Shinya Aoki has been in with some of the best lightweights on the planet, but he has also had some easier match-ups, the recent New Year’s Eve bout with Toshikatsu Harada being an obvious example of the latter.
On Aug. 29 in Dubai, he faces an opponent who falls firmly into the former category and for once Aoki will not be fighting on home turf in either Toyko or Singapore, but travelling to an unfamiliar country where the crowd will be firmly behind his opponent.
Kamal Shalorus will provide an intriguing examination of Aoki’s credentials as being one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best because the Iranian has been in with Bellator tournament winners and WEC champions and is an outstanding wrestler who will be no walkover for the current 155-pound ONE FC king.
Shalorus is likely to have the Arabic fans on his side when he fights in Dubai and this title defense represents something of a step into the unknown for Aoki, who says he is leaving nothing to chance.
“I will do a full eight-week camp at Evolve MMA to prepare for Kamal Shalorus, he is a strong fighter and a strong wrestler and I must be at my best if I want to beat him,” said Aoki through a translator.
It is a fight the Iranian has been calling for since he first defeated Eduard Folayang on his ONE FC debut and stylistically Shalorus feels it is a very favorable match-up because he does not believe Aoki will be able to take him down.
It is no secret that Aoki’s greatest strength is his ground game and a glance at his record with its 23 submission wins tells you everything you need to know about where the former Dream, WAMMA and Shooto champion is at his most comfortable.
Aoki has also been assessing the threat Shalorus will pose and he is relishing the challenge of making a first defense of the belt he won by submitting Kotetsu Boku last year.
“I know he is a very strong wrestler and it will be a challenge to take him down, but I know this is the case and it is not a problem for me. I want to get the submission but my Evolve MMA coaches have helped me with my Muay Thai a lot and I am confident in all areas of my MMA game,” he said.
There has been a lot of speculation that Aoki will abandon the lightweight division after this fight in order to try his luck at 145 pounds, but he says that after an underwhelming debut in the new division he is still assessing his options.
“I was disappointed at how bad my physical condition was and I have still not got used to fighting at 145 pounds. I want to fight at 155 pounds because I feel in good condition, but I believe it is possible for me to fight in both divisions,” he said.
The fight has just been announced, so whether the bookmakers will see Aoki as an underdog remains to be seen but, although there are plenty of factors in his opponent’s favor, he does not anticipate any external issues influencing the outcome of the fight.
“I know it will be very hot in Dubai and many people will support my opponent, but it does not matter. I am strong.”
What makes this match-up so intriguing from a stylistic perspective is that Shalorus is a seasoned wrestler who nearly qualified for the UK Olympic team, which means Aoki might struggle to take him down.
The Japanese submission wizard is notoriously dangerous off his back, which in turn might deter Shalorus from shooting for a takedown. If that happens, we could see two fighters who are not known for their striking prowess going toe to toe in a stand-up fight.
Aoki showcased some much improved striking skills in his Dream 18 win over Antonio McKee and he says he will be ready for whatever Shalorus brings to the table on Aug. 29.
“I am a mixed martial artist and that is the reason I joined Evolve MMA because I wanted to improve by learning from world champions in Muay Thai and boxing and BJJ and wrestling. I will be working on everything in my training camp in Singapore and I am ready to win the fight by any means necessary.”
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