He is widely regarded as one of the best lightweights in the world. With over 40 fights as a professional mixed martial artist, and multiple world titles in his storied career spanning more than a decade, Shinya Aoki is undoubtedly a living legend in the sport.
Despite being just 33 years old, the Japanese veteran is set to enter the mixed martial arts cage for the 47th time at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in Singapore on 11 November.
Aoki (39-6, 1NC) will take on Filipino hero Eduard “Landslide” Folayang (16-5) in a five-round main event matchup for the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Although Aoki is just a year older than the 32-year-old Folayang, his experience in the cage is unrivalled at this stage of his career.
While there are a select few who are giving Folayang an underdog’s chance to pull off a monumental upset, the overwhelming favorite remains Aoki, who is heading into the contest riding a nine-fight win streak.
Nevertheless, win or lose, here are four reasons why Shinya Aoki is an all-time great.
#1 He May Be The Best Grappler Ever To Compete In MMA
You don’t get the nickname “Tobikan Judan” for nothing. The Japanese moniker loosely translates to “Grand Master of Flying Submissions”, a nickname Aoki has been going by for years.
Out of 39 total victories, Aoki owns an incredible 25 by submission. To say he places a great deal of emphasis on taking fighters to the ground and finishing them there is a massive understatement.
In fact, most of his striking game is predicated on being able to take his opponents to the mat. Seeing just how Aoki has competed over the years, and for those who have watched him closely, he seemingly cares very little for the stand-up aspect of MMA.
When Aoki joined the Evolve Fight Team in Singapore years back, he was expected to showcase improved striking after having worked with some of the best Muay Thai champions in Asia. Yet most of his improvements have all been in line with improving his ability to take fights to the ground.
#2 He Owns An Incredible Veteran Record
After 13 years as a professional mixed martial artist, Aoki has amassed a stellar 39-6 record with 1 No Contest. That’s over 40 fights with only six losses, which is undoubtedly an impressive feat. He has competed against the world’s best, primarily in Shooto, Pride, and Dream.
The list of names of those he has faced is epic — Kazushi Sakuraba, Kamal Shalorus, Gilbert Melendez, Eddie Alvarez, and Kotetsu Boku. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that out of 39 victories, 25 have come by submission.
This number is a testament to Aoki’s focus on submissions as his weapon of choice. He can finish guys in a variety of ways, most of the time in ways that simply cannot be anticipated. At this stage of his career is also when he is most dangerous because his experience grows each time he fights.
His style is also one that is built to last because he doesn’t take a lot of punishment in the process. That makes it fair to say that he would definitely gets better with age.
Aoki has recently expressed wanting to continue fighting until he is 50 too, stating: “If I retire at 50, I want to die when I am 51.”
Those are strong words from a man who really wants nothing more of his life than to live inside the cage and compete at the highest level of martial arts until his last days.
#3 He Is Both Feared And Revered
There’s an air of invincibility that surrounds Aoki. As opponents quickly discover when they become entangled in his web of grappling prowess, Aoki is in a different class, on a different level from anyone they have ever faced before.
A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Yuki Nakai, Aoki is one of the most feared and most revered men inside the cage. Any MMA fan would have heard tales of Aoki’s creative submission moves, vaunted rubber guard and his ability to literally destroy opponents on the mats.
One of only a handful of fighters who have successfully executed the Gogoplata and the Twister in professional mixed martial arts, Aoki is a special kind of fighter. He sees openings not visible to “regular” BJJ practitioners. The submission moves he has come up with range from neck cranks to keylocks to various flying maneuvers.
He got the nickname “Grandmaster of Flying Submissions” because of his ability to jump in the clinch and secure a triangle choke instantaneously from standing position. It’s a common BJJ move, but Aoki has mastered it and successfully adapted it into MMA.
Because of this, opponents genuinely fear his grappling. You can see fighters frantically avoid grappling with Aoki at all costs.
#4 He Is Making His Fourth World Title Defense
When Aoki steps inside the ONE Championship cage opposite Folayang, he will be making the fourth defense of his ONE Lightweight World Championship title. He won the belt in 2013 from then-champion Kotetsu “No Face” Boku and has never looked back.
He is already Asian MMA’s longest-reigning world champion, and his stranglehold over the belt looks set to continue.
Folayang, of course, poses a different challenge from any other fighter Aoki has faced. The Filipino standout is a former wushu world champion and SEA Games gold medallist. His approach to striking is completely different from anything Aoki has seen inside the cage.
For an athlete with over 40 bouts in professional fight experience, Aoki will be treading in unknown territory for the first time in a long time, and it could get interesting.
However, Aoki has faced many elite strikers before, each thinking they would be the one to exploit his perceived sole weakness in the standup, and he has prevailed almost every time.