Shinya Aoki has 28 submission wins on his record. He has been competing as a professional for 18 years and is a veteran of 50 fights but it is this ability to finish fights on the ground that he thinks will be key ahead of his fight at ONE: ‘Unbreakable’ this Friday.

He faces James Nakashima, a former welterweight title challenger who is dropping down a division. The American almost always goes the distance and this is something that Aoki thinks will give him the edge,

“All of his skills are high on average. He doesn’t have any particular field that stands out and excels but the balance of his skills are good. He does everything well, I don’t think he has many weaknesses but the fact that you are not outstanding in any field means  you cannot make a bold attempt (to win) the bout. It means you can’t gamble or you can’t take risks.”

Shinya Aoki and Kimihiro Eto 4

Keizuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Complex sport

Aoki can finish a fight in an instant, he just needs an opportunity to wrap his long limbs around an opponent and the submission will frequently follow. The 37 year old has been accused of being overly reliant on his grappling game but points out that having one way to win can often be enough,

“Martial arts doesn’t work like an admission exam for universities. (In a fight) even if your average score is not great there’s a possibility that you can be successful just by excelling in one subject. I think that is his weakness.”

Nakashima has a background in wrestling. It would be tempting to advertize this as a matchup that will ultimately play out on the mat but Aoki warns against taking such a simplistic view,

“When a person who is not good at striking faces an opponent who is good at striking. If the person has strong grappling skills, the opponent will have pressure from the grappling. By doing so, you can negate your opponent’s striking ability.”

Shinya Aoki and Kimihiro Eto 3

Keizuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Worth watching

The Japanese southpaw has a solid body kick that he has used to tenderize the mid section of some notable opponents over the years. So he is well within his rights to point out that Nakashima faces several threats on Friday.

Aoki has scored back to back wins since being sensationally knocked out by Christian Lee at ONE: ‘Enter the Dragon’. He is at #4 in the lightweight rankings and might be able to secure a rematch against the champion with a win this week.

His main motivation is to entertain the audience. While there won’t be any fans in attendance at the Singapore Indoor Stadium Aoki is aware that people will be watching the live broadcast and he wants to give them a fight to remember,

“I’ve been doing this for 16 or 17 years, so I’m confident I can make something good. I can make it worth watching. I can make it like a story of good novels with great structure, quick getaway, build-up, climax, and a great ending.”

Shinya Aoki and Kimihiro Eto 4

Keizuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Extremely active

Aoki was last seen in action at Road to ONE 3 last September, his first fight since the start of the pandemic. He has also been extremely active in the Japanese media and says Covid-19 has not affected his life dramatically,

“I practiced, came home, did what I had to do, and wrote articles. Nothing really changed from what I normally do.”

However he is aware that the same cannot be said about many other people. Aoki knows that many fight fans are struggling and he wants to put on the type of fight that is going to make their night,

“I want to make something that people can enjoy and talk about for a month or two after the bout. Hopefully, something the fans can savor for a longer time.”