Japanese MMA legend Shinya Aoki: I fight fear in every fight

(One FC Photo)
(One FC Photo)

Shaking hands with Shinya Aoki is a terrifying experience.

His grip is iron, his gaze steely, and there’s the small matter of the Japanese cage fighter having broken the limbs of three previous opponents.

But imagine this reporter’s surprise when Aoki, 29, concluded the greeting with clasped palms and a bow.

Truly a man – no, a fighter – of contradictions.

When asked what fighting meant to him, he said through an interpreter: “It is something that I fear.”

The 1.8-metre-tall lightweight champion certainly didn't look afraid as he stepped into the cage at the Evolve gym at Far East Square for a sparring session with rising fight star Eddie Ng. On display instead was the powerful grappling repertoire that has earned Aoki a distinguished place in the annals of mixed martial arts (MMA).

The legend of Shinya Aoki goes back in time to his high school in Shizuoka, Japan and later, Waseda University. While his classmates fretted over exams, he was busy acquiring black belts in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Renowned martial artist Yuki Nakai then took Aoki under his wing, and helped establish the foundations for a ground-based MMA game that has produced, today, an admirable track record of 32 wins and six losses.

Aoki was still an undergraduate when his aggressiveness first came to the fore over two brutal bouts. He snapped Keith Wisniewski’s arm at the start of 2005, and finished off the year by dislocating a similar appendage of Hironaka Kuniyoshi. His talent was apparent; the fighter in him unapologetically violent – and MMA fans around the world loved it.

Worse was to come.

Fast forward four years, and Aoki had Mizuto Hirota pinned on the floor, his arm painfully bent against his back. Aoki refused to let go, his nemesis refused to concede. Hirota’s arm promptly cracked. With his vanquished foe writhing in pain on the ground, a screaming, triumphant Aoki thrust a middle finger in his face, before pointing another to the cheering crowd.

(One FC Photo)
(One FC Photo)

Fight or flight

When we met the clean-cut, chiseled Aoki during an interview last week, Yahoo! Singapore asked what he thought, three years on, of such unsportsmanlike behaviour.

He frowned, and bristled with the slightest hint of irritation – enough to have this reporter recoil in his seat.

“I won,” said the man of few words, his voice low and gruff.

We asked if such a level of violence was necessary.

“MMA is that kind of sport,” said Aoki. “I could get injured by the other fighter, and he is also prepared to get injured. It’s a fair sport. I just do my best.”

He then proceeded to drop the aforementioned bomb. “Every time I fight, I’m afraid of the other fighter.”

But revenge is also on Aoki’s mind, at least for his One Fighting Championship brawl with Kotetsu Boku next month. The latter had earlier punched out Aoki’s friend and teammate Zorobabel Moreira, clinching the lightweight title in the process.

“Boku is really strong, and I really want to fight back against him,” Aoki told reporters. But he claimed to not have a game plan for any of his contests, simply electing to “go with the fight."

If true, it is a mentality that has served him well, on top of a deep-seated love for the sport itself. “I cannot imagine myself not doing MMA,” he said, when asked if he would consider an alternative career.

The pursuit of his passion takes Aoki to Singapore’s Evolve to train for months at a time, thousands of miles away from a wife and child who remain in Japan.

“If I say I don’t miss them, it’s a lie,” he laughed. “But I don’t miss them as much as people say I do."

The joke was as rare as it was unconvincing. Aoki tweets pictures of his toddler son. The last time he fought in Singapore, he carried the little one into the cage to celebrate beating French champion Arnaud Lepont.

Put two and two together, and you have a man who has clearly sacrificed much to get to where he is now.

So when it comes down to it, what keeps him going every day?

“I just really like to fight.”

We thanked him, and for the second time that afternoon, Shinya Aoki put his hands together and bowed.

(One FC Photo)
(One FC Photo)

ONE FC: Kings & Champions will also be broadcast live on Star Sports Asia and livestreamed at www.onefc.livesport.tv.

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