2015 was another exciting year for Asian MMA.
China emerged as one of the most buoyant scenes in the region, Rizin re-ignited interest in Japan, and ONE Championship continued to expand into new territories while smaller promotions like Full Metal Dojo, Malaysian Invasion, and Kunlun Fight are putting on cards with increasing regularity.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) seems to have put China and Singapore on the backburner, but did head to Manila and South Korea for the first time. The newly formed WSOF Global held its inaugural event in China earlier this year and over the last 12 months, there have been more fights in more countries across Asia than ever before.
Here are my 2015 Asian MMA Awards:
Submission of the year
Lee was fighting in her adopted hometown for the first time and delighted the fans with this unorthodox finish. She did not have things all her own way in the opening exchanges as Gonzalez landed a couple of hard knees and then dragged her to the down. However the teenager was in her element and instantly reversed the position, moved from mount into half guard, got to her feet and then threw a few punches before moving right back into a high mount.
Gonzalez Hills gave up her back in an attempt to escape but this merely provided the opening for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) brown belt to set up the twister. Everyone was expecting Lee to work for a rear naked choke but instead she sank in the twister, sparking wild celebrations among the Singaporean crowd.
Knockout of the year
Kwan Ho Kwak TKO (Spinning Back Kick, flying knee and punches) against Jae Won Choi at Top FC 5 (Video)
This wasn't a vintage year for knockouts but this finish from Korean Top Team's Kwan Ho Kwak had a bit of everything. First he hurt Jae Won Choi with a spinning back kick to the midsection, then he followed it up with a flying knee and finally the bantamweight applied a few punches to finish the job.
The finish came 28 seconds into the second stanza and represented something of a comeback for Kwak who had been hurt in the first round. It was a good year for the Korean who won three fights out of three and captured the Top FC bantamweight title, although none of his wins came courtesy of quite such a spectacular finish as this.
Fight of the year
Vitaly Bigdash vs Igor Svirid at ONE: "Tigers of Asia" (Video)
Igor Svirid repeatedly rocked Vitaly Bigdash in the opening round of this middleweight title fight. After landing a perfectly timed left hook he moved in for the kill and began to punish Bigdash with ground and pound only for the Russian to lock in a tight triangle choke and then an armbar which the champion somehow slipped out from.
Bigdash ended up in top position and as Svirid got to his feet he nailed him with a hard knee and then sunk in a rear naked choke only for the Kazakh to be saved by the bell just as he started to tap. Round one was nonstop back and forth action but round two was short and sweet as Bigdash rocked Svirid with a right hand, hit him with another hard knee and then followed up with punches to claim both the win and the belt.
Fighter of the Year
The Russian won three fights out of three in 2015, all by rear naked choke but he saved his best until last. After finishing Ev Ting and Martin Nguyen in the opening round Gafurov found himself up against reigning ONE 145-pound champion Jadambaa Naruntungalag.
Their bout was a classic back and forth encounter that finished late in the fourth round when Gafurov caught the Mongolian with his trademark submission. His record stands at 13-0 and in 2015 the Dagestan native established himself as one of the very best pound for pound fighters currently competing in Asia.
Female fighter of the year
It's been an amazing year for the Singaporean Korean strawweight. She only made her pro debut in May but went on to submit four separate opponents fighting for ONE Championship, with three of the wins coming in the first round and the most recent in round two.
Lee faced increasingly high-caliber opponents culminating in an exciting battle with Ukrainian Lena Tkhorevska which she eventually got the better of. Throw in the twister win over Natalie Gonzalez Hills (see above) and it makes for a truly remarkable few months for the 19 year old.
Show of the year
Rizin FF: "Iza No Mai," Saitama Super Arena, December 31st (Video)
With Fedor Emelianenko's comeback on the card, King Mo winning the heavyweight Grand Prix and Andy Souwer announcing himself to the MMA world with style this show will live long in the memory. The crowd at the Saitama Super Arena also had to endure a couple of freakshow matchups but there were some outstanding fights, too.
The show got underway with a flying armbar by Rena Kubota, Jiri Prochazka's 10-minute war with Vadim Nemkov was a contender for "round of the year" and Brennan Ward and Ken Hasegawa also put on a fantastic battle, while Andy Souwer and Kron Gracie both scored first rounds stoppages.
Promotion of the year
Rizin FF made a strong start but Nobuyuki Sakakibara's newly-formed organization has a long way to go to catch the Asian MMA market leader. Victor Cui's promotion put on 11 events in eight separate cities in 2015 and went to Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, China, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Cambodia.
Fighters like Shinya Aoki, Ben Askren, and Bibiano Fernandes are highly ranked in their respective divisions and among the very best currently competing anywhere in the world. The decade long deal with FOX Sports Asia means that most ONE Championship shows are broadcast live across the continent making it the one truly Pan Asian promotion.
Gym of the year
Rafael Dos Anjos, who relaunched his career at Evolve MMA after going 1-2 in his first three UFC fights and has been a member of the fight team since 2009, captured the organization's 155-pound title in March. Two months later Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke became the inaugural ONE 115-pound champion less than two years after taking up MMA.
Dejdamrong's rise has been the most remarkable because he had zero MMA experience when he first moved to Singapore but team mate Shinya Aoki also defended his ONE 155-pound title while the likes of Angela Lee, Benedict Ang, Irshaad Sayed, Jake Butler, Herbert Burns, Bruno Pucci and Benedict Ang all had undefeated years.