Fresh off his latest win over Rob McCullough in Dream, top five lightweight Shinya Aoki believes he is more dangerous than ever before.
Why you ask?
Because for the last few months, Aoki has been traveling to Singapore to work with Evolve MMA where he’s been working on his striking and Muay Thai skills, and he believes that helped lead him to his first round submission last weekend.
“I thought it was a great fight. I did a lot of stand up training at Evolve MMA (in Singapore). So it gave me even more confidence to execute our game plan,” Aoki told MMAWeekly.com on Wednesday. “My coaches (Chatri Sityodtong, Yuki Nakai, and Ryo Chonan) asked me to apply forward pressure to make Rob backpedal before taking him down to use my ground game. Actually, for the first time, I was unafraid to stand and strike because of my Muay Thai training.”
In the past, Aoki’s ground game has been so dominant that he’s never really had to strike very much, but with the ever evolving game of MMA, the Baka Survivor knows that to get to the top of the ladder he has to get better or die.
Now that the win over McCullough is over, Aoki is already looking to the future. His next fight will be on New Year’s Eve as he revealed exclusively to MMAWeekly.com, but he just isn’t sure who he’s facing next.
“Yes, that is correct,” Aoki said about the New Year’s Eve card in Japan “But I still don’t know my opponent.”
In his home country of Japan, Aoki has seen many ups and downs in the MMA scene due to financial problems and promotion issues, but it’s been compounded by the devastating earthquake that caused so much damage there earlier this year.
The Dream lightweight champion admits that it’s sad to see what’s happening in his home country, but for his own career he knows that eventually he’ll probably have to begin fighting more in the U.S.
MMA in Japan is going through a difficult phase. However, I am a fighter. So all I can do is to do my best. I’d like to fight in the US because it is the biggest stage,” Aoki stated.
He also says that while Dream and other promotions have done their best, it’s hard to see any other organization rising up to the levels that Pride Fighting Championships once held in Japan.
“It is hard,” Aoki said. “It is very hard to see that happening.”
While Aoki’s next fight will take place in Japan later this year, he does have plans to return to the United States in 2012. As a matter of fact, Aoki says if it wasn’t for his family back home, to which he recently added a new baby, he’d be in the UFC right now.
“If I didn’t have a family, then I would go to the UFC right now,” said Aoki. “However, I have a family. MMA in Japan is a complicated situation. It’s not in my control.”
One fight that Aoki knows for sure will happen in 2012 is his rematch with current Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Aoki defeated Alvarez by heel hook at the New Year’s Even show in Japan in 2008.
“Yes, I will fight him next year,” Aoki confirmed about the Alvarez fight. “I am looking forward to it.”
As far as what else is out there for Aoki, he just plans on keeping busy and training harder with his new team at Evolve MMA. While he states he will fight anyone, anywhere, Aoki’s work ethic make him believe this is the best version any of his future opponents will see when they step in the ring or cage with him.
“Ever since I joined the Evolve Fight Team at Evolve MMA in Singapore, my overall game has improved tremendously. You will see a brand new Shinya Aoki in the future – the best ever is coming,” Aoki stated.
Aoki also sent a heartfelt thank you to North American fans who continue to support his career, even if he’s fighting overseas. The Japanese submission machine has every intention of coming back to the United States in 2012 to lay his claim on the top spot in the lightweight division.