Since Shinya Aoki became the ONE FC lightweight champion -- by submitting Kotetsu Boku last year -- he has fought for the promotion at 145 pounds and appeared on the IGF New Year's Eve card, but he has yet to make the first defense of his 155-pound title.
There is still uncertainty as to whether Aoki intends to make featherweight his permanent home, but the former DREAM and Shooto champion is finally ready to defend his ONE FC lightweight belt. According to Evolve MMA Head Coach Heath Sims he will be returning to the cage in August for what will be his fourth fight for Asia's biggest MMA promotion.
"Shinya has a fight booked for August and it's going to be a title defence. He will be arriving in Singapore next month to do a full fight camp with the team of world champions trainers at Evolve MMA" he told MMA Mania.
Aoki's three ONE FC fights to date have all taken place in Singapore, but the organization was there as recently as May. It's unlikely that another show would be booked in the same country so soon, but Sims says he;s not allowed to discuss where the forthcoming title match will be.
"You will have to wait for ONE FC to make an announcement. I can't tell you where the fight will be or who the opponent is but the fight is signed," he said.
Possible contenders to face Aoki include Kamal Shalorus and Lowen Tynanes, who are both 2-0 for ONE FC, Vuyisile Colossa, who has gone 3-1, and Eduard Folayang, who is 4-2, with the latter pair both coming off back-to-back wins.
While Sims is keeping tight-lipped about the identity of Aoki's opponent, he was willing to be more expansive on the subject of whether the fighter plans to remain at 155 pounds for the foreseeable future or extend the experiment that saw him drop down to featherweight to face Cody Stevens last year.
"That was his first fight at 145 lbs and it definitely wasn't Shinya's best performance but I thought he looked great up until he got caught by a really hard knee to the groin. After that he seemed more reluctant to engage in the striking and reverted back to his old grappling style."
After submitting Arnaud Lepont and Boku in his first two ONE FC fights, Aoki went the distance with Stevens and even though he came away with the decision win, Sims says he is not certain whether or not it will be his last fight at 145 lbs,
"He had no problem making the weight and his size and reach will pose problems for anyone in the 145 lbs division but he holds a belt at 155 lbs and he has won all his recent fights so if he wants to stay at 155 lbs it's not a problem, it's really up to Shinya to decide where he feels most comfortable and where he thinks the best matchups are going to be."
Aoki's striking looked very crisp in the early exchanges of his bout with Stevens, but he seemed to lose a lot of confidence after the lengthy interruption following the break due to the low blow. Sims think that the Japanese veteran, who scored an unlikely knockout of UFC veteran Antonio McKee at DREAM 18, is much more comfortable with this area of the game then he gets credit for,
"Shinya works a lot with Muay Thai world champion Orono Wor Petchpun at Evolve MMA and his striking has improved beyond all recognition. It's still a work in progress and he gets better all the time but Shinya is not just a pure grappler anymore, he is a real mixed martial artist who is dangerous everywhere."
ONE FC's next stop is Taiwan on July 11th with local media in Cambodia claiming that a September 12th event is confirmed for Phnom Penh, but there is currently no word on where the August card will be taking place.