Former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki has one of the longest and most accomplished resumes in all of Asian martial arts. But the Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo black belt has, from time to time, ventured outside of that realm to dabble in submission grappling competitions.
On Friday Night, 26 May, he will venture outside of that realm once again. The 34-year-old Japanese warrior is slated to compete in ONE Championship’s first-ever Grappling Super-Match against American submission ace Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon.
The 15-minute submission-only bout takes place at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Despite the change in combat format, Aoki will enter the highly-anticipated contest with the same mentality as he would a regular bout.
“My mindset is the same, no matter if it is a grappling match or a mixed martial arts fight,” he explains. “For me, they are both competitions. I go in focused on winning in both instances. I approach them the same way, I grapple the same way, and go for submissions the same way. It makes no difference to me.”
Although he loves competing in the ONE Championship cage, the change in pace is welcomed by Aoki. The modern-day legend has not competed since dropping the ONE Lightweight World Championship to Eduard Folayang at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR last November, which snapped his immaculate nine-fight win streak.
Months following the defeat, he was presented with a this grappling opportunity, and that piqued his interest.
“ONE came to me with the idea, and I was on board straight away,” he says. “I always enjoyed grappling matches, and Garry Tonon is someone I had been watching, and had on my mind as someone I would like to grapple against if given the chance. I am excited to be facing a really good grappler in Garry Tonon. I enjoy competing against the best.”
Indeed, throughout the years, Aoki has managed to mix in submission grappling matches against the best in the world, including Marcelo Garcia, Kron Gracie, and even Fedor Emelianenko. Overall, he believes those matches have helped him improve as a fighter.
“They were fun extra tests. I enjoy competing, no matter if it is grappling or mixed martial arts, so to get to do a Grappling Super-Match is always a fun challenge,” he offers. “At the same time, it is a good experience and good training, enabling me to improve and pick up things I can then use in the cage.”
In Tonon, he is facing his stiffest challenge on the mats yet. “The Lion Killer,” who trains out of the New York-based Renzo Gracie Academy, is a two-time EBI Welterweight Champion, and holds a magnificent 55-19-1 record in grappling competition.
The American, long known for his innovative leg locks, has been afforded the luxury on focusing solely on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess in recent years, whereas his Japanese counterpart has had to divide his concentration on multiple disciplines for mixed martial arts competition.
However, the grandmaster known as “Tobikan Judan” now has the opportunity to dedicate his time to the “gentle art”, and has taken full advantage of that in his Singapore training camp. Being members of the famed Evolve Fight Team, Aoki has been training alongside the main and co-main event stars of ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee and ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren
“I have been preparing for this match at Evolve MMA with all the BJJ World Champions here,” he offers. “I have been training with guys like BJJ World Champion Leandro Issa and BJJ World Champion Bruno Pucci for years. The world champions from the Evolve Fight Team will be coaching me for this match.”
While he is excited to test his skills against “one of the best grapplers in the world” in his eyes, he is also viewing this match with Tonon as a tune-up for his next conventional ONE Championship bout.
“I am a fighter, first and foremost,” he offers. “So in a way, you could say this is a warm-up for my next fight.”
That is all he provides about his long term future. He has already exorcised his demons from his title loss to Folayang, and is intent on moving forward.
The next step to glory starts at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, where he hopes to add another victory to his already-stellar resume by submitting Tonon.