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Shinya Aoki is perhaps the world's most dynamic submission fighter and one of the best MMA fighters that Asia has produced in the past ten years. The Japanese Jiu Jitsu ace is still relatively unknown in the United States, however, because he's almost exclusively fought in Asia.
For that reason, many of Aoki's state-side fans were likely disappointed when it was announced that the champion had turned down a contract offer from the UFC and decided to stay fighting in the ONE FC promotion.
Cagewriter sat down with Aoki, who fights next on New Year's Eve, in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon and discussed a host of topics, including his decision to turn down the UFC. In the end, Aoki says that he didn't feel the need to leave a promotion that has taken care of him and where he still has goals he wants to accomplish inside of.
"OneFC has taken care of me," Aoki said.
"They've treated me well. I know the fighters there and I'm comfortable in ONE FC. I think I have more to gain from fighting there."
When asked what his two toughest career bouts have been, Aoki didn't hesitate to list his losses to American fighters Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez, both of which took place on U.S. soil. That said, Aoki doesn't feel a particular pressing desire to become more known to American fans.
"I'm happy that any fans from anywhere would watch me fight," Aoki said.
"I'm honored that they are watching but it isn't my goal to appeal to everybody."
Aoki now competes at featherweight, the lowest weight he's ever competed at in MMA, and says he made the decision to do so after winning ONE FC's lightweight belt last April.
"I was walking around with my weight pretty low already," Aoki explained.
When his team and coaches suggested to him that he consider dropping down a weight class, he decided to give it a go.
"I wanted to see how my body felt at that weight," Aoki said.
Aoki won a unanimous decision over Cody Stevens in his featherweight debut this past October but insists that 145 pounds is a good fit for him.
"I pretty much felt the same at that weight," he said.
In his next fight, Aoki will briefly return to lightweight, however. Aoki will fight Toshikatsu Harada on the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2013 card.