Kotetsu Boku knows what he needs to do if he wants to avoid becoming the latest victim in a long line of lightweights to be submitted by Shinya Aoki and he is confident that he will be capable of doing it.
"I have been working on my takedown defense. Everyone knows Aoki is very good with submissions, one of the best in the world, but to submit me he will first need to take me down and that will not be easy to do," said the reigning ONE FC Lightweight Champion.
Boku is a member of the team at Krazy Bee in Tokyo, a camp founded by Kid Yamamoto which has been extremely successful of late. He is in an unusual situation as despite being the belt holder he goes into this championship bout at ONE FC: "Kings & Champions" as an underdog and with a reputation which is dwarfed by that of Aoki.
It is a situation the 35 year old will have an opportunity to address at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5th and he has every intention of retaining his title and stealing some of his opponent's glory at the same time.
"I am not the favorite for this fight but for me that is a good thing because it means that there is more pressure on my opponent. If I can keep the fight standing then I believe that I can knock him out. This is the biggest fight of my life but i have had a very good training camp and I am ready to claim the biggest win of my life against Aoki," he said.
Boku has spent the majority of his career competing for Shooto but signed with ONE FC in late 2012. The lightweight title was initially set to be decided in a fight between Zorobabel Moreira and Eduard Folayang but the Filipino was already booked to compete at URCC 22 and so the Japanese fighter got a surprise phone call from matchmaker Matt Hume.
"It was a surprise because I did not expect to fight for the belt straightaway but a very good surprise. I think because Moreira has already been fighting for ONE FC for a long time everyone expected him to defeat me but I was happy to be able to surprise them!"
With his beard, tattoos and permanent grin, Boku is clearly something of a character and away from the cage he is a keen artist. Fighting and art are not hobbies which traditionally go hand in hand but, born in Japan to Korean parents, his unusual combination of interests probably stem from a culturally diverse upbringing.
"My family is from South Korea but I grew up in Japan and went to a North Korean school. I have always wanted to fight in South Korea and I hope now I have signed with ONE FC I will be able to do that," he said.
A ONE FC card in Seoul is reportedly in the works so Boku might well get a chance to fulfill this particular ambition before the year's end. If he wants to return to his ancestral home as a champion though he will need to first prevail against Aoki.
That fight is the main event of ONE FC: "Kings & Champions" which will be the fourth card which Asia's biggest MMA promotion has put on in the country where it is headquartered. It will be the second time Boku has headlined a card in Singapore and he is relishing the experience.
"ONE FC is very professional and takes very good care of fighters, the hotel is good, everything is taken care of. I like Singapore very much and am looking forward to fighting there again," he said.
During Boku's bout with Moreira the commentators described the Zainichi Korean as looking like he was two weight classes smaller. Moreira is unusually tall for a lightweight but Boku could easily compete at 145 pounds and says this is something he might consider in the future.
"I was thinking about fighting at featherweight before ONE FC offered me a title shot but now I am champion at lightweight and my only ambition is to defend that belt."
The physical contrast between Boku and the tall, clean shaven and tattoo free Aoki is obvious and their styles are also at opposite ends of the spectrum with one a renowned submission specialist and the other a home run hitter with proven one-punch knockout power.
Aoki's superior ground game makes him the favorite but Boku has already come to Singapore as an underdog once and walked away with the belt. He will be looking to pull off exactly the same trick again at ONE FC: "Kings & Champions."