Strikeforce: Shinya Aoki Still Trying To Make His Mark in America

April 9, 2011

Shinya Aoki

Shinya Aoki and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker

Shinya Aoki is considered to be one of the best lightweight fighters in the world today and he’s been doing so in impressive fashion.  Known for wearing his trademark yellow or rainbow colored spandex pants, Aoki has been winning fans over with his superb technique and the ability to overwhelm opponents with his grappling prowess.

Aoki’s unorthodox style is what sets him apart from others.  The Japanese fighter is very comfortable fighting from his back and displayed his inclination to do so in previous matches.  Standing five-feet-11-inches tall, Aoki uses his long limbs and flexibility to compensate for his weakness as a striker and frustrate his opponents with strong ground control.

Aoki started his career fighting in DEEP and is a former Shooto 167-pound champion.  His stock began to rise after signing with Pride Fighting Championships and since the aforementioned organization’s demise, Aoki found a new home under the Dream banner. Many consider him as one of the most naturally gifted ground fighters in recent years.

The current Dream lightweight champion has one of the most active guards in the sport and utilizes many slick transitions and submissions.  Aoki is credited as being the best practitioner of the rubber guard in MMA by Eddie Bravo, an accomplished grappler and the man responsible for popularizing the technique.

A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Shooto legend Yuki Nakai, Aoki is the winner of Rickson Gracie’s Budo Challenge, two All Japan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championships, and an ADCC Japan championship.  The Japanese star also holds a black belt in Judo and has earned the nickname of “Tobikan Judan,” which translates to “tenth degree in flying lock submissions.”

Aoki moved down a weight class and represented Shooto when he made his Pride Fighting Championships debut in 2006.  His first opponent was Miletich fighter Jason Black, considered to be a rising star with an impressive record and a favorite to win.  Black proved to be no match for the superior submissions skills of the Shooto champion and he succumbed to a triangle choke in the opening round.  Aoki’s subsequent fights in Shooto and Pride were also successful with victories over current UFC fighter George Sotiropoulos and Clay French, respectively.

Shinya Aoki at Dream 6

Shinya Aoki at Dream 6

Aoki made his mark at Pride Shockwave 2006, the organization’s big New Year’s Eve extravaganza.  The former police officer was matched up against his toughest test to date in Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen.  Hansen, a former Shooto welterweight champion, was known as a dangerous striker and widely ranked as one of the Top 10 lightweight fighters in the world.  Aoki made the biggest statement of his career when he submitted the Scandinavian fighter with a gogoplata, a very difficult submission. It was considered the first ever successful gogoplata performed in MMA.

The impressive victory put the Japanese fighter on the map as one of the best lightweight fighters in the world, but he didn’t stop there.  Aoki continued to compile victories including the most significant win of his career; an odds-defying unanimous decision over highly regarded Gesias “JZ” Calvancante.  At Dream 4, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt submitted Katsuhiko Nagata with a gogoplata from the top mount position, another first in MMA.

Aoki had a busy year in 2008, fighting seven times with notable wins over Caol Uno and Eddie Alvarez.  In the final round of that year’s Dream Grand Prix, he faced late replacement Joachim Hansen in a rematch.  The odds favored Aoki to win the tournament and take the vacant Dream lightweight title, but Hansen played the role of spoiler, ending his 12-fight winning streak via strikes.  Aoki rebounded with two victories to end the year.

Aoki entered the Dream Welterweight Grand Prix in 2009 and was paired against Hayato “Mach” Sakurai.  The two fought many years before in a fight that saw Sakurai win a controversial decision.  Unfortunately for Aoki, he was unable to exact vengeance; Sakurai finished him with knees and strikes.  Aoki returned to lightweight after a few months off and earned a unanimous decision over former Top 10 fighter Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro.  The victory set up a rubber match with Hansen for the Dream title.  Aoki achieved a new milestone in their third meeting when he submitted Hansen late in the second round and captured the 155-pound belt.

Following his big victory, Aoki ended the year in a bit of controversy.  He was scheduled to fight Sengoku champion Mizuto Hirota at Dynamite! 2009 in a non-title bout.  Aoki defeated Hirota in impressive fashion, submitting him with a hammerlock that led to a broken arm.  After the fight was stopped, Aoki taunted his downed opponent and proceeded to ‘flip the bird’ in his face and around the ring to the crowd.  Aoki later apologized for his actions.  As a result, he was removed from his post at Paraestra Kasai gym as an instructor.

Last year, Aoki made his long awaited U.S. debut at Strikeforce: Nashville against current champion Gilbert Melendez.  It was a five-round bout with Melendez’s title on the line.  Melendez dominated Aoki, earning a unanimous decision and won every round on all of the judges’ scorecards.  “El Nino” executed a perfect gameplan that negated Aoki’s strengths with good takedown defense, superior striking, and effective ground and pound. The loss was devastating to Aoki and he was seen backstage in tears following the fight.

Aoki’s subsequent fight was one that fans had anticipated for years.  He and Tatsuya Kawajiri squared off at Dream 15 in the main event for his lightweight title.  Aoki took the fight to the “Crusher” early, shooting in low and securing one of his legs.  Kawajiri tried to fend off the submission attempts, but eventually succumbed to an Achilles lock minutes later.  It was a huge victory for Aoki and he regained his stature as one of the Top 10 lightweight fighters in the world.

Fast forward past Aoki’s forgettable knockout loss to K-1 kickboxer Yuichiro Nagashima in a special rules exhibition match at last year’s Dynamite!! in Japan.

Aoki will now get a second chance to earn his first victory on American soil.  The man with the yellow spandex is scheduled to fight Lyle “Fancy Pants” Beerbohm on the main card of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley on Saturday night in San Diego.

Beerbohm is a fighter with a rocky past.  He is a recovered meth addict who spent some time in prison.  After his release, he turned to mix martial arts and hasn’t looked back.  A veteran of EliteXC and Strikeforce, Beerbohm amassed an impressive 15-fight winning streak since turning pro in 2007.  “Fancy Pants,” a moniker he earned for his colorful shorts, is coming off the first loss of his career.  Beerbohm lost a unanimous decision to the always tough veteran Pat Healy in his last fight.

A win for Aoki is important.  With Japanese MMA struggling, he needs to make a name for himself in the U.S.  An upcoming fighter like Beerbohm has nothing to lose and everything to gain; a victory over his Japanese counterpart would immediately raise Beerbohm’s stock.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what Aoki’s gameplan will be for most of his fights.  Despite being very one-dimensional, Aoki has only been defeated by top level competition.  In order for Beerbohm to win, he may need a flawless reenactment of Gilbert Melendez’s previous performance against the Dream champion.  That is easier said than done.

Shinya Aoki continues to amaze fans with his grappling infused style and his penchant for pulling guard.  When fans hear his theme song “Baka Survivor,” they get excited; they wonder if they will be graced with another display of submission brilliance from the man in yellow spandex.  In light of the recent natural disaster in Japan, Shinya Aoki looks to earn a big victory for himself and for his country.