castaways” for the title of Sole Survivor. Nguyen had to pull out of the show mid-season due to an injury she suffered in one of the challenges, saying she is a professional athlete and did not want to jeopardize her athletic career.
Months later, she announced that she would be joining ONE Championship. She made her promotional debut in April 2019, stopping Dwi Ani Retno Wulan in the very first round.