Shinya Aoki has spent the entirety of his successful mixed martial arts career fighting in his homeland of Japan, climbing to the highest tier of the 155-pound division. Dominant victory after dominant victory has led the jiu-jitsu ace to several championship belts, including the DREAM lightweight title he currently holds. Now, Aoki is just days away from the biggest fight of his career, as he is set to face off against Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez at Strikeforce: “Nashville” on April 17.
However, Aoki’s debut in the U.S. does not come without some controversy carrying over from his last fight, which was against Sengoku lightweight champion Mizuto Hirota at “Dynamite!! 2009.” At the New Year’s Eve show, Aoki locked on a vicious hammerlock submission that left Hirota with a useless limb and a bruised pride. He followed up the incredible submission with a rather unsportsmanlike act of an inappropriate gesture for his fallen opponent, merely adding insult to injury. But Aoki understands his wrong doing and looks back on it with regret.
“I regret that and understand that I have to control my emotion,” states Aoki. “MMA is sports and at the same time, it is a fierce battle. During that battle, I did that, but I regret that.”
However, Aoki will not dwell on the past, especially with such an incredible opportunity before him. Looking forward to his upcoming match up against Strikeforce 155-pound champion Melendez this upcoming weekend, “Tobikan Judan” is focused on making a good first impression on the American fans with an exciting bout.
“I think the Americans will expect a fast-paced, hard fight,” explains Aoki. “I think the fight will be a relatively fast-paced one.”
Aoki has been in several fast-paced, action-packed fights in the past. He has overcome many talented opponents, but Melendez certainly is not just another talented lightweight.
In April of 2009, Melendez won the Strikeforce interim lightweight championship with a knockout victory over Rodrigo Damm. After defending the interim belt once, Melendez was set up against the true lightweight champion Josh Thomson in rematch from their 2008 war.
Melendez outclassed Thomson in a five round championship battle that earned the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu purple belt the unanimous decision, the lightweight title, and the revenge he was after. Now, at the high point of his career, “El Nino” waits for Aoki to make the trek to the States for a championship affair.
But Aoki is ready for a war and understands the high level of talent Melendez can boast.
“This is the Strikeforce title match, but for me, this fight means that I fight against a very strong and tough fighter,” states Aoki. “Gilbert has been a total fighter. (He can) strike and grapple. Important thing for me is getting the advantage in every moment, then, I can find an exploit.”
Areas of exploitation are certainly difficult to find in a man like Melendez. Having yet to be finished in a professional fight and with only two losses, the Strikeforce champion has proven to be a relentless, tough-as-nails competitor.
However, Aoki’s submission game is one of the most dangerous in all of the sport. The winner of ADCC Japan Championship holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Yuki Nakai and has worked extensively with Eddie Bravo and his 10th Planet jiu-jitsu system, leading to an ever-improving and innovative style of jiu-jitsu in mixed martial arts. And Aoki knows Melendez will be watching out for it.
“I think Gilbert will watch out for my ground game,” explains Aoki. “I believe that I can get a submission. If that will happen, it will come from a good position.”
With 14 submission victories over his professional career in mixed martial arts, a submission victory on April 17 would hardly be a shocking occurrence. If and when the fight hits the floor, Aoki would test Melendez’s grappling skills unlike anyone has ever done before. But if the fight remains standing, Aoki admits that it will be “very tough” to get a stoppage victory over Melendez.
Regardless of where the fight goes, Aoki is ready to make his debut outside of Japan a treat for the American fans in attendance and watching live on CBS. Melendez’s ferocious style combined with the Japanese superstar’s undisputed grappling ability should certainly make the fight a nice introduction for Aoki, leaving the fans with an acceptance and embrace similar to what the top lightweight is used to in his home country.