Much has been made of Shinya Aoki’s decision to relocate to Singapore in order to train at Evolve MMA earlier this year and we were expecting to see a different Aoki at Dream 17.
He defended his Dream lightweight title with consummate ease this past weekend. Despite having Muay Thai experts Chatri Sityodtong, Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, and Muangfalek Kiatvichian in his corner, Aoki never got to demonstrate his new found stand up fighting skills. Instead he put on a ground fighting clinic, taking the former WEC champion to the ground seemingly at will before finishing him late in the first round with a neck crank.
The main reason that Aoki never displayed his newly-improved striking game with McCullough is that his coaches at Evolve MMA had devised a very specific gameplan,
"Kru Chatri Sityodtong, Yuki Nakai, and Ryo Chonan came up with the game plan and strategy for this fight and it has lworked perfectly. I feel much more confident going into a fight since I started working with Chatri. The fight turned out exactly like he told me it would and the plan was for me to apply forward pressure and to make McCullough backpedal. Chatri wanted me to take McCullough down and to control McCullough on the ground and submit him late in the round and that’s exactly what happened," Aoki said.
Aoki has now won his last six fights and is, without doubt, the top pound-for-pound fighter in Asia at present. Aoki feels that he has joined the top camp in the world and that this will help him become the top lightweight. Aoki has been working with a number of former Muay Thai champions at Evolve MMA, including Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Lamnammoon Sor Summalee, Attachai Fairtex, and Orono Wor Petchpun and many others. Footage of him training in Singapore was shown in the Dream 17 promo and people were amazed to see a fighter, who was once seen as having limited ability on his feet, hitting the pads with such speed and power.
"I feel I am a completely different fighter from the one I was before I joined the Evolve Fight Team. A lot of people in Japan saw the video of me working with Yodsanan Sityodtong, who is a former boxing world champion, and said that they could not believe how much better my boxing was. What they don’t see is me practising every day with the team of BJJ world champions like Zorobabel Moreira, Leandro Issa, and the rest of the world-class BJJ Black Belts at Evolve MMA. As a result, my ground game has gotten even better and I have learned new things for my submission game" he said.
"I believe that Evolve MMA is the number one camp in the world right now. In Japan, it is difficult for me to find that sort of world-class training in every discipline of MMA. At Evolve MMA, I have teachers and training partners in every discipline such as Muay Thai, BJJ, MMA, etc. So my overall game has improved dramatically," he said.
Aoki is already universally recognized as being a top five lightweight in the world. Interestingly, he reached that position without ever having to work too hard on his stand up game. Now that he joined a fight team where he can work on every aspect of mixed martial arts with high calibre trainers, Aoki’s potential is scary. With Evolve MMA in his corner, his win streak looks like it could last a long time.