Antonio McKee was expected to provide a tough examination of Shinya Aoki's credentials as being one of the top lightweights in the world. The American had won 14 out of his last 15 fights with the only blemish on his recent record being a split decision loss to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Jacob Volkmann.
What no one expected was that their DREAM 18 fight would finish with an overhand right, which left McKee floundering between the ropes, trying to tap at fresh air. Even Aoki himself admits that the ending was unexpected.
"I never thought I would win a fight like this, but I have been working very hard with the Muay Thai trainers at Evolve MMA and this punch was something I trained many times. It was a surprise to me, because normally I win by submission, but a happy surprise."
Aoki would be well advised not to get too carried away with his recent striking success, because his next opponent is a man who has proven one-punch knockout power, reigning ONE FC World Lightweight Champion Kotetsu Boku.
The fight will be the main event at ONE FC: 'Kings and Champions,' which is set for the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5 and Aoki's burning ambition at the moment is to add the ONE FC belt to the DREAM and Shooto belts which he already has in his collection,
"ONE FC is the biggest in Asia. I fought for PRIDE before and ONE FC is like PRIDE, but maybe bigger because PRIDE was only in one country, Japan, but ONE FC is in many countries. I want to win the belt not just for me but for my Evolve MMA team and for my friend Zoro who Boku Kotetsu was very lucky to beat."
Zorobabel Moreira dominated Boku for two entire rounds before the Japanese veteran unleashed a fearsome overhand right which left the Brazilian staggering and looking to the cage for support. It was a dramatic and unexpected ending to the fight, but one which also opened up an opportunity for Aoki.
The 29 year old does have a track record of facing former team mates but he says that, had Moreira won, he would never have challenged him for the belt,
"He is my team mate and we trained together at Evolve MMA because we both fought on the same day in Singapore last time. Of course I wanted him to win, I was not happy when he lost, it was very disappointing because he deserved to win the belt, but now it is up to me to get the revenge and to take the belt back to Evolve MMA."
In some ways it is surprising that a fight between Boku and Aoki has taken this long to materialize. Both were fighting for Shooto during the same time period and they have shared a fight card competing under the banner of Shooto, ONE FC and DREAM.
While their paths have not crossed up until this point, they have certainly taken similar routes, but Aoki says he did not expect to find himself fighting Boku.
"I know who he is but I never thought about fighting him before because I believed Zoro would beat him, and I still believe that if they fought again this would happen. Boku was very lucky to win that fight, but he is dangerous and has a very strong right hand punch and I am training very hard for this fight because I want to be ONE FC champion."
DREAM was resurrected last year by GLORY and has a close working relationship with Aoki's current employer through the ONE FC Network. Aoki has been on each of the last three DREAM cards and will not rule out returning to fight in Japan in 2013.
"My focus is on ONE FC and on being ONE FC champion, if ONE FC want me to fight for DREAM this year as well, I will do that, I want to fight as many times as I can, but my focus now is to win the ONE FC belt and then keep it for a long time."
After scoring a knockout over McKee, fans might be hoping for a striking battle against Boku, but while Aoki believes he is improving in all areas, he is not going to stop looking to add to his 21 career submissions.
"I work every day with the Muay Thai trainers at Evolve MMA and I feel I have shown some improvement, but I still need to improve more on my striking. I train with many jiu-jitsu black belts from Brazil and I have not forgotten the ground game. I will always love grappling the most but in MMA it is important to have no weaknesses and when I train that is my goal."
Interview courtesy of Evolve MMA