Shinya Aoki is used to regularly competing in mixed martial arts, but on Friday, 26 May, he is returning to his roots.
The former ONE Lightweight World Champion will square off against highly-regarded BJJ Champion Garry “The Lion Killer” Tonon in a special Grappling Super-Match at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES in Singapore.
While the 34-year-old Japanese competitor is participating in a different style of combat, his approach will be quite familiar.
“My mindset is the same no matter if it is a grappling match or mixed martial arts,” he explains. “For me, they are both competition. I go in focusing on winning in both instances. I grapple the same way, and go for submissions the same way. It makes no difference to me.”
The last time “Tobikan Judan” competed was back in November, when he was upset by Eduard “Landslide” Folayang at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR. As a result, the Filipino captured Aoki’s prestigious ONE Lightweight World Championship and snapped his nine-fight win streak.
In the months to follow, ONE Championship approached Aoki with a unique opportunity. They offered him a match — the promotion’s first ever submission grappling bout — against one of the world’s best BJJ wizards, and it was an opportunity the Tokyo native could not pass up.
“ONE came to me with the idea, and I was on board straight away,” he explains. “I always enjoyed grappling matches, and Garry Tonon is someone I had been watching, and had on my mind as someone I would like to grapple against if given the chance. I am excited to be facing a really good grappler in Garry Tonon. I enjoy competing against the best.”
Aoki is no stranger to submission grappling matches. In fact, the Japanese black belt spent the mid-2000s bouncing back-and-forth between the mixed martial arts and submission grappling worlds. He even got the chance to test his skills against Heavyweight Legend Fedor Emelianenko in a special grappling exhibition back in 2009.
Though he immensely enjoyed the spirit of competition, he feels these grappling matches have made him a better martial artist as a whole.
“I enjoy competing, no matter if it is grappling or mixed martial arts, so to get to do a Grappling Super-Match is always a fun challenge,” he reflects. “At the same time, it is a good experience and good training, getting better and picking up things I can then use in MMA.”
Unlike Aoki, Tonon has dedicated all of his time to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. The American, who trains out of the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York, owns a 55-19-1 grappling record. He is a four-time Eddie Bravo Invitational Champion, an innovator of leg locks, and someone who is well-respected on the scene.
The Tokyo resident also respects Tonon, and as such has been diligently training to face him at Evolve MMA in Singapore.
“I have been preparing for this match at Evolve MMA with all the BJJ World Champions here,” he states. “I have been training with guys like BJJ World Champion Leandro Issa and BJJ World Champion Bruno Pucci for years. The world champions from the Evolve Fight Team will be coaching me for this match.”
Aoki is thoroughly concentrated on this Friday’s bout at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, but he does have an eye on the future. Actually, he views this upcoming test as a prelude to his next move.
“I am a mixed martial arts fighter, first and foremost. So in a way, you could say this is a warm-up for my next fight,” he says. “Right now, my focus is on testing myself and doing my best in the cage on 26 May.”