Former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki recently experienced perhaps the most challenging period in his martial arts career. But two weeks ago, he achieved a breakthrough.
On Saturday, 20 January, the Japanese icon defeated former ONE Featherweight World Champion Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in the promotion’s second-ever Grappling Super-Match at ONE: KINGS OF COURAGE in Jakarta, Indonesia.
“I am glad that I could compete against a strong opponent, and get the victory,” the 34-year-old says. “When I got the submission, it was the happiest moment in my life.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this Grappling Super-Match was the way in which Aoki secured the victory.
Aoki, who is a black belt in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, opted to wear down the Dagestani juggernaut against the cage fence early in the contest, and then try and transition to more favorable positions to fish for submissions.
Nearly 12 minutes into the contest, following plenty of clinch wrestling against the cage fence, Gafurov tried taking Aoki’s back to set-up his signature rear-naked choke submission. “Tobikan Judan” remained calm, cleverly escaped the position, and then turned the tables on the Dagestani.
The Japanese competitor threatened full mount, but instead slid behind Gafurov, took his back, and locked-in a rear-naked choke of his own. At the 12:22 mark of the single 15-minute round, he got the tap, and defeated “Cobra” with his own move.
Everything went according to plan.
“My strategy was to use my wrestling, and then apply a submission. I was particularly focused on wrestling,” the icon admits.
“The rear-naked choke is one of my strengths. It is a submission I like to do. [Gafurov] is a great athlete, and strong. I was just lucky I won this time.”
For Aoki, this victory could not have come at a better time.
“Tobikan Judan” was on the only two-bout skid of his career, losing his coveted ONE Lightweight World Championship to Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in November 2016, and then falling in his title challenge against ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren the following November.
Also, in between those losses, he was submitted by Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon in the promotion’s first-ever Grappling Super-Match in May 2017.
It was a tough string of losses against world title caliber opposition, but Aoki definitively cut that string by beating the former ONE Featherweight World Champion with his own signature move.
Now, the Japanese athlete is looking to remain active. Just two weeks removed from victory, he is already excited to return to the ONE cage and participate in a match, regardless of the competition format or opponent.
“I would like the chance to compete again as soon as possible. I just want to compete. It does not matter who or how,” Aoki states. “Both grappling matches and martial arts bouts are fun. I just like expressing myself as a martial artist.”