Costa Rica’s Ariel Sexton has become a staple of the ONE Championship lightweight division. Given his status as one of the organization’s premier lightweights, it came as no surprise when he was invited to compete in the anticipated ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix.
Sexton will compete in his first Grand Prix bout on Friday night in Singapore (Friday morning in the Western Hemisphere) at ONE: Call to Greatness, where he will battle local hero Amir Khan for a ticket to the quarterfinals.
As this pivotal showdown towers on the horizon, Sexton feels very confident in the preparations he’s made for Khan’s unique skillset.
“I’m always training hard, and that’s the only way that I’ve been doing it my whole career,” Sexton told BJPenn.com. “It’s the same this time. Same hard training, just with a bit of a focus on my rival. Just change it up a little bit.
“I think his striking and his Muay Thai is definitely world class,” Sexton added. “But again, I train with world class people. I try not to think about what other people can do to me as much as what I can do to them. So everybody I respect evenly and I just know that my A-game is going to be better than his A-game.”
Ariel Sexton is easily one of the most dangerous grapplers in the ONE lightweight division. Khan, on the other hand, is one of the most prolific knockout artists on the ONE roster. Given their varying skillsets, it should come as no surprise that Sexton’s focus will be dragging the action to the canvas. Of course, as a lifelong Brazilian jiu jitsu student that’s almost always his modus operandi.
“I mean, my whole career has always been the same,” he explained. “I’m a jiu jitsu fighter. I want to do this.
“I just turned 37, and the reason why I’m still fighting is because I try to take people down and not take damage and try to bring them into my world,” he added. “I mean, I’m not scared to stand, I like to brawl, like to do all that stuff, but my teammates and my coaches don’t want me to do that.
“I have 20 professional fights and I have never even touched the mat once from a strike. I don’t think anyone’s going to put me down and I’m going to push forward.”
While Sexton anticipates a decisive advantage on the mat, that’s not the only department he has the edge in. He’s also much more experienced than his young foe.
“I think he’s 24 and I’m 37,” he said. “I’ve done this for a long time, so I think I’m a little bit more of a seasoned veteran than him, and that’s probably going to be playing a big factor in my win.
“I remember when I fought, when I was 24, 25, and I was fighting guys that were like 30, 35, I was inexperienced and I made mistakes. You can’t make any mistakes anymore at the highest level. So I think that he’s gonna make a mistake. Not necessarily on his behalf, but definitely because I’m going to force him to make a mistake, and that’s what I’m going to try to take advantage of.”
If Ariel Sexton defeats Amir Khan, he’ll advance to the second round of a tournament that includes names like Lowen Tynanes, Ev Ting, and Saygid Guseyn “Dagi” Arslanaliev. He says he’s impressed by all of his tournament rivals.
“Everybody’s impressive,” he said. “Everybody’s dangerous. I mean everybody, you got to respect them all. They’re all good.
“I could see maybe possibly me and Ev Ting having to meet again just because he’s a durable fighter and he’s pretty savvy,” he added, discussing his former opponent Ting, who he battled to a split decision loss in 2018. “I’m not sure if the Dagestani kid (Dagi) is going to be able to put him away, but maybe he does. Maybe I’ll meet Dagestani kid.”
The best known name in the Grand Prix, of course, is former UFC and Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Sexton would love the opportunity to meet this decorated MMA legend in the cage — and actually has a bit of history with him.
“Eddie Alvarez is a guy, I’ve been on his radar for a long time and it’d be amazing to fight an amazing legend like him. Obviously, status-wise it would put me up there with him [to beat him].
“I also got the same contract [as him] 12 years ago, 13 years ago for Bellator Season One,” he added. “But I was already in a reality show in Central America, so I couldn’t accept [Bellator’s offer]. Eddie Alvarez went into the tournament and won it. So I was already thinking I was going to fight him like 10 years ago.”
For the competitors in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix, the fun doesn’t end when the tournament is over. In fact, that’s when things will get truly interesting for the tournament winner, who will be granted a ONE lightweight title shot.
The ONE lightweight belt will next be on the line at ONE: A New Era on March 31 in Tokyo, when reigning champion Eduard Folayang defends his title against the man he first won it from, Japanese legend Shinya Aoki.
Looking ahead at this matchup, Sexton believes Aoki will probably make the necessary adjustments to avenge his knockout loss to Folayang.
“I think that if Aoki throws a couple punches once in awhile, he should have made the adjustments to be able to finish him and submit him,” Sexton said. “If he gets kind of like dazed and is sitting back and watching Folayang just put on a striking clinic, it’s going to be the same thing. But usually when you’re a crafty veteran, a black belt, you adapt to everything and you don’t usually lose the same way twice. So I think he’s gonna come back and submit him and he’s worked on his adjustments.”
As an accomplished BJJ black belt, Ariel Sexton would jump at the chance to test his mettle against the submission wizard Shinya Aoki. In fact, this is a fight he’s had his eye on since he joined the ONE Championship roster.
“I’ve been manifesting fighting Aoki since I started going into ONE Championship, because I knew he was the champion,” he said.
“I want to fight the best guys in the world. I’ve watched him for a long time. I trained with a lot of guys that have fought him,” he added. “I’m from a Renzo Gracie school and I live and breathe jiu jitsu. He’s one of the best MMA fighters of all time and it would just put me at his status, so that’ll be amazing if I fight Aoki.”
For Ariel Sexton, the road the ONE Championship lightweight belt and blockbuster bouts with legends like Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki begins this Friday, when he battles Amir Khan at ONE: Call to Greatness in Singapore.
He does intend to let the opportunity go to waste.
“Everybody in the world now is kind of worried about the triangle that I always put on people, but I mean I’m going to take whatever I can get from Amir,” he said, offering a prediction for the fight. “I know he’s going to be really strong and explosive and whatnot. But again, I’m very well versed in submissions. That’s my forte. So I’m going to take whatever he gives me.
“In the animal kingdom, the lions attack throat, that’s the easiest kill,” he concluded. “So I’m definitely going to try to attack his neck.”
Be sure to follow Ariel Sexton on Instagram ahead of his Friday fight.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 2/19/2019.