Shinya Aoki has been the most dominant lightweight in Asia for the better part of a decade, but the reigning ONE FC lightweight champion and former Dream, Shooto and WAMMA champion is set for a new challenge: campaigning at 145 pounds.
Talk of a possible drop down in weight for Aoki has been intensifying ever since his title victory over Kotetsu Boku. He made the 155-pound limit so easily for that fight that both him and his team stated that he would be likely to compete at featherweight in the future.
The final stage in the preparatory process took place last weekend with Aoki completing a successful test cut. He posted a photo of himself on Facebook stepping on the scales at 65.6 kg along with a message saying that it had been “no problem.”
The most obvious fight for the Japanese legend would be against reigning ONE FC featherweight champion Koji Oishi, who won the belt by beating Honorio Banario in Manila last month.
Aoki, however, also holds the lightweight strap, which could complicate any prospective featherweight match-up, as ONE FC matchmaker Matt Hume might be reluctant to allow one fighter to hold two belts concurrently.
If he remains at 155 pounds, there are a number of potential contenders coming through the ONE FC ranks including Kamal Shalorus, Caros Fodor and Lowen Tynanes, while the top-ranked fighters in the featherweight division at present are Oishi, Banario, Eric Kelly, and Bae Young Kwon.
The decision to move down in weight was made by Aoki and the training team at Evolve MMA in Singapore, which has a proven track record of helping its fighters make weight drops. Zorobabel Moreira, who went all the way down from middleweight to lightweight, and Leandro Issa, whose career took off after he dropped from 145 pounds to 135 pounds, are but two examples.
Evolve MMA owner Chatri Sityodtong has stated that he feels dropping down to a division where he will have a clear height and reach advantage over almost everyone would help Aoki establish himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
“Heath (Sims), Shinya, and I have talked about this for the last year or so, and all three of us have decided that it is best for Shinya's future,” said Sityodtong. “He can easily make 145. He is too small to be a lightweight, and he will be a huge featherweight. His body type at 145 is akin to Jon Jones with a huge wingspan and reach.”
The most recognizable fighters on the ONE FC roster at present are Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes, who holds the interim 135-pound belt. The Brazilian is a former Dream 145-pound champion and a Grand Prix winner. A featherweight superfight between these two Asian MMA superstars could be an intriguing possibility should Aoki fight for ONE FC at featherweight.