Fans were shocked when it was revealed that John Lineker would be replacing Sage Northcutt and fighting Shinya Aoki at ONE 165. The announcement came midway through the actual event and it turns out that the match had only come together moments earlier.
During the post fight press conference ONE Championship Founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong explained exactly what happened,
“I got a call from Sage’s dad during the prelim fights, his cornermen were actually on a plane. Urijah Faber had the visa he could have cornered if he’d wanted to but the other cornermen couldn’t and so it just kind of went downhill from there.”
The team at ONE Championship found a replacement cornerman. Tye Ruotolo was at the event to support his brother, Kye Ruotolo, but Northcutt decided not to go ahead with the fight,
“Sage decided to withdraw because he wouldn’t have his cornerman, we asked Tye Ruotolo to step in as his cornerman and he accepted but Sage wanted to have his corner and it’s understandable.”
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The previous day Lineker had weighed in as a potential replacement. It isn’t clear who the Brazilian was originally supposed to be an alternative for but midway through the event he was pulled from the crowd and offered a fight with Aoki.
According to Chatri the biggest challenge at this stage was finding Lineker in the Ariake Arena,
“I scrambled and I remembered we had a backup fighter in John Lineker. It’s crazy because John was in the stands and no-one could find him. We didn’t know where he was in the stadium, there’s 10,000 people.”
LEGEND 🥋 Shinya Aoki submits John Lineker in their openweight MMA showdown! @a_ok_i
— ONE Championship (@ONEChampionship) January 28, 2024
While the team was out searching for Lineker another fighter offered to face Aoki. Kade Ruotolo was already booked to defend his lightweight submission grappling title in the main event.
He begged Chatri to allow him to fight Aoki and the ONE Championship head honcho said he almost agreed,
“Another crazy side story is Kade Ruotole came up to me in the hallway and said ‘I will fight Shinya in MMA’. I said ‘what about your title defence?’ and he said ‘I’ll do that too’.”
Chatri contemplated granting Ruotolo his request but ultimately decided against it,
“For a split second I was going to do it, but what if he gets cut up and can’t defend his submission grappling title? He texted me three times after that, ‘I want it, let me fight Shinya in my MMA debut now’.”
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ONE Championship was founded in 2011 and Chatri has been promoting events for well over a decade but admits that this was a totally new experience for him,
“In my 12 years, hundreds of events I’ve never seen this. But at ONE Championship this is what we do, the best of the best on the planet will find anyone anytime. Some organizations tweet about it, our boys and girls they do it.”
In the end Lineker was matched with Aoki and got submitted in the opening round. Ruotolo’s title defence against Tommy Langaker lasted a little longer but he won by decision.
Ruotolo is clearly serious about competing in MMA and, by the sounds of it, he is willing to face absolutely anyone. Aoki’s ONE Championship career appears to be at an end so it will be very interesting to see who the submission grappling champion is matched with when he does finally make his debut.