It's a good time to be Shinya Aoki.
The 32-year-old fighter hasn't lost a bout in three years and has submitted his last three opponents in the opening round, with the most recent win coming courtesy of a twister less than 90 seconds into his IGF bout against Yuki Yamamoto back on New Year's Eve.
Next Friday night (May 22, 2015), Aoki (37-6-0-1) faces a much higher-caliber opponent in the shape of Japanese lightweight Koji Ando, in a contest which will have his ONE Championship 155-pound title on the line. It will be his fourth fight at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and the "Tobikan Judan" is excited about taking on the top contender in the division.
"I saw his fight with my team mate Zorobabel Moreira and I was surprised that Ando won because Zoro is a fighter I respect a lot. It was a good performance and I believe Ando is a strong fighter, but I will beat him."
Aoki currently has 25 submission wins to his name, but few can have been more impressive than the twister that he caught Yamamoto with (see the video here) and he enjoyed executing a move which he had previously only ever practiced in training.
"I am proud of that win because it is a skill which I have worked on for a long time. I am always looking to learn new skills."
Ando has never been stopped in his MMA career and has won his last three fights inside the distance with victories over current ONE 145-pound champion Jadamba Natungungalag and previously undefeated Brazilian Rafael Nunes, as well as the third round finish of Moreira.
Aoki has fought five rounds before, defeating Satoru Kitaoka to retain his DREAM title back in 2011, but he would like nothing more than to extend his current streak of submission wins.
"If there is a chance to win with a submission then I will do it, but I have been training very hard with Kru Ake (Peneak Sitnumnoi) at Evolve MMA and I am confident in my Muay Thai, too. I hope to win by knockout or submission."
Spending much of the year at Evolve MMA in Singapore has helped Aoki develop a loyal fan following there and he is sure to have the crowd on his side when he fights Ando. It will be his first time fighting in the Lion City since 2013 and the reigning ONE 155-pound champion says he is looking forward to it.
"I am glad that I can fight in Singapore again. I enjoy it very much and I hope I can fight with honor and make the audience happy."
Several of Aoki's Evolve MMA team mates will be on the card including fellow lightweight Eddie Ng who he believes has the potential to be a future ONE champion.
"Eddie is a splendid human being and a highly-skilled fighter. From what I have seen in the training, I think that he is even superior to me, but I train with many strong fighters at Evolve MMA like Zoro, Leandro Ataides, and Brodinho (Leandro Issa). I believe it is the best training camp in the world."
It has been three years since Aoki signed for ONE Championship and the lightweight roster has improved exponentially in that period with more recent signings like Lowen Tynanes, Kuat Khamitov, and Adrian Pang all in the mix. Last year he fought in Dubai for the first time, defending his belt with a rear-naked choke win over Kamal Shalorus and he is excited about the promotion's future potential.
"ONE Championship is the biggest MMA organization I have ever fought for because it is in many different countries. I'm proud to be the champion and I hope I can defend the belt many times."