Shinya Aoki has won 10 of his last 11 fights. | Photo: Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
At the behest of Evolve MMA founder and head coach Chatri Sityodtong, reigning One Fighting Championship lightweight titleholder Shinya Aoki will test the unfamiliar waters of the 145-pound division.
Aoki will make his anticipated featherweight debut when he meets Cody Stevens at One FC 11 “Total Domination” on Friday at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. The event’s undercard will stream live and free to Sherdog.com at 7 a.m. ET/4 a.m. PT.
“Sityodtong asked me to [move to 145 pounds],” said Aoki, who has also competed as a welterweight. “He believes that I am too small to be a lightweight. I want to be the best that I can be.”
Aoki has reason to trust Sityodtong. A muay Thai fighter out of Thailand and kru of the art who also considers himself a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, Sityodtong has received numerous awards over the last two years recognizing his influence on the mixed martial arts scene in Asia.
“I believe that we will see the best Aoki ever at 145 pounds,” Sityodtong said. “Aoki’s size, reach and height at 145 pounds remind me of UFC champion Jon Jones.”
Such comparisons may take on deeper meaning soon. Now that Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts and Evolve MMA have forged a partnership, Aoki and Jones figure to train with one another at some point in the future. Aoki’s decision to redefine himself as a featherweight was made months ago, and he has already made test weight cuts in preparation for the change. The former Dream and Shooto champion believes he has found a place of permanence at 145 pounds.
“Everything has been good in training,” he said. “I am faster. My new home is 145 pounds. Of course, I have no idea how it will feel in a real fight.”
If Aoki indeed remains at featherweight, it could open the door for his teammate, Eddie Ng, to make a run at the One FC crown at 155 pounds.
“Eddie has a lot of potential,” Aoki said. “He is a natural lightweight.”
Aoki has yet to defend the lightweight championship he won with a rear-naked choke submission against Kotetsu Boku in April, but he has discussed his current plans with One FC President Victor Cui.
“Victor and I spoke a few times,” Aoki said. “I want to fight at 145 pounds from now on. He would like me to defend my lightweight title. I will do whatever he asks. I will fight anyone they put in front of me.”
For now, Aoki has been granted the opportunity to compete at featherweight. He will first face Stevens, an American wrestler out of Ohio who enters One FC on the strength of back-to-back wins. Stevens last fought in August, when he earned a majority decision over “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Dustin Neace. Aoki feels confident his Evolve MMA team, which includes Olympian Heath Sims and former NCAA All-American wrestler Jake Butler, will prepare him for what Stevens brings to the table.
“Heath and Jake are amazing in wrestling,” Aoki said. “I have learned so much at Evolve [and] not just wrestling. All of the world champions here in muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, submission grappling ... they help me in everything.”