Fresh off of a ONE FC title win, Shinya Aoki will be returning to his grappling roots on Saturday when he takes on Kron Gracie at Metamorsis II. The Japanese veteran will compete with the BJJ world champion over the course of a single 20-minute round in Los Angeles.
Aoki’s decision to accept an invitation to join this competition was something of a surprise, but the ONE FC and Dream 155-pound champion says he felt that the challenge of testing himself against one of the world’s best grapplers was one that appealed to him.
“I accepted this fight with Kron Gracie because I want to gain invaluable experience and also because I am a warrior,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “I don’t know if I can beat him, but I will do my best. I'd like to compete more regularly in grappling tournaments.”
Gracie’s grappling credentials are impeccable. He’s a two-time world champion who outranks Aoki in BJJ terms. The Japanese fighter, however, says he has been undertaking some specific training in Singapore in order to prepare for their June 8 match-up.
“I decided to do my training camp in Singapore because many of my Evolve MMA teammates are BJJ world champions just like Kron Gracie and training with them every day is very good preparation,” he said.
Evolve MMA owner Chatri Sityodtong is a firm believer that, in order to truly fulfill their potential, mixed martial artists need to break the sport down into its component parts and, as well as rolling with the BJJ black belts, Aoki also spends a lot of time working with the team of Thai trainers there.
There was some talk of him competing in a Muay Thai fight in Thailand as part of this development process. Aoki confirmed that this was something he has discussed and would be willing to do.
“If I am given an opportunity, I would love to fight a Muay Thai fight in Thailand. However, I am definitely very scared to do so, too,” he said.
Aoki is the reigning ONE FC 155-pound champion courtesy of a second-round rear naked choke win over Kotetsu Boku. That fight took place at ONE FC: Kings & Champions in Singapore earlier this year.
Next up for Aoki could be a drop down to featherweight. He says he is already looking for a shot at the belt Koji Oishi claimed by beating Honorio Banario in Manila last Friday night.
“I weigh around 155-158 pounds right now,” he said. “I can compete at either 145 or 155, but for my next fight I plan to compete at 145 and I want a featherweight title shot.”
Having a fighter hold belts in dual weight classes would pose some problems for ONE FC matchmaker Matt Hume. It is possible Aoki would be forced to give up his lightweight belt if he wants a shot at Oishi.
It is the sort of dilemma very few fighters are fortunate enough to ever find themselves faced with, but it’s a dilemma that Aoki, who was in limbo last year after the drawn out demise of Dream, relishes.
“I am happy I signed with ONE FC and my ambition is to be the first fighter to win the belt at two different weights,” he said. “When I see how many people there are at ONE FC shows it reminds me of Pride, but ONE FC can be bigger because it is all over Asia and not just in Japan.”
Whether Aoki’s wish for an immediate shot at Oishi will be granted remains to be seen, and if he does continue to campaign at 155 pounds then a fight with Kamal Shalorus could be a possibility. Whatever happens, the 30-year-old expects to be back in the cage before too long,
“I think I will fight for ONE FC again in September, so after I fight Kron Gracie I will rest for some time and then return to Evolve MMA to get ready for my next MMA fight. All I want to do is improve as a martial artist, be it in BJJ, Muay Thai, wrestling or MMA. This is my life.”