Japanese mixed martial arts icon Shinya Aoki returns to ONE Championship action looking to continue his superb start to 2018.
“Tobikan Judan” submitted Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in a Grappling Super-Match in January, then followed up with a triangle choke submission win over Rasul Yakhyaev in May as he racked up the 40th win of his professional MMA career.
Those victories have given Aoki great confidence as he heads into his upcoming bout with Thai star Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS on 27 July in Manila.
“I was very happy to beat Marat in a grappling bout,” he says.
“It was an excellent challenge for me, as he is a tough competitor.
“I went into the bout [with Yakhyaev] mentally and physically prepared, so I am not too surprised by the outcome.”
Aoki’s next bout against noted striker Wiratchai will mark the occasion of his 50th professional mixed martial arts bout.
Both men have Yakhyaev as a common opponent on their records, but Aoki says that will not be a factor when they meet in Manila on July 27.
“However their bout went is between the two of them,” says the Japanese star, matter-of-factly.
“My fight with Wiratchai is mine alone, and I will use my own training and preparation to beat him – not someone else’s.”
While Aoki is in good form, Wiratchai has been impressive, too, with wins in seven of his last eight contests. But Aoki has shared the cage and the ring with top-level athletes throughout his career, and is treating Wiratchai just the same as he would any other.
“He is just as much of a threat as any other fighter,” he explains.
“As long as my game is on point, I have no reason to be wary of him.”
With both men considered top contenders in the ONE lightweight division, victory for Aoki could move him significantly closer to an opportunity to reclaim the ONE Lightweight Title he lost almost two years ago.
“I definitely will go for the title if given the opportunity,” he says.
A win on July 27, followed by a shot at the belt, could help turn Aoki’s 2018 into a banner year.