July 21, 2024

Japanese world-class grappler Shinya Aoki will celebrate his 20th anniversary as a professional mixed martial artist later this year.

The 39-year-old Japanese legend has seen and done it all in the sport, possessing a long list of accolades that included two celebrated reigns as ONE lightweight world champion.

He has also faced the best fighters in his prime, sharing the stage with the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen, Caol Uno, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Kotetsu Boku, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Ben Askren.

But over the 50 opponents he fought in his illustrious career, Aoki puts former ONE lightweight world champion Eduard Folayang on a higher pedestal.

“Definitely, he is number one on my list,” Aoki said of the Filipino MMA superstar. “I spent five years fighting him. For me, Eduard is special because he’s the only guy I have fought three times,” he said.

They first crossed paths in November 2016 when Folayang shocked the world by stopping Aoki in the third round to capture the world title.

Aoki got his revenge on Folayang nearly three years later, reclaiming the gold by rendering the Filipino unconscious with a tight arm-triangle choke in the first round.

The Japanese broke the deadlock in April 2021, submitting Folayang with a first-round armbar.

Although he is up 2-1 in their trilogy, it seems that Aoki wants one more dance with Folayang.

But unlike their first three bouts that took place in Japan and Singapore, Aoki wishes to do the fourth installment in the Philippines.

Folayang said he will not turn down the chance to tie the series with Aoki.

The rivals reconnected in January when Aoki visited Folayang in Baguio City.

Given the close relationship that Aoki and Folayang developed, many speculated that the latter will join the former at Evolve MMA in Singapore.

Last March 10, Folayang announced his departure from Team Lakay, ending his nearly two-decade relationship with the stable that he helped build.

Folayang addressed the rumors about him going to Evolve MMA.

“Right now, I’m a ronin. I’m thankful that I get a lot of invitations from friends in the industry. It’s flattering, to be honest. Everyone wants to help out and understand the goal that I want to achieve,” he said. “But at the moment, I’m training with different groups. That’s the exciting part because it gives me the chance to get well acquainted with other styles.”

Folayang said it will be a privilege if he gets invited to train at the Singapore-based Evolve MMA. – ONE release