Thai star Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai is mere days away from a bout against a martial arts icon in ONE Championship.
Wiratchai will take on Japanese star and former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in Manila on Friday, 27 July.
After spending his teenage years watching Aoki in action, Wiratchai now has the opportunity to test his skills against a man who became a hero of his when he was growing up.
“I watched him 15 years ago, and I wanted to be like him,” Wiratchai admits.
“I started my judo and jiu-jitsu, and now I get my chance to share the cage with him. Maybe that is what I have been preparing for 15 years for.”
Despite his reverence for Aoki and his decorated career, Wiratchai promises he will not freeze when he stands across the cage from him on the night of their bout.
Indeed, he recalls feeling similarly nervous ahead of his first bout in ONE, when he took on Mitch Chilson back in August 2012.
“I was so scared, actually, but when I took that offer, it became my motivation to step my game up,” he reveals.
“This time, maybe it is a good chance [to step my game up again], because hearing his name already motivates me. It is like you have the chance to date your first crush!”
Aoki is in hot form and has designs on recapturing his old ONE Lightweight World Title, but Wiratchai has never tasted World Championship success in ONE, and is determined to use his bout with Aoki as a springboard to propel him towards a title shot.
He knows he will need to produce an impressive performance, and he has great faith in his powerful striking, which he believes is more than good enough to finish the Japanese veteran.
“I think I can knock him out, but the question is: how can I land my fist on his chin?” he says.
“He always goes for the takedown, getting things to the cage, and on the ground, he can finish, for sure.
“I hope I can work hard enough to defend his takedowns, and create an opportunity to take my striking to him.”
Training out of the respected Tiger Muay Thai camp in Phuket, Wiratchai has access to world-class training partners, both for his stand-up and for his ground game.
One such man is the United Kingdom’s Stuart Cooper, who has been drilling Wiratchai with the skills needed to fend off Aoki’s dangerous submission game.
“I have so many high-level training partners here at Tiger, but one person I have to mention – and he is the main reason I came to Tiger early this time — is professor Stuart Cooper,” Wiratchai says.
“He used to be at Evolve MMA before, and he was Shinya’s roommate. He is the one who really knows what Shinya likes to do.
“My head coach, Lee Livingstone in Bangkok is creating a great game plan. In wrestling, I have coach George Hickman and his younger brother Frank, who is a high-level wrestler – and a tall, thin guy like Shinya – for me to work with.”
He’ll need all that expertise to defeat a legend like Aoki, but if he can, he’ll be within touching distance of a shot at his dream, the ONE Lightweight World Title.