Shinya Aoki is widely-considered one of the best lightweight mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in the world.
Competing professionally since the age of 19, the now 29 year-old Japanese fighter has won world titles with DREAM and Shooto, putting his jiu-jitsu black belt to good use, racking up one submission win after another.
Competing for ONE Fighting Championship (ONE FC) this Friday (details here), Aoki will look to add another world title to his trophy case as he takes on Kotetsu Boku at ONE FC 8: "Kings and Champions" for the promotion's 155-pound title in Kallang, Singapore.
Chatri Sityodtong -- Aoki's head trainer -- tells MMA Fighting he sees the submission specialist dominating the Asian promotion before he potentially turns his attention to the biggest MMA stage of them all, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
"The bigger perspective is Shinya definitely wants to win the ONE FC world championship title when he faces Kotetsu Boku on April 5. I think, longer term, he's definitely willing to take anybody in the world at lightweight. He wants to fight the best. He wants to beat the best. That's his [goal] in his entire life. This is what he loves to do and what he wants to do. You heard him, he's going to fight until he's 45 years old. So, you know, I see him dominating ONE FC, and then potentially dominating the UFC as well."
While no one can negate Aoki's skills, he hasn't had much luck when stepping out of his comfort zone in Japan.
In 2010, Gilbert Melendez dominated "The Tobikan Judan" for five rounds in their Strikeforce lightweight championship fight. After submitting Lyle Beerbohm at Strikeforce: "Diaz vs. Daley" in San Diego a year later, Aoki was knocked out by former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 66 in 2012.
Shinya, winner of nine of his last 10, says he is inspired by 48-year old record-breaking boxing champion Bernard Hopkins and is determined to compete until the age of 45. Before he calls it a career, he's considering taking his talents to the UFC's Octagon.
Should he ever make the move, will Aoki find the same success he's enjoyed fighting overseas? Or will the sharks of the UFC's lightweight division prove to be too much for him to handle?
I've always enjoyed watching Aoki fight, and I'm looking forward to him dropping to 145. I know he didn't fare too well against Gilbert, and that strong wrestlers would likely eat Shinya's lunch all day long, but he'd still be a fun addition to UFC's featherweight division. He has some glaring holes in his arsenal, but I'd like to think he's been drilling TDD over and over since Gilbert exposed that part of his game.
He could very well flop, but I like seeing international names given a chance. What do you think? Overrated? Contender? One and done in the UFC?