Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki believes that ONE Championship’s stacked lightweight division is one of the most exciting weight classes in all of mixed martial arts – and he knows he can still compete with anyone.
For nearly the past decade, the Japanese icon has been one of the few constants in the weight class, as he enjoyed two ONE Lightweight World Title reigns and is currently holding down the division’s #2 spot in the Official Athlete Rankings.
Considering how often and quickly the top of the order is shuffled, maintaining a top-five presence is an achievement in itself.
“Every time you spin the roulette wheel, the rankings change,” the 38-year-old Tokyo native says.
“I think it’s a weight class with a lot of movement because the best athletes change every time. In that sense, it’s a hot division to watch out for. It’s like any sport, it moves at a fast pace without stopping. The best fighter at this moment is not the best one forever.”
With that said, Aoki shares his thoughts on the division’s reigning king and the other four contenders.
ONE Lightweight World Champion: Christian Lee
Shinya Aoki: He’s getting stronger every time he fights. The level of growth is amazing every time. He’s taking challenges and overcoming them every time. I think his striking used to be his weakness, but he’s getting stronger, and he has a great understanding of where the game is. I think his reign as champion will continue for a while. He’s young, so I think he could look for a new challenge.
#1-Ranked Contender: Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev
SA: He had momentum, but he lost against Christian. That said, I think he has destructive power and explosiveness.
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#3-Ranked Contender: Ok Rae Yoon
SA: Ok Rae Yoon won against Marat Gafurov and Eddie Alvarez, but I don’t know how much he can grow from here. Also, he has some losses [on his record]. I think there is still a bit of roughness in that regard. I’m not sure what level he’s at yet. I’m higher in the rankings, so if I fight Ok Rae Yoon, I think the winner would be more convincing for the title shot.
#4-Ranked Contender: Iuri Lapicus
SA: Lapicus is a little hard to predict because he’s lost two in a row (the disqualification victory against Alvarez was overturned to a no-contest). He beat Marat Gafurov in a good way, but before that, he had a close fight with Shannon Wiratchai. Therefore, I honestly don’t know how good he is.
#5-Ranked Contender: Timofey Nastyukhin
SA: There were some periods when he didn’t fight, and I don’t think he can grow that much more considering his age. But he’s destructive when he has to be. [In his recent World Title challenge], Christian’s movement was too good, so I don’t think that was helpful [in gauging how strong Timofey is].