Weight issues are on a lot of people’s minds in January as they look to live up to their New Year’s resolutions or lose some of the pounds they piled on at Christmas, but few people can be paying more precise attention to the issue at present than Shinya Aoki.
The Japanese submission specialist won a unanimous decision over Cody Stevens in his featherweight debut at ONE FC: Total Domination in October and then scored a quickfire submission victory over Toshikatsu Harada in a lightweight match under the IGF banner on New Year’s Eve.
Moving up and down in weight is something Aoki is going to have to get used to because in 2014 he wants to defend his ONE FC lightweight title at least once as well as winning the 145-pound belt.
“After the fight with Stevens, I had to get my body up to 170 pounds in order to fight at 155 pounds, which I did by weight training. 155 pounds is more comfortable for me, it takes time to make 145 pounds, but this year I want to defend my title and fight for a title at 145 pounds,” he told MMAWeekly.com.
The victory over Stevens was marred by an early groin shot that Aoki struggled to recover from. He was unable to score submission number 24 of his career, instead having to settle for a unanimous decision victory.
Back at his traditional weight for the IGF – Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye event on New Year’s Eve, Aoki looked like he was back at his devastating best, dismissing Harada with a triangle armbar, which had his opponent’s corner desperately throwing in the towel to prevent their man from suffering a snapped limb.
The fight was Aoki’s first in Japan since the DREAM 18 show exactly 12 month’s earlier and he said getting the call to fight on Dec. 31 for the seventh time in his career came as an unexpected but pleasant surprise.
“I was very surprised by the offer and I thank Victor (Cui) for permitting my participation. I was impressed by the number of people who came to watch. It is the first time in 2013 that an event that big took place in Japan,” he said.
The size of the crowd was in no small part due to the allure of the pro wrestling bouts on the card with mixed martial arts veteran Ikuhisa Minowa even engaging in a presumably pre-scripted altercation with Atsushi Sawada after his first-round TKO win.
It wouldn’t have impressed the purists, but Aoki had no qualms about appearing on a show that alternated between MMA fights and pro wrestling displays.
“If no one is there to watch then your fight turns into nothing, so if a lot of people gather I think that it is a good thing,” he said.
Aoki was the subject of overtures from the UFC last year, but supposedly the offer on the table did not come close to the lucrative multi-fight contract he signed with ONE FC in 2012. He has fought three times in both 2013 and 2014 and says he hopes to return to action as early as possible this year.
“I am hoping to fight soon and I want to fight many times this year,” he said.
With Aoki set to compete in two separate divisions, there should be no shortage of potential opponents. His three ONE FC fights to date have all taken place in Singapore, where he spends much of the year training, but he is hoping that Asia’s biggest MMA promotion will finally arrive in Japan this year.
“I would like to fight for ONE FC in Japan and I think it would be very good for Japanese MMA if ONE FC could go there, but I also like fighting in Singapore because it is my new home and everyone there gives me good support,” he said.
Although he is still waiting to discover the identity of his next opponent, Aoki expects to be back in Singapore soon and is looking forward to working with a new training partner.
“I hope to train with Ben Askren at Evolve MMA because I think that he is the highest level wrestler. I believe it is important for Japanese fighters to train in new countries to improve their skills and I have become a much better fighter since I began training in Singapore,” he said.
Vuyisile Colossa is coming off two impressive decision wins, while Kamal Shalorus is also a contender for Aoki’s 155-pound belt. Koji Oishi currently holds the 145-pound strap, and Filipinos Eric Kelly and Honorio Banario are among the top talent in that division.
There is also the intriguing possibility of current ONE FC bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes moving up to 145 pounds, and if Aoki can continue to navigate successfully between the two divisions, there will be no shortage of potential opponents for him in 2014.
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