Asia’s mixed martial arts scene has simply gone from strength to strength over the past 12 months. China has seen its first UFC champ in strawweight Zhang “Magnum” Weili crowned, the Singapore-based One Championship has shaken things up for the first time in Japan with three monster cards, and the region’s potential – in terms of both fighters and audiences – has been on show each and every week across promotions everywhere. But now we here at the Post are looking forward, and to the fighters we feel can carry the sport onwards into 2020 and, in most cases, far beyond. So, over the next few days, we’re counting down our top 20 Asian fighters, across all divisions and promotions, factoring in past glories and future potential and a few we just have a hunch are on the verge of greatness. You can see Nos 20-16 below, and check out Nos 15-11 here . View this post on Instagram Thank you for supporting my teammates, my sponsors, my family and my friends. I’m so happy I won fight in UFC. UFCデビュー戦 みなさんの応援があったからこその勝利だったと思います。この試合、勝っても負けても、受ける価値のある試合だったからこそ、フライ級でも急遽オファーでも試合をするべきだと思ったので試合をしました。でも勝って強さを証明しなければならない試合でもあり、プレッシャーもありました。実は正直なところいうと試合が決まった日に限って右肘を怪我をしてしまい、試合の1週間前まで右のパンチもグラップリングも練習もできてない状態で挑ませて頂きました。それでも今の私の技術を駆使して闘い抜いてでた結果なので、とても嬉しく思います。コーチにもCRAZYと言われ続けましたが、今だけはやり切った私自身を褒めてあげてもいいのかなと思いました。笑 これから強い相手が用意されると思うのでその為にも早く練習して、もっといいパフォーマンスが出来るように日々精進していきます。応援ありがとうございました‼︎押忍‼︎ #ufc #shenzhen #mizuki A post shared by Mizuki -魅津希- (@fightermizuki) on Sep 2, 2019 at 1:29am PDT 20. Mizuki Inoue (UFC) Age: 25 . Country: Japan . Record: 14-5 . Weight class: Strawweight On paper everything was dead set against Inoue as she made her UFC debut in Shenzhen back in August. The 25-year-old was a late call-up, had to step up to flyweight, and she had to fight Wu “Mulan” Yanan (11-3) on her own turf in front of a fevered local crowd. Things didn’t exactly look promising when they touched gloves, either, with Wu having weighed-in over and then seeming to tower over the Japanese fighter. But what fans have long loved about Inoue is her cage craft. The former shoot boxing stand-out and Deep Jewels strawweight champ first stepped into a cage as a pro when she was 16, so is one of a number of recent UFC signings from Asia to have arrived unheralded, globally, but with the foundations firmly in place (think, also, of China’s Song “Kung Fu Monkey” Yadong and Thailand’s Loma Lookboonmee). Inoue mostly ducked and weaved and stayed out of harm’s way in picking up a split decision over Wu but showed enough to suggest the future looks very bright indeed. “I’ll go back and talk to the coaches to see if I’ll continue fighting at flyweight or if I will go back to strawweight,” she said afterwards. “If I stay at flyweight, I have to get stronger, which is something to consider.” Next fight: N/A 19. Shoko Sato (One Championship) Age: 32 . Country: Japan . Record: 34-16-3, 1 no contest . Weight class: Bantamweight There was so much going on in and around One Championship: Century Part Two in October that the debut of former Shooto bantamweight champion Sato was almost an after-thought. Stress the almost. Those in the know left Tokyo buzzing with a sense of what might be to come. With a wealth of experience across Asia’s toughest domestic circuits – Pancrase and Road FC included – the 32-year-old looks set to carve his way deep into a division currently lorded over by the ever-impressive Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes (24-4). That debut back in October was a cracker – a two-round pummelling of the veteran Rafael “Morcego” Silva (31-7). It served notice to the division that Sato means business. One obviously want to see what more Sato has to offer as they’ve thrown him back into action next month, and from there all roads should lead to a title tilt. Next fight: vs Kwon “Pretty Boy” Won-il (6-2), One: Fire and Fury, Manila, January 31. 18. Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki (One Championship) Age: 36 . Country: Japan . Record: 44-9, 1 NC . Weight class: Lightweight To think that two years ago many in the MMA world were wondering if they’d seen the best the enigmatic and utterly entertaining “Grand Master of Flying Submissions” had to offer. A two-fight skid had ended in a one-minute battering from Ben “Funky” Askren (19-2, 1 NC) in a One Championship welterweight title bout that seemed immediately to be a mismatch when it should have been nothing of the sort. Aoki looked out of sorts, maybe even on the edge of retirement, back then but it speaks much of the man’s sheer talent, and dedication to his craft, that he went away, he worked, and he came back, and he won the One lightweight crown back from rival Eduard “Landslide” Folayang (22-8). It was the second time he’d lifted the One crown in an illustrious career that stretches back to 2003, and boasts any number of titles across the promotions with whom the great man had plied his trade. There remain few better grapplers going around and that’s what continues to make Aoki such a wild card. On his night, the man can pull off all manner of surprises. Leave him out of future title equations at your peril. Asked earlier in the year if he’d ever seriously considered retirement, Aoki was nonplussed. “No,” deadpanned Aoki. “I would probably die. All I know is fighting.” Next fight: N/A 17. Eduard “Landslide” Folayang (One Championship) Age: 36 . Country: Philippines . Record: 22-8 . Weight class: Lightweight Two times we’ve seen Folayang pick himself up from losses and climb to the top of One Championship’s lightweight division. Who’s to say there won’t be a third? The fact that he remains among the most respected – and feared – fighters in the region simply demanded his inclusion but question marks remain. In the past 12 months, the 36-year-old has seen his colours lowered by Aoki – who took his title – and then by Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez (30-7, 1 NC). Not tragic, considering that pair are Hall of Fame types, but Folayang is entering the veteran stage of his career, and One continues to add meat to its menu, especially in the lightweights where youth – in the shape of the 21-year-old Christian “The Warrior” Lee (13-3) – reigns supreme. The encouraging sign we’re looking towards is that even with 12 years of battle behind him, Folayang is still up for the fight and he’ll start the year with a bout at home inside Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena that he should win. Plus there’s the fact he comes out of the Team Lakay talent factory that adds an X-factor to any bout. “Landslide” is not done yet. Next fight: vs Ahmed “The Wolverine” Mujtaba (7-2), One: Fire and Fury, Manila, January 31. View this post on Instagram China Power | 中国力量 A post shared by Xiaonan Yan (@xiaonan_yan) on Dec 17, 2019 at 1:54pm PST 16. Yan “Fury” Xiaonan (UFC) Age: 30 . Country: China . Record: 11-1, 1 NC . Weight class: Strawweight After speaking to Yan recently we were left with a little lingering sense that the 30-year-old from Shenyang feels fate hasn’t quite fallen in her favour over the past 12 months. An injury ruled Yan out of Fight Night 162 in Singapore in October and before that there’d apparently been an attempt to have her on the Shenzhen card in August – at home and on the night China crowned its first UFC champion in fellow strawweight and China Top Team member Zhang “Magnum” Weili (20-1). But it fell through. Still, Yan can console herself with the fact that the one fight she did have she won – giving American Angela “Overkill” Hill (10-7) no real chance on her way to a unanimous decision back in June. And then there’s the little matter of the first Chinese woman to be signed by the UFC now boasting a 4-0 record with the world’s biggest promotion. Yan goes quietly about her business outside the Octagon, confident in her skills – and her stand-up power in particular. With the 14th-ranked fighter in Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-5) up ahead when the UFC heads to New Zealand in February, “Fury” has her sights on a huge 2020. Next fight: vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz (12-5), UFC Fight Night 168, Auckland, February 23.