Road To ONE 3 took place in Tokyo on Thursday night, showcasing top current roster talent and new rising stars on the Japanese circuit. The card was a compact six matchups with kickboxing, Muay Thai and MMA bouts.

The main event featured Shinya Aoki and Kimihiro Eto. This lightweight bout was the first for Aoki, in 11 months since his quick submission victory over Honorio Banario at ONE: ‘Century’.

Eto was also coming off a first round submission win. He beat Amir Khan at ONE: ‘King of the Jungle’ earlier this year.

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Typical fashion

The nearly one-year hiatus did not affect Aoki who immediately secured a clinch and takedown to back control. The two time ONE lightweight champion then waited patiently for space to get his left foot hook in.

From there it played out in typical Aoki fashion as elbows and punches opened up more space for him to secure the body lock triangle. He was in no rush for the rear naked choke but the rest of the round was his.

At the start of the second stanza Eto looked to place a jumping knee on his opponent’s chin but couldn’t connect. As they both fell he had a chance to take Aoki’s back but the ‘Tobikan Judan’ was too slippery.

A scramble ensued and they briefly returned to their feet before Aoki scored a takedown to take back control for the second time in the fight. He seemed content to ride out the round again, wearing down Eto with the constant threat of a strangle from behind.

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Prescient point

Yoshihiro Akiyama has pointed out prior to the fight that the smaller than usual cage would favor Aoki and his trademark style of distance closure to clinch and takedown. This proved prescient as Eto, a national championship wrestler, just could not find space to circle away and stop the inevitable.

Round three was a repeat of the first two. Aoki secured a single leg takedown within the first minute, and went straight to back control again.

This time he managed to roll Eto over and easily clamped on a body lock triangle again. From here he noticeably relaxed, confident he would get his hand raised at the round’s end.

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Clear cut

Interestingly, he chose not to pursue the finish via either ground and pound or submission. Aoki seemed more concerned with making the point that he was leagues ahead of Eto by completely dominating him for 15 minutes.

The judges were left with an easy decision and all three scored the fight for Aoki who improves to 45-9-0-1. His opponent drops to 17-6-2.

Aoki’s post-fight microphone performance was typically controversial and left the Japanese commentary somewhat speechless. After going to his opponent’s corner and scolding Kenji Ozawa for thinking Eto could have beaten him he launched a tirade about his place in Japanese MMA.

Aoki said it has been five years since he fought on a big Saitama Super Arena card. He wants to fight in the venue again, stating that this could help bring the Japanese MMA scene back to life following the coronavirus pandemic.

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Fight of the night

The co-main event was arguably the fight of the night. Yosuke Saruta and Yoshitaka Naito went head to head and the former ONE strawweight champions gave the online audience a show to remember.

Saruta launched a jumping knee in the opening round and Naito immediately capitalized with a takedown at the fence into double leg control. The 33 year old found some space near the end of the round to threaten a front choke, and the resulting scramble saw him take top position but ‘Nobita’ was rescued by the bell.

Naito came out busier at the start of the second, closing the gap and backing his opponent into the fence again. After separating, Saruta pressed the action looking for big punches.

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Intense action

Saruta managed to score a takedown of his own and when Naito got back up he executed an uchi mata throw. Another scramble ensued as the bell sounded at the round’s end

The action intensified in the final round. Neither was willing to back off and they continued trading long, quick stick and move strikes. Saruta secured a takedown at the halfway point of the round, and threw a big knee on the ground.

The battle continued right until the end with both men showcasing impressive will power, conditioning and skills. In the end it was Saruta who took the decision and he improves to 21-9-3 while Naito drops to 15-4.

Fast finish

Earlier in the night welterweight King of Pancrase Hiroyuki Tetsuka faced ONE Warrior Series veteran Gunther Kalunda. Despite a 13cm height advantage, the Congolese man was no match for ‘The Last Samurai’.

Tetsuka who opened with a series of huge leading left hooks against the southpaw Kalunda. He used his lead left low kicks to find his distance and overcome the range distance.

Tetsuka starched him with a lead left counter hook as the African overcommitted to an attack. The finish came at the 2:15 mark and the Japanese fighter improves to 9-3 while his opponent drops to 6-2.

Road to ONE 3, Tokyo, October 10th
Shinya Aoki def. Kimihiro Eto by unanimous decision
Yosuke Saruta def. Yoshitaka Naito by unanimous decision
Hiroyuki Tetsuka def.Gunther Kalunda by TKO at 2:15 of R1
Yuta Nezu def. Masakazu Imanari by unanimous decision
Muay Thai: Asahi PKSaenchaigym def. King Kyosuke by unanimous decision.
Kickboxing. Shoa Arii def. Naoya Kuroda by TKO at 2:22 of R2