Last Friday, Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki sent tremors through the MMA world… again.
This time, it wasn’t an obscene gesture after he snapped an opponent’s arm, a la Dynamite 2009 in Tokyo. (He flipped the crowd off, too.) Nor was attention due to one his odd fashion choices, like the rainbow colored spats he has (unfortunately?) popularized in grappling and MMA competition. (According to a 2010 documentary film crew’s best efforts, it’s all a part of him trying to reach his “ideal self.” He also notes how he likes “aggressive fighters” and finds too much wrestling “boring.”)
Nope, the current ONE FC Lightweight Champion, and former Shooto Welterweight Champion was on his best behavior this time… and apparently, on quite a diet as well.
As Kelsey Mowat reported here yesterday, Aoki, who has fought as high as 76 kg (or 168 lbs), and according to that same documentary used to cut “five or six kg.” to make the lightweight limit, posted the greeting, “Hello Featherweight class” along with a photograph of what would appear to be his feet on a scale reading 65.8 kg. — or just under the 145 lb limit.
He has an air of eccentricity, but the 5’11” (1.8 m) Aoki is a favorite of anyone who loves good submission grappling (me included) and the “Grandmaster of Flying Submissions” (his Japanese nickname) implies, he’s got the skills in that area to be a dangerous fight to anyone, anywhere.
Aoki has rattled off win over win in recent years, collecting the ONE FC lightweight championship back in April with a choke over Kotetsu Boku in Singapore. But, he’s also struggled when matched against the very best at lightweight, as in the case of his T/KO loss to Eddie Alvarez last year in Bellator and the lackluster decision loss to Gilbert Melendez at the disastrous Strike Force: Nashville show in 2010.
Unfortunately, many US fans remember those two fights so well because they represent Aoki’s only widely televised US appearances. We forget that in the last four years and fifteen fights, they mark Aoki’s only losses.
We forget that Aoki was considered second to BJ Penn as the best lightweight in the MMA world for a long time.
Now, Aoki finds himself in a position of being a dangerous “X-Factor” at featherweight. The question is, how does he stack up against the best?
Let’s have a look.
MMA Frenzy’s featherweight rankings have Chad Mendes at #3. The former Cal-Poly All-American is enjoying a streak of three straight T/KO victories, and unfortunately represents that same physical presence and skill set that has been Aoki’s undoing at lightweight. But — what about his chances at featherweight? Sure, it’s unclear how he’ll handle that cut in weight, but Aoki would enjoy a size advantage and perhaps be able to muscle with Mendes a bit. It’s much easier to imagine Aoki setting his over-hooks, looking for a takedown and working his guard game if it fails. Mendes has been able to “ground-out” his previous jiu-jitsu opponents, but he hasn’t seen the dynamic game of Aoki. I can see Aoki as favorite there.
Number two is Pat Curran. Curran is an excellent all-around fighter but seems to out-will his opponents. Aoki… is just too mean for that. Sure he’s got knockout power but Aoki has surprised some with his striking as well. This is a pairing I’d love to see. Aoki should hold an advantage there, too.
Number one is Jose Aldo. Maybe it’s hard to imagine Aoki beating Aldo, but… right now, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Aldo for that matter. Who better than this new version of Aoki?
Aoki reminds me of what fun MMA can be, with that flash submission out of nowhere to surprise everyone. I can’t wait to see how this move unfolds. It’s great news for everyone – except his opponents.