In a rare occurrence, teammates will collide in the co-main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT, as former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki steps up to welterweight to face reigning ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren. It will be the American’s last bout before retirement.
It’s a fascinating clash between two of the very best athletes in ONE Championship, and features two men who have been training partners at Evolve MMA for many years.
For Askren, it’s an opportunity to go out on a high with victory over one of the legends of the cage, but for Aoki (39-7, 1 NC), the bout represents the chance to further cement his place in ONE Championship history by ending Askren’s undefeated run, and becoming a two-division world champion in the process.
The bout has generated much excitement and anticipation following its announcement, due in part to the fact that it will see two teammates going head to head for ONE Championship gold.
That fact may be an issue for some martial artists, who look to avoid active competition against training partners and teammates, but not for Aoki, whose ethos has always been to test himself against the best, whichever camp or nation they hail from.
“He is a teammate,” Aoki said. “A lot of martial artists do not like to compete against their friends. My opinion, however, is that as a martial artist, when you have an opponent, regardless if it is your son or your father, you must compete.
“That is what kind of job I believe this is. I have no reservations competing against someone on my team.”
Aoki is known throughout Asia as ‘Tobikan Judan’, which translates to “The Grand Master of Flying Submissions”, and the grandiose nickname is an appropriate one.
Aoki is one of the most decorated grapplers in the history of modern Asian martial arts, and holds black belts in both judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu. His 14-year career has seen him submit a staggering 25 of his 39 opponents, winning multiple world titles in several disciplines along the way.
The 34-year-old from Tokyo is all business, as he looks to rack up his 40th career win by handing Askren his first-ever defeat when the pair meet at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 24 November.
Aoki admitted he’s a fan of his opponent, and even revealed Askren helped him improve as a martial artist from their time on the mats at Evolve MMA.
“I think he is a spectacular martial artist, and he inspires me,” he explained. “I was taught by him as well, even though he is younger than me, and he is an athlete I really respect.”
Despite his clear respect for his adversary, Aoki maintains a steely-eyed determination to win ONE Championship gold once again.
To him, the opponent’s name, team, and nationality are almost irrelevant. His attitude remains the same, as he explained in one short sentence.
“I never turn down a match.”
What’s more, Aoki believes this particular grappler versus wrestler matchup could go down as a classic of its genre.
“It is the most intense bout to happen in 10 years,” he said. “I think people understand that. It will be a historic match. You will miss out if you do not see it.”