Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki’s resurgence to reclaim the ONE Lightweight World Championship has not only proved his doubters wrong, but it has also proved himself right.
The Japanese martial arts icon will compete in his 53rd professional mixed martial arts bout this coming Friday, 17 May. He will defend his newly-won World Title against rising star and Evolve teammate Christian “The Warrior” Lee at ONE: ENTER THE DRAGON in Singapore.
It is quite a development for the Tokyo native, who initially heard the voices of doubt nearly two and a half years ago.
Can Shinya Aoki make it ✋ first-round finishes in a row in Singapore?Singapore | 17 May | 7:00PM | Watch on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onedragon19
Posted by ONE Championship on Saturday, April 27, 2019
Following that trio of successive defeats, people told the Japanese warrior that his time at the top of the mixed martial arts world had come to an end.
Thankfully, he had a different opinion.
“Last year in May, I was told that ‘Shinya Aoki’s career is over,’” the 35-year-old recalls.
“Everyone thought I couldn’t make a comeback, but I never thought that. I was losing, that’s it. It’s just that I wasn’t winning. But I’ve never given up on myself — not once.”
WHAT. A. FINALE! Japanese legend Shinya Aoki submits Eduard Folayang with a slick arm-triangle choke at 2:34 of Round 1 to reclaim the ONE Lightweight World Title!TV: Check local listings for global broadcast
Posted by ONE Championship on Sunday, March 31, 2019
Despite losing the ONE Lightweight World Title to Folayang at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in November 2016, “Tobikan Judan” never wavered in his quest to test himself, and he has been a constant threat to the world’s best throughout his ONE career.
In fact, his immense hunger and elite talent led him to a banner 2018, as he earned a trio of first-round stoppage victories. First, he submitted Rasul Yakhyaev, then he TKOed Shannon Wiratchai, and then he ended the year by putting Ev Ting to sleep.
That earned the grappling master a crack at his old belt this past March, and, at ONE: A NEW ERA, he defeated Folayang with one of the most dominant performances of his career to begin his second reign as the ONE Lightweight World Champion.
While he is proud to be the king of the lightweight division once again, Aoki believes the most important aspect of his success is everything he puts into it each day in the gym.
“Of course, becoming a champion and defeating Folayang are both important, but it’s not the most important. What’s most important is how much effort you can give to the daily grind,” he explains.
“More important than being a champion or winning is what you do every day, which in turn will result in being a champion or winning. What you do every day is the most important. The belt and the win are a bonus.”
What Christian Lee will have to deal with when he faces ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki on 17 May! Singapore | 17 May | 7:00PM | Watch on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onedragon19
Posted by ONE Championship on Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Aoki’s return to the top has been hailed as inspirational by some pundits.
However, the Japanese star is typically modest about the praise being sent his way. From his perspective, he is simply chasing his goals.
Despite his nearly 17-year career as a professional mixed martial artist, the praise he receives for his successes still doesn’t sit comfortably with him.
“People have said that watching me gave them inspiration or watching me gave them encouragement, which I appreciate. But that’s not my intention,” he confesses.
“I do what I do because I love what I do. My only motivation for doing mixed martial arts is because I love it and it’s fun.”
While Aoki is less comfortable talking about his achievements — and people’s reaction to them — he is much more content discussing how he goes about his work.
“Tobikan Judan,” who is a judo and jiu-jitsu black belt, has dedicated his life to martial arts, and he points to his unique approach to the sport as the reason why he has been able to succeed at such a high level.
“In regard to martial arts, I think I’m more seriously engaged in it than anyone else,” he says.
“I want to master martial arts. I’d willingly sacrifice anything to pursue it. From society’s point of view, they probably think I’m a crazy fighter.
“To pursue martial arts, to sharpen your skills, means you must sacrifice something. It’s to repeatedly hurt both your body and your heart, so daily life becomes hard. Very few people can understand what it means to give yourself 100 percent to martial arts.”
Although some athletes compete for titles, glory, or personal improvement, Aoki simply strives to find that feeling of a job well done.
He will attempt to experience that sensation once again when he defends his gold against Lee this coming Friday.
“[My reward is] the liberation I feel when I win a fight, or the satisfaction I feel when something good happens during training,” he says.
“Other than that, living [as a martial artist] is hard. Sometimes, you might want to quit. But the happiness one success can bring makes all the hardship worth it. I live for that feeling. I’m able to live because of it.”