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The history of submission grappling bouts in ONE Championship

ONE Championship has long showcased many combat sports, including, of course, grappling.

Submission grappling bouts are proudly being contested on the global stage, but the recent revival is not where the story actually started.

ONE Championship has always been "The Home of Martial Arts" and a huge proponent of all styles, and ground specialists have been prominently featured in MMA fights ever since the promotion hosted its inaugural event in September 2011.

However, five years ago, ONE introduced grappling-only matches into its offering of combat sports. And now, it has become a regular fixture in every show.

Before "ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot" goes down live on May 20, take a look at the story so far.

2017: Shinya Aoki, Garry Tonon break new ground

ONE Championship's first-ever submission grappling match took place on May 26, 2017 as Garry Tonon made his promotional debut against Shinya Aoki at "ONE: Dynasty of Heroes."

Tonon was testing the waters in Asia as he eyed a potential move into mixed martial arts, and his outing against "Tobikan Judan" was a good segue into his new career. 

The pioneering Danaher Death Squad member was tearing it up on the Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition circuit and early submission-only events, while Aoki was revered as one of the greatest submission wizards of all time in MMA. 

The only way to win the scheduled 15-minute contest was by submission, and if time expired, the match would be ruled a draw. Fortunately for "The Lion Killer," that allotted time wasn’t necessary as he showed his elite leg lock prowess to force "Tobikan Judan" to tap out at 7:47.

Both men had their moments, with Aoki's judo coming to the fore with his takedowns and Tonon's relentless offense from all positions making him a constant threat.

In the lead-up to the finish, the Japanese icon tried to take his American rival's back, but Tonon rolled into a leg entanglement during the scramble. Although Aoki was no stranger to lower limb attacks, "The Lion Killer" was just too far ahead and he worked his way into a saddle position to secure an inside heel hook victory.

2018: MMA world champions collide in grappling contest

Aoki was also involved in ONE Championship's second submission grappling bout when he faced off against feared rear-naked choke kingpin Marat Gafurov at "ONE: Kings of Courage" on Jan. 20, 2018. 

As the former ONE lightweight and featherweight world champions, Aoki and Gafurov were well known to the global fan base, and it made for a highly anticipated battle.

On top of that, they are two of the most prolific submission finishers of all time inside the circle, so both men had already shown their ability to force their opponents to tap out.

With 15 minutes on the clock and a draw if it went the distance, Aoki didn’t want to mess around. The Japanese star pressed his Dagestani rival to the circle wall early. However, "Cobra's" strength helped him to defend well, and they constantly jostled for position.

The breakthrough came for Aoki with three minutes left. He fended off Gafurov's attempt to take the back and reversed position to secure his own back control. "Tobikan Judan" then quickly threaded his arm under the Dagestani's neck to end his foe's night with his own signature move at 12:22.

March 2022: Grappling matches return at ONE X

ONE Championship's 10-year anniversary show put submission grappling back on the menu with a pair of epic matchups on "ONE X: Part I" on March 26. The matches were shortened to 12 minutes, though the draw ruling remained in place if the action went to the final bell.

Danielle Kelly and Mei Yamaguchi were first up. Debuting Kelly had been impressive on platforms such as WNO, EBI, and Quintet, while “V.V” was a former two-time ONE women’s atomweight world title challenger with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

Kelly pushed the pace with constant attacks and even though Yamaguchi managed to fend them off to earn a draw, the American earned a $50,000 performance bonus for her efforts.

Later in the show, ADCC GOAT Andre Galvao took on two-division ONE world champion Reinier de Ridder. "The Dutch Knight" called out the Brazilian following his previous world title defense a month earlier.

Again, the bout lasted the full 12 minutes, with Galvao's ground acumen keeping him a step ahead, but De Ridder impressing with his ability to keep up with the five-time IBJJF World Champion.

After that battle, "The Dutch Knight" suggested they could run it back for the gold in MMA. 

April 2022: Mikey Musumeci debuts against Masakazu Imanari

With two decisions at ONE X, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced that the athlete with the most legitimate submission attempts would be judged the winner in future grappling bouts.

That, however, wasn’t necessary in the next submission grappling battle.

American Brazilian jiu-jitsu sensation Mikey Musumeci faced Japanese leg lock icon Masakazu Imanari at "ONE 156: Eersel vs. Sadikovic" on April 22 and captured the fastest finish to date.

"Darth Rigatoni" evaded "Ashikan-Judan's" leg attacks early and worked his way to top position. From there, he took his rival’s back, tied up his limbs, and secured a rear-naked choke at 4:09.

The likable BJJ World Champion also banked himself a $50,000 performance bonus for his efforts.

What grappling matches are coming up?

Teen sensations Kade Ruotolo and Tye Ruotolo – black belts and standouts under Andre Galvao – will debut at "ONE 157: Petchmorakot vs. Vienot" on Friday, May 20.

Tye will square off against Tonon, while Kade meets Aoki – and there’s no doubt that the pair of lightweight matches will have grappling purists salivating. 

Also, Gordan Ryan is waiting in the wings to make his promotional debut, so there's plenty to look forward to as ONE Championship lends its massive platform to the world's best submission specialists.