It was none other than his good friend and teammate Satoru Kitaoka. Aoki was none too thrilled about it.
“He is one of my closest friends and training partners for the last 10 years. In fact, we got our black belts in BJJ together under Sensei Yuki Nakai. It is not my choice to fight him,” Aoki told MMAWeekly.com.
“But I am a professional fighter. It is my job. He is one of the best. I am ready.”
Knowing your opponent very well can be a big help going into a fight, but training with a fighter like Kitaoka over the last decade means he knows Aoki pretty well, too.
A submission machine in his own right, Kitaoka presents an interesting match-up for Aoki, and he knows that to win on New Year’s Eve he has to be at his absolute best, or he won’t walk out a winner.
“(Kitaoka) is one of the best fighters. It will be a tough fight. He’s also very strong physically. He is a great submission fighter,” said Aoki. “It will be a tough fight, but I am ready. I had a very hard eight-week training camp in Singapore at Evolve MMA. It will be a very exciting fight.”
The hard training camp in Singapore is something Aoki talks about often these days.
The Dream lightweight champion has never been accused of not training hard for a fight, but he has been the victim of parts of his game not evolving as fast as others.
Possibly the most dangerous submission fighter in the history of MMA, Aoki’s ground skills are unmatched, but he’s never been accused of having the slickest striking in the sport. To work on that and become a more well rounded fighter, Aoki has spent his last few fight camps at Evolve MMA in Singapore, working with a team of top Muay Thai fighters and several different coaches.
“I am a new fighter because of Evolve,” Aoki stated. “At Evolve MMA, there are so many world champions in every discipline. I am blessed to have the opportunity to improve every area of my game. Thank you to Evolve. Thank you to my teammates on the Evolve Fight Team. We are a family. Thank you Namsaknoi, Zoro, Attachai, Orono, and everyone at Evolve. Thank you to Chatri-san! Evolve MMA is the best MMA camp in Asia.”
Because of the team surrounding him at Evolve, Aoki believes he is a fighter reborn and plans on showing off some of his newfound skills on New Year’s Eve and beyond into 2012.
It’s a new age for the Tobikan Judan, and he’s ready for the world to see just exactly what he’s become over the last 12 months.
“I am a totally different fighter today compared to the beginning of the year. This year, I spent most of the off-season at Evolve MMA in Singapore, training with all the world champions over there,” said Aoki. “The training is the best I have ever had in my career and I do not say those words lightly. I train with world champions in Muay Thai, BJJ, boxing, no-gi grappling, etc.
“I learn something new every day at Evolve. Every aspect of my game has improved a lot: grappling, takedowns, striking, etc. My home camp is there now and you will see a new Shinya Aoki over time.”
The fight with Kitaoka will be the fourth for Aoki in 2011, and he plans on being just as busy in 2012. Following this bout, Aoki’s goal is to land on the proposed March card taking place in Singapore as a co-promoted show between Dream and One FC.
“I want to fight in Singapore in front of my Evolve family,” said Aoki. “I want to fight the best.”
The first order of business is for Aoki to face his friend and teammate on New Year’s Eve in Japan, and then he’ll move on to think about what’s ahead in 2012.
(Dream’s New Year’s Eve show airs live in its entirety on Friday night live on HDNet.)