The Meteoric Rise of Shinya Aoki

Shinya Aoki arrived at Evolve MMA earlier this week to begin training for his September fight at DREAM 17. A member of the Evolve Fight Team, Shinya Aoki is the current DREAM FC Lightweight World Champion, the face of Japanese MMA, and Asia’s #1 pound-for-pound fighter.

In 2011, Shinya Aoki joined the Evolve Fight Team, Asia's #1 professional fighting team, in order to raise his game to the next level. At Evolve MMA in Singapore, Shinya trains under World Champions in Muay Thai, BJJ, Boxing, and No Gi Grappling. As the saying goes, iron hardens iron. Every member on the Evolve Fight Team has been handpicked with the intention of producing future world champions. Aoki’s next fight will be against former WEC Champion Rob McCullough at DREAM 17 on September 24th. His 8 week training camp officially kicked off today at Evolve MMA in Singapore.

There was a time when Japanese MMA ruled the world, but the demise of PRIDE FC and the rise of the UFC has seen a shift in the balance of power towards the US. Of all the existing promotions in Japan, DREAM FC is the most prominent and is watched by people all over the world. There are also a couple of smaller shows such as Shooto and DEEP.

In addition to Shinya Aoki, there are many other famous elite Japanese mixed martial artists such as Takanori Gomi, Kid Yamamoto, Satoru Kitaoka, Yushin Okami, and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Japan still has the highest level of MMA in Asia with many superstars and rising stars in the ranks.

The UFC would unquestionably like to add Shinya Aoki, who has an outstanding record of 28-5-1, to its roster. However, he is a national hero in Japan and loves fighting in front of the fans in his homeland. Aoki has been fighting professionally since 2003. A look into Aoki's career offers a sneak peek into the history of Japanese MMA.

He started off with DEEP, a second tier MMA organization in Japan. A series of impressive performances saw him signed by Shooto, one of the oldest promotions in MMA. Despite being a natural lightweight, Aoki was able to win the Shooto Middleweight belt by defeating Akira Kikuchi.

It was no surprise when PRIDE FC, the most prestigious promotion in all of Japan, decided to pick Aoki up. At the time, many of the best fighters in the world, including Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Nogueira, Mirko Crocop and Fedor Emelianenko, were all fighting for PRIDE FC.

Shinya fought four times for PRIDE FC, winning every single fight with a first round submission. He holds a black belt in both Judo and BJJ. He became the first fighter ever to successfully submit an opponent using a Gogoplata. His unfortunate opponent was Joachim Hansen, one of the best lightweights in the world at the time. Aoki’s final win for PRIDE FC came later in what proved to be the promotion’s last ever event PRIDE 34.

Many PRIDE FC fighters went on to fight for the UFC, but Aoki decided to stay behind and sign with DREAM FC, the Japanese promotion formed to replace PRIDE FC. Aoki went on an impressive 12 fight win streak before being surprisingly stopped by Hansen in the final of the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix. Aoki would later get his revenge on Hansen, defeating him by first round submission again via armbar, in another event.

Here you can see Aoki submitting Katsuhiko Nagata with a mounted Gogoplata, a never before seen submission in MMA, in the opening round of the DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix:

Aoki also posted a decision win over veteran Caol Uno, and submitted Eddie Alvarez, another of the best lightweights in the world, with a heel hook after just 90 seconds. You can see that fight here:

The win over Alvarez was one of the most impressive of his career and won him another lightweight belt, the WAMMA Lightweight Championship. It was held at Dynamite! 2008, a cross promotion between DREAM and K-1 Heroes.

One major difference between the UFC and DREAM FC is that the Japanese organization will occasionally allow its fighters to compete under the banner of another promotion. Aoki has fought twice for Strikeforce in the US where he recorded the only loss in his last nine fights. Gilbert Melendez, considered by many to be the best lightweight in the world, defeated him by decision in a fight for the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship belt.

Aoki’s career is basically a brief history of Japanese MMA, encompassing virtually all of the country’s promotions past and present. The major difference is that Japanese MMA has had it’s ups and downs recently whereas Aoki’s career has continued its meteoric rise. Today, Shinya Aoki ranks among the best fighters in the world.

Evolve Mixed Martial Arts® is Asia's premier brand of MMA academies. With World Champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing, and No Gi Grappling, Evolve MMA is the top martial arts training organization in Asia. It ranks among the best martial arts academies in the world.