Shinya Aoki and Satoru Kitaoka were the founding members of Nippon Top Team and both received black belts from Japanese MMA pioneer Yuki Nakai, who famously lost to Rickson Gracie in 1995. They were friends and training partners but that all came to an end when the call came for them to fight at DREAM's 2011 New Year's Eve show.
In what appears certain to be the last ever event hosted by the Japanese promotion Aoki's Muay Thai was the key to victory as he landed multiple knees and kicks to Kitaoka in the stand up exchanges, softening him up to the extent that he was powerless to prevent his takedowns.
There was no love lost between the two former training partners on the night as they fought for five hard rounds with Aoki dominating the match from start to finish. He was awarded a clear cut unanimous decision win and successfully defended his DREAM lightweight belt for what will probably be the last time.
With Nakai electing to corner Aoki in this fight it appeared that the two founding members of Nippon Top Team were unlikely to ever train together again but this week they will be reunited at Evolve MMA in Singapore. Kitaoka is flying in to work with the team of Muay Thai trainers and BJJ black belts and for the first time since they faced one another at DREAM he is likely to be rolling and sparring with Aoki again.
However Kitaoka is not just coming to Singapore to assist Aoki as he prepares to make his ONE FC debut in Manila on August 31st. He was taken by surprise by the improvement in Aoki's stand up when they fought and wants to work with some of the same Muay Thai trainers.
Kitaoka has always been primarily a wrestler and grappler, in 50 fights he has never once won by KO or TKO. Having witnessed first hand how Aoki's stand up has been taken to a completely different level since moving to Singapore he decided to do the same thing in the hope of becoming a more well rounded mixed martial artist.
After the loss to Aoki he defeated Katsunori Kikuno at DEEP and his record now stands at 30-11-9 with five wins in his last six fights, although he doesn't currently have another fight booked. For his part Aoki saw a seven fight win streak snapped by Eddie Alvarez but has since signed with ONE FC and will be fighting in August in Manila and October in Singapore.
Ryo Chonan, Rich Franklin and Ben Askren have all spent time training at Evolve MMA in 2012 as more and more top tier fighters are travelling to Singapore to take advantage of a facility which is widely regarded as the only truly world class training centre in all of Asia.