Shinya Aoki has perfected the use of the rubber guard. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson
8. Shinya Aoki’s Rubber Guard
Those who favor a top game-heavy approach might want to rethink that strategy against Aoki, who can control the action from his back like few fighters in the sport today. Against Aoki, a confident ground-and-pound specialist can quickly find himself in survival mode. Aoki’s unnatural flexibility allows him to be the aggressor from places where most fighters get conservative. Getting into the rubber guard is easy; getting out is the problem.
What makes the Dream lightweight champion’s skill set even more impressive is that it comes with only passable wrestling and mediocre standup. Aoki is more than willing to be taken down, and, often, his foes find his techniques to be as unorthodox and unconventional as any mixed martial artist. Aoki is even more formidable when fighting outside of the United States, as his colorful pants allow him to secure submissions with alarming proficiency.
With 19 career tapouts to his credit, Aoki has proven himself more than capable of turning around an overeager foe’s aggression, and his holds are some of the most innovative in the sport. The rubber guard sets the table for all of it, and Aoki is notoriously difficult to contain on the mat, winning scrambles and transitions while finishing with rainbow-colored flair.
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