Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki is already a legend of Japanese martial arts, and when he competes in his home nation, he shines.
Much of his reputation as a world-class competitor was built on his performances in The Land Of The Rising Sun, which helped him earn the Shooto, DREAM, and WAMMA World Titles.
Aoki then had success on the global stage for martial arts in ONE Championship, winning and twice defending the ONE Lightweight World Title.
However, he has never been able to perform for his countrymen in The Home Of Martial Arts. When the promotion debuts in Japan with ONE: A NEW ERA on 31 March in Tokyo, he finally gets that chance.
His homecoming inside the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan will be even more special, as he faces off against Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in a long-awaited rematch to try and recover the gold he lost to the Filipino in 2016.
With 38 career bouts in Japan and 33 victories, his record in front of his compatriots is outstanding, and here are four of his finest outings.
A Grappling Clinic On An Olympic Medalist
Aoki met Katsuhiko Nagata in the quarter-finals of the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix in June 2008, and though the Olympic silver medallist brought high-level wrestling credentials to the ring, it was “Tobikan Judan’s” grappling that stole the headlines.
He scored the first takedown as he ducked under his Nagata’s punches to take the bout to the mat.
Nagata was able to scramble up to his feet, but Aoki used his judo experience to trip him once again, which was the beginning of the end. He used his ground strikes and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to control proceedings. The wrestler was unfamiliar with being on his back which allowed the man from Shizuoka City to take his time in setting up a rarely-seen mounted gogoplata.
He used his dexterity to wind his right leg under the armpit and over the shoulder of his rival, and then threaded his shin underneath Nagata’s chin. As soon as he could grip his hands behind his opponent’s head to force him into the choke, it was all over.
Submitting “The Underground King”
New ONE signing Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez made his name as one of the top lightweights in the world in Japan, and demand was high for him to face their hero.
They were due to meet in the DREAM lightweight tournament, but an injury forced the American out of the final. Instead, an epic rivalry began at the famous annual DYNAMITE!! event on New Year’s Eve 2008 at the Saitama Super Arena – and the WAMMA World Title was on the line.
It was striker versus grappler as “The Underground King” tried to test his punching power against Aoki’s feared submission game. “Tobikan Judan” patiently tried to coax his opponent into an exchange on the mat, which was definitely not part of his rival’s game plan.
In the end, it was actually Alvarez initiated the grappling with a well-executed counter-throw, but Aoki swiftly turned the tables in his favor.
He immediately controlled his opponent in a leg entanglement and looked for an inside heel hook. Alvarez initially tried to defend, but he could not free his leg, and the Japanese athlete applied pressure on the isolated knee, forcing a scream and a hurried tap to give Aoki the win in under two minutes.
Ending An Epic Rivalry With A World Title
Aoki and Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen had history coming into their title contest at DREAM 11.
In 2006, Aoki picked up the first gogoplata victory of his career against Hansen under the PRIDE banner.
Little more than 18 months later, they rematched in the final of the DREAM lightweight tournament when the Norwegian replaced Alvarez as an alternate and made the most of his opportunity with a TKO win to become the DREAM Lightweight World Champion.
It took more than a year, but “Tobikan Judan” got his chance to put their rivalry to bed in a rubber match. He met “Hellboy” with the belt on the line, but this time Aoki was completely dominant.
However, as much as Hansen was forced to defend for most of the match, he frustrated his opponent by defending well. But just when it looked like time would run out, Aoki opened his box of BJJ tricks to finish the contest with an armbar with just four seconds remaining.
Proving Himself As Japan’s Finest
In the first defense of his DREAM Lightweight World Title, Aoki faced off against another elite Japanese competitor in Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri.
The former Shooto World Champion had won four straight contests to earn his shot at the gold, and many predicted that he would be a major threat to “Tobikan Judan” in the most anticipated all-Japanese bout in years.
However, Aoki was in no mood to work overtime, and he quickly dived at his opponent’s leg in an attempt to attack for a submission. For the remainder of the battle, Kawajiri could only defend.
“Crusher” could only delay the inevitable. He tried everything to free his left leg from Aoki’s grasp, including heel kicks to the face, but it was futile.
The best submission specialist in mixed martial arts showed why it is such a bad idea to tangle with him on the ground as he applied immense pressure with an ankle lock to force the tap, and defeat another world-class adversary in under two minutes.