Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki has had many successful years of competition since his professional mixed martial arts debut in 2003, but his 2018 campaign will stand out as one of his best.
The Japanese icon rebounded from the first ever back-to-back defeats of his career to claim three first-round stoppage wins and earn himself the chance to reclaim the ONE Lightweight World Title.
Aoki will rematch the man who stripped him of the strap in 2016 when he faces off against Eduard “Landslide” Folayang at the historic ONE: A NEW ERA event in Tokyo on 31 March.
“I can’t rank my years in any particular order,” says the Evolve representative, though he does admit he was satisfied by his performances.
“I enjoyed all of my fights this year,” he adds.
Aoki scored three wins in 2018 – over Rasul Yakhyaev, Shannon Wiratchai, and Ev “E.T.” Ting – in a combined six minutes and 28 seconds.
Ting had a run of three victories over top opposition coming into the match-up in Bangkok, Thailand, and had only been submitted once in the last six years. However, Aoki made his victory look easy.
“I thought that it would be a tough fight, I am fortunate to be able to come out victorious,” he says.
“As soon as I took down him down, I was setting up a choke and was confident I could get the submission.”
Elated, the 35-year-old raced to celebrate with fans in the crowd. He was promised a shot at the World Title if he won, and the way in which he grabbed that opportunity warranted those jubilant scenes.
When Folayang met Aoki’s stablemate Amir Khan for the vacant World Title in Manila, and successfully recaptured it, the long-awaited rematch was set for the Japanese man’s homecoming inside the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan, which makes the occasion even more significant.
“I am happy that I may get the chance to fight in my home country for ONE Championship,” he says.
“It will be a great event, and I plan to put on a good show for the fans.
“I don’t know what will happen in the rematch. All I know is that it will be a tough fight, and I look forward to it.”
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Posted by ONE Championship on Wednesday, December 19, 2018
“Landslide” shocked the world when he became the first man in ONE to defeat Aoki two years ago.
Since then, Folayang lost the gold and then regained it, while Aoki solidified his position as the top contender.
All eyes are set on ONE’s Japan debut, and the rematch will take pride of place on the card as the main event.
Two-time mixed martial arts world champion Eddie Alvarez will also make his promotional debut on the same bill, and Aoki will have an eye on his old rival, too.
Each man owns a win over the other from their meetings in 2008 and 2012, and “Tobikan Judan” would be excited to finish their series with a rubber match – particularly if it is at the conclusion of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix later in 2019.
“The Lightweight World Grand Prix will be a great tournament. I have been looking forward to it for a while now. It will be a great event for the fans,” he says.
“If there is a chance to face Eddie Alvarez again, I look forward to it.”