Shinya Aoki has won lots of fights. He’s lost a few too, and the 34 year old former ONE lightweight champion thinks this might be part of his appeal,
“If you always win that must be no fun. I think the fighter than wins then loses then wins then loses is much more attractive. From the outside perspective someone who never loses must be no fun to watch.”
He could be talking about Ben Askren, the man he will be facing at ONE: ‘Immortal Pursuit’ on Friday night. The American has never lost a fight and no-one questions his ability but he has been accused of having a style that isn’t exactly fan friendly.
Aoki’s career has been a lot more quirky. He’s shown a willingness to accept any fight or opponent offered whether it be at featherweight, lightweight, welterweight or even, on one memorable occasion, an exhibition match with heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko.
In the past the two men have trained together at Evolve MMA in Singapore. That might make them team mates but Aoki has never had a problem accepting fights against people who could be classed as friends, a 2011 match with Satoru Kitaoka being the most obvious example.
Many fighters in his situation would have found a pretext to turn down a match with Askren. Aoki wouldn’t have had to look for an excuse not to move up a division and face a man he had shared camps with but that has never been his style,
“Well that is why a lot of fighters do not like to fight with their friends. My opinion, however as a fighter when you have an opponent regardless if it is your son or your father you must fight. That is what kind of job I believe this is. I have no conflicts in fighting someone on my team.”
In his roundabout way Aoki acknowledges that Askren’s size makes him a favorite. But he would not have taken the fight if he didn’t believe victory was within his grasp,
“I think that the bigger man has the advantage, that he is strong (but) if I think I can’t do it then it would be pretty tough to keep living.”
Aoki didn’t start learning martial arts until relatively late in life, making the 24 submission wins he has accumulated over the course of his 13 year career all the more impressive. In fact he very nearly ended up putting people in handcuffs instead of locks, chokes and holds,
“I knew I liked martial arts for a long time. Then when I was 23 I joined the police force and I really didn’t like it and thought well I like martial arts or really martial arts was the only thing there was.”
Beating Askren to win the ONE Championship welterweight belt would be the greatest achievement of Aoki’s career. With such outstanding grappling credentials he’s in with a chance whenever the fight is on the ground which, as everyone knows, is exactly where his opponent will want it to go.
When Japanese MMA was in its heyday fighters would frequently move up a division to facilitate the matches fans wanted to see. There are parallels between ONE Championship’s new policy of allowing champions to move up or down in weight for one off bouts.
In some ways challenging Askren is a classic Aoki move. He’s never been afraid to test himself in different divisions and even under different rulesets but there’s one ambition the Japanese veteran still harbours,
“I support the idea of bringing ONE FC to Japan and would like to see that happen. Japan is the birthplace of martial arts and the ancestry of that is still in our blood. I strongly feel that we can revive that by getting the most elite fighting group to come to Japan.”
The dream for Aoki would be to defend his ONE Championship welterweight belt at the promotion’s inaugural event in Tokyo. To realize that he has to beat Askren, something which no MMA fighter has ever managed to do.
Aoki has a huge undertaking ahead of him at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. But regardless of the outcome he intends to fight on, Askren might be retiring but his opponent still harbors ambitions and the 34 year old looks set to stay on the scene for many years to come.