Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki continues to defy expectations in martial arts, with his incredible success now spanning multiple generations of combat.
The 37-year-old Japanese star has outlasted almost every peer from the start of his career in the early 2000s, and his big win over James Nakashima at ONE: UNBREAKABLE showed he’s still at the peak of his powers.
Nakashima had competed for the ONE Welterweight World Title in his previous outing and then dropped to lightweight for the mixed martial arts battle against “Tobikan Judan” in Singapore.
Despite the tough test, Aoki used a neck crank to finish Nakashima in the very first stanza and become the most prolific submission finisher in ONE Championship history (8). Despite his achievement, the grappling legend was reluctant to accept praise in the aftermath.
“I was just lucky, that’s it. It was a lucky win,” Aoki says.
Additionally, the Tokyo native does not agree that being older than his opponents makes it difficult to compete.
“I don’t really care. Age doesn’t really matter,” he insists.
“I am in the Circle with pants on and my shirt off, and we’re wearing gloves and punching each other. What kind of grown-up is that? It’s just a number.”
In any case, Aoki’s performance against Nakashima was simply spectacular. The American had gone into the championship rounds against welterweight king Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov in November – and he’d almost won the belt.
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However, “Tobikan Judan” dominated their lightweight tussle. He landed solid kicks in the stand-up range, evaded Nakashima’s heavy left hand, and then clinched his foe up when he got the opportunity.
From there, Aoki quickly shifted to his opponent’s back and controlled the American while he looked for the chance to set up the finish. It came at 2:42, which Aoki admits was faster than he’d anticipated, though the game plan was one he’d practiced.
“James has good takedown defense and good wrestling so I thought it was important to kick with a strong middle kick and show a good stance,” the Japanese star offers.
“It was tough, but I was really surprised that it was a quick submission, that’s why I feel very lucky.”
The finish was also a testament to another element that keeps Aoki fresh inside the Circle — his constant quest to learn and become a better martial artist.
“Actually, at the end of 2020, I learned [the neck crank] from Mr [Antonio] Inoki. I practiced it, and I learned it well, so I just showed it in this fight,” he reveals.
“I have different feelings about each submission [win]. It’s hard to rank them. But in this bout, I feel it was a really good mixed martial arts performance, so at this point, it might be one of the best.”
Given that “Tobikan Judan” is still taking out big names, breaking records, and having fun, he is happy to continue fighting.
But even on his three-bout winning streak – and after holding ONE gold on two separate occasions in the past – World Titles are no longer his biggest motivation.
Instead, he just wants to stay busy – and perhaps face off against a fellow Asian icon.
“If I get a title shot I’ll do it, but the most important thing is I want the next offer soon. I just want the next bout as soon as possible,” Aoki says.
“There’s nothing much I have left to accomplish. The only thing that motivates me is that I love the sport and there is no other thing that is more stimulating than martial arts.
“There’s not really someone particular I want to face, but if it’s a Japanese fighter, I’m interested in facing [Yoshihiro] Akiyama.”