Shinya Aoki has already built an incredible legacy in the sport, but the Japanese star is not done writing that book just yet. At ONE: Unbreakable, Aoki returns to continue his bid to reclaim the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
To understand where Aoki is at in the division will require going back to the beginning.
Aoki’s journey through ONE Championship began in 2012, but he tasted gold for the first time in the promotion in 2013 when he defeated Kotetsu Boku for the title. He successfully defended the gold twice before dropping a bout to Eduard Folayang in 2016.
The Japanese star got back in the win column against Rasul Yakjyaev at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams. An appropriately named event for Aoki, who would be working his way back to the title.
After two more victories, Aoki got a rematch against Folayang and picked up a first-round submission to regain the goal at ONE: A New Era.
However, the reign would not last long. His Evolve MMA teammate Christian Lee would upend him less than two months later to begin a new reign in the lightweight division.
Since then, Aoki has been rebuilding himself once again. He has won back-to-back matches against Honorio Banario and Kimihiro Eto, respectively, to bring him back to the co-main event on January 22.
And that sets the stage for ONE: Unbreakable and Aoki’s bid to position himself for another title tilt in 2021.
What’s next for Shinya Aoki?
Awaiting Aoki will be James Nakashima.
Nakashima was a previously unbeaten welterweight who was well on his way to capturing the welterweight crown before a well-timed knee by Kiamrian Abbasov put his championship dreams on ice at ONE: Inside The Matrix II.
The American has jumped right back on the horse and brings his talents to lightweight for this huge match in the division.
Aoki’s grappling is the stuff of legend. He has continually displayed his technical brilliance on the biggest stages and captured numerous titles. However, Nakashima is a former JUCO National Champion and former Nebraska Cornhusker wrestler. His grappling skills, and size, will pose significant hurdles for Aoki.
With the increasing depth of the lightweight talent pool, this is a pivotal match for everyone.
Can Aoki get on a three-bout streak and lay claim to a possible title shot? Does Nakashima position himself right at the top of the division in his first lightweight contest? Will Eddie Alvarez, Iuri Lapicus, Timofey Nastyukhin, or even possibly Christian Lee be next for the winner?
The stakes are high, and for Aoki, it is another chance to add to his enduring legacy. It is 2021, and the Japanese athlete is continuing to shine on the international stage and putting himself in-line for possible gold.
Eyes should be fixated on the Japanese warrior each time he competes, especially as he meets another stellar grappler to kickstart the new year.
ONE: Unbreakable airs live and free on the B/R Live app on January 22 at 7:30 a.m. EST/4:30 a.m. PST.
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