This Friday, history will be made once again. On 24 November, ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren (17-0, 1 NC) will defend his belt against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki (39-7, 1 NC) in the main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Win or lose, this main event bout will be the last of Askren’s legendary career. As such, he will be looking to retire as the world champion with his perfect record intact. As for Japan’s Aoki, he can become the only man to defeat the American, and the promotion’s second-ever two-division world champion.
Regardless, one of these competitors will achieve immortality.
Growing Up On The Mats
Askren has been passionate about wrestling since the age of 14. The Hartland, Wisconsin native excelled at the sport, as he became a two-time state wrestling champion, a two-time NCAA Division I Champion, and represented the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
In 2009, he applied those impeccable grappling skills to the cage, and complimented his overwhelming wrestling attack with ground and pound and submissions, which provided a decisive edge against all of his opponents. That killer combination has allowed him to steamroll just about all his opponents to date.
Aoki is a grappler, too, but of a different breed. The Japanese dynamo started judo at age 10, earned his black belt, and became a top five collegiate judoka. Soon he discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu, acquired another black belt, and gave up a prospective career as a policeman for martial arts.
“Tobikan Judan,” as he is called, made his professional debut in November 2003, and has become legendary in Asia for his submission prowess. He claimed several titles, but achieved the greatest one of all when he submitted Kotetsu “No Face” Boku for the ONE Lightweight World Championship in August 2013.
The Road To An Epic Battle
Askren always knew he wanted to retire while he was young. The 33-year-old American felt that 2017 was the perfect time to make his grand exit, and as such, he has made it a year to remember. He quickly defeated Malaysia’s Agilan Thani in May, and followed that up with a decisive performance against Sweden’s Zebaztian Kadestam in September.
Just days following his latest victory, however, he requested a final bout against an epic opponent. That is when ONE offered him a chance to face a fellow martial arts legend in Aoki.
The 34-year-old Aoki tormented the promotion’s lightweight division for three years before losing the belt to Eduard Folayang in November 2016. He has competed once more since, but it was in ONE’s first-ever Grappling Super-Match opposite BJJ superstar Garry Tonon, who submitted him via heel hook this past May.
Now, Aoki is reinventing himself as a welterweight, and hopes to reclaim ONE Championship gold. With his legendary submission prowess, he remains one of Asia’s best-ever martial artists, and poses a challenge to Askren that the American has never experienced – an incredible guard game.
The Route To Victory
While most athletes are fairly guarded abut their strategy, Askren has been very vocal about his, ever since launching his professional career. He wants to use his Olympic-level wrestling to take Aoki down, and then use his remarkable top game to either submit him or earn a TKO through strikes.
“I said from day one that I am the best in the world at what I do, and this is what I am going to do every single time,” he previously declared. “I have been saying that since I started in 2009, and I believe it more strongly than ever, because I have proved it 17 times now, and I am pumped to prove it again.”
As for Aoki, he is an international man of mystery. He is a man of very few words, preferring to let his actions in the cage speak for him. But one would have to imagine that he utilizes his elite submission wizardry to beat the seemingly-unstoppable welterweight world champion.
While the Japanese athlete is quick to say he feels unconfident heading into the match-up, he admits that he does want Askren to feel intimidated. “I have no confidence, but I do want to make him nervous in the bout,” he said. “Make him even a little frightened.”
Rich Franklin, Martial Arts Legend And Former Middleweight World Champion
“There has never been any secret to Askren’s game plan. He will walk across the mat and plan to take Aoki to the ground. Though Aoki is a judo black belt, I do not believe he will have the ability to stop Askren’s takedown early in the match.
“Aoki is quite unorthodox on the ground though, and frequently attacks leg submissions. This match will be a classic clash of two different grappling styles, and which athlete can unfold their game plan will prevail.”
Agilan Thani, Former ONE Welterweight World Title Challenger
“Askren is a world-class champion, and I am pretty sure he knows to do what is best for him. But if I were in his shoes, I would basically be as aggressive as possible with my ground and pound. For example, every time I land a takedown, I would posture right away to land some explosive punches so I can establish a safer position on Aoki.
“Aoki is a legend, but if I were to be put in his shoes, I would basically not be afraid of being taken down, and every time I land on the ground, I would go for a strong wizard, a guillotine choke, or pull off a fancy submission from the clinch or the cage. For example, a flying armbar, a flying triangle, or a crazy leg lock. I am pretty sure he knows more. After all, he is ‘Tobikan Judan,’ the master of flying submissions.”
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Commentator And Former ONE Athlete
“Asken will immediately try to take Aoki down and get on top. I see him wanting to dominate Aoki on the ground, and rain shots down until Aoki eventually gives up a submission. He has the stamina to do it all night. His takedowns are often and constant. He has perfectly drilled the shot due to thousands of hours of practice. Once on top, he is always striking. His ground and pound is some of the very best.
“Aoki, however, has a great submission game. He needs to create movement and attack Asken’s legs if he goes to the ground. I would like to see Aoki take over on the feet. In Aoki’s past match against Koji Ando, he showed a good jab and a willingness to stand. It will be interesting to see how Aoki comes up with his game plan.”
Singapore | 24 November | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | PPV: Official Livestream at oneppv.com | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onepursuit17