Most martial arts have roots deep in Asian culture and history. We’ve seen amazing fighters in all branches of combat sports, and MMA is no different. Even in the UFC, fighters of Asian descent amaze us with their skills, humbleness, and respectful demeanor.
Let’s take a look at the ten best Asian UFC fighters currently on the promotion’s roster. In the end, I’ll make a shortlist of honorable mentions for the best Asian UFC fighters of all time.
Note that I’m considering fighters from the entire Asian continent except for Russia, as it’s a Euro-Asian country.
10. Seung Woo Choi (South Korea)
Like many others on this list, Seung Woo Choi comes from South Korea. He’s also one of the youngest guys on this list, being 28. Choi is a pure striker that knows how to utilize his big reach for the featherweight division. His reach is 74.5’’ (189 cm), 10 cm more than the average reach in the category.
He had a rocky start to his UFC career, losing the first two fights, but he had shown great potential and even greater progress in every fight. He won the next three fights, and the third fight, against Julian Erosa, gave him Performance of the Night honors. He has a great skill set, and if he continues putting in the work, he’ll be deadly.
9. Doo Ho Choi (South Korea)
The hype around Doo Ho Choi evaporated because of his three-fight losing skid, putting him at a 3-3 score in the UFC. However, even the fights he lost were incredible – all three got him the Fight of the Night bonuses. He’s got two more Performance of the Night bonuses from his wins.
The Korean Superboy goes all out every time he steps in that cage. Sometimes it cost him the victory, but it never cost us the entertainment. If he can learn to control his prolific striking more and steer away from danger, he’ll have tons of success in the cage.
That is if he can remain healthy enough to compete, seeing he has only done six fights in almost seven years and yet again withdrew from a fight in July 2021 due to a new injury.
8. Yan Xiaonan (China)
Yan Xiaonan is the first female fighter on this list. She’s been in the promotion since 2017 and quickly made a name for herself. Fighting out of Beijing, China, Xiaonan already has some great wins to her name.
She beat Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha. Yan lost her last fight against Carla Esparza, which would probably lead her to a title shot had she won. However, she’s only 32 and has a high ceiling in MMA. Seeing that she’s 6-1 in the UFC, I believe she’ll get her championship fight sooner rather than later.
7. Rafael Fiziev (Kazakhstan)
Rafael Fiziev was born in Kazakhstan, but he’s fighting out of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Aged 28, Rafael’s best fighting years are yet to come, but he had already shown tremendous improvement from fight to fight.
After he lost his UFC debut via TKO, he racked up four consecutive wins. The last three got him bonuses (Performance of the Night for his KO against Renato Moicano and two Fight of the Night bonuses against Marc Diakiese and Bobby Green).
Fiziev just broke the top 15 in the lightweight division, but if he continues to put on shows as he has so far, he’ll quickly become a problem in the division.
6. Da Un Jung (South Korea)
I believe that Da Un Jung doesn’t get enough respect to his name. He’s a 27-year-old fighter coming out of Seoul, South Korea, and he’s ready to make noise in the light heavyweight division. However, he hadn’t gone up against the elite talent in the division just yet.
Still, he’s on a 14-fight undefeated streak, four of which came in the UFC. He’s 3-0-1 in the Octagon, having fought to a split draw against Sam Alvey at UFC 254. Jung is a young gun that we should all keep a close eye on.
5. Song Yadong (China)
If this were a list of the craziest nicknames in the UFC, The Kung Fu Monkey would be right at the top. Song Yadong is the youngest guy on the list with 23, but he’s already a well-known name in the promotion. His style is very quick and energetic, earning him four post-fight bonuses already in 8 UFC bouts.
Yadong is 6-1-1 in those fights. It would be 7-1 hadn’t he been deducted a point against Cody Stamann due to an illegal knee in the first round, leading to a majority draw decision. Still, the guy will be a big factor in the UFC soon. I’m still not sure if it’ll be in bantamweight or featherweight, but I believe bantam is proving to be the better fit for him.
4. Li Jingliang (China)
Li Jingliang is probably one of the most experienced veterans on this list, having 14 fights in the UFC behind him. He’s 10-4 in those fights, but it’s obvious how much he’s improved as a fighter through his last eight or nine performances.
He collected six post-fight bonuses in his last eight appearances, including a spectacular first-round knockout against Santiago Ponzinibbio in his last outing, which destroyed Santiago’s 7-fight win streak.
The Leech, as Jingliang is nicknamed, is ranked #12 in the welterweight division, but if he continues to showcase his improvement from fight to fight, he’ll threaten the top of the rankings fast.
3. Chan Sung Jung (South Korea)
The Korean Zombie might be the most popular fighter on this list, and rightfully so. Every time Chan Sung Jung fights, he puts on an incredible show. The guy had his ups and downs in the promotion, altering between wins and losses, but he never had a boring fight in his UFC career. Jung even fought for UFC gold once, only to get stopped by the legendary Jose Aldo.
After that loss, he had a four-year hiatus from MMA. Firstly due to injury, and then to serve mandatory two-year military service in South Korea.
I’ll never forget his fight against Yair Rodriguez in 2018. It was an amazing Fight of the Night that had The Korean Zombie winning on points, only to get knocked out by an inverted elbow in the literal last second of the bout.
Although he is 34 right now, Sung Jung still has a lot of gas left in the tank, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see him attack the featherweight gold again soon, seeing that he’s currently ranked at #4 in the division.
2. Zhang Weili (China)
Zhang Weili is not just the best female Chinese fighter of all time; she’s probably their best fighter in history overall. Ever since she came into the UFC, she’s been nothing short of dominant.
It took her three wins to fight for the UFC strawweight gold, and she took it from the champion Jessica Andrade with a TKO in under a minute. Then, she defended it in a spectacular fight against one of the best female MMA fighters in history in Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Another all-time great, Rose Namajunas, took the title away from her with a fantastic head kick at UFC 261, but Zhang is still a #1 strawweight contender, and she’ll get a chance to attack the gold probably in her next match already.
She revealed she had begun training for the rematch against Thug Rose even though nothing’s been officially booked yet.
1. Valentina Shevchenko (Kyrgyzstan)
By far the most decorated fighter on this list, Valentina Shevchenko tops all Asian fighters in the UFC. She has only three career losses: one against Liz Carmouche before her UFC days and two against the greatest female MMA fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes.
The fights against Nunes were quite close both times – the second loss was even a split decision, but the fact is, Shevchenko fought outside of her natural category, which is the flyweight division.
As she returned to flyweight, she became unstoppable once again. She had won the vacant title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 and has since defended it five times against top-class competition, including avenging the loss against Liz Carmouche, defeating Jessica Andrade via TKO, etc.
What makes her even more special is that Valentina was just as successful – if not even more successful – in kickboxing and Muay Thai before transitioning to MMA. She was the world champion in both sports numerous times, making her a legendary martial artist forever.
We’ve seen some amazing Asian fighters throughout the history of the UFC, so it would be wrong not to include them on this list, even though they aren’t active in the promotion anymore.
BJ Penn (USA/Korean descent)
Although BJ Penn fought under the American flag, as he was born and raised in Hawaii, he has Asian origins, seeing that his mother, Lorraine shin, is of Korean descent.
The guy is an absolute MMA legend, destroying huge names like Jens Pulver, Sean Sherk, Matt Hughes, etc. He’s also the first guy to win championships in multiple divisions (lightweight and welterweight).
It’s a shame he hadn’t retired when it was time. He finished his career on a 7-fight skid. Hadn’t that happened, he would probably be higher on everybody’s all-time list.
Lyoto Machida (Brazil/Japanese descent)
Lyoto Machida is a Brazilian and has always fought under the Brazilian flag. However, his origins are Japanese, and he was one of the first guys to implement Karate techniques into the UFC cage successfully.
His father, Yoshizo Machida, moved to Brazil from Japan before Lyoto was born. He was a highly-ranked head of the Brazilian branch of the Japan Karate Association.
Lyoto was highly influential for today’s MMA, and he was the UFC light heavyweight champion as well, going down in history as one of the best to ever do it.
Kyoji Horiguchi (Japan)
Kyoji Horiguchi didn’t reach his glory days in the UFC. However, he was 7-1 in the promotion, losing only to Demetrious Johnson in a flyweight title fight. He chose to leave the UFC and head back to Japan to fight in Rizin.
It proved to be a fantastic decision for him, as he held both the Rizin and Bellator bantamweight belts at one point before vacating both due to injury.
He’s one of the best Asian MMA fighters of all time, and it would be a shame not having him on this list.
Other honorable mentions: Cung Le, Kazushi Sakuraba, Yushin Okami, Mark Munoz, Brandon Vera, Dong Hyun Kim.