Shinya Aoki could become a two-time lightweight champion, but a former nemesis might stand in his way

Shinya Aoki

Shinya Aoki’s road back to the ONE Lightweight World Title might require him to defeat the opponent who took the very same belt from him via TKO two years ago.

While Eduard Folayang still has work to do at ONE: CONQUEST OF CHAMPIONS in his homeland of the Philippines against Amir Khan, a second showdown with Aoki could be on deck. Folayang and Khan’s bout is for the now vacant lightweight title, but Aoki’s win guaranteed he’d receive the first shot at the newly crowned champion.

The moment Shinya Aoki had the head-and-arm choke secured against Ev Ting at ONE: KINGDOM OF HEROES, he had to know it was a possibility. As Ting fell asleep under the pressure of Aoki’s squeeze, the Japanese legend knew it was even more possible. Aoki’s 57-second victory over Ting didn’t just assure him of receiving a shot at the ONE Lightweight World Championship; there’s more meaning to this battle.

For Aoki, it seems the timing couldn’t have been better because that match will happen in March 2019 when the promotion makes its first-ever trip to Japan. How special would an Aoki-Folayang rematch be for ONE, the martial artists and Japan? It’s hard to quantify.

Shinya Aoki is no stranger to rematches. During his 15-year, 51-bout martial arts career, he has battled five opponents two or more times: Akira Kikuchi, Gesias Cavalcante, Joachim Hansen (3 bouts), Hayato Sakurai and Eddie Alvarez.

In the initial rematches, Aoki is 2-3. In his third bout with Hansen, he came away with the win in the rubber match. While that past record offers some interesting data, those men aren’t Folayang and Aoki is a different competitor today than he was years ago–or even in 2016 when he first met the Filipino warrior.

If the second match with Aoki comes to fruition, it will be Folayang’s first rematch as a professional. Folayang’s initial title run came to an end after just one defense. He was knocked out by the sensational former two-division world champion Martin Nguyen, who is still the featherweight titleholder.

After scoring two wins in a little more than two months, Folayang has earned a shot at the vacant title. While he doesn’t have to beat Aoki again to regain the belt, he will have to overcome him in a rematch if he defeats Khan and hopes to extend his reign.

During the first bout, Folayang was able to subdue Aoki’s attempts to take the battle to the canvas. He also wore Aoki down with some well-placed punches to the stomach. In the second round, you could see Aoki showing some ill effects from the bodywork.

In the third round, Aoki’s stamina began to fail him and Folayang’s seemingly bottomless motor became the determining factor. He pinned Aoki against the fence after landing some knees, and he pounded away on his grounded opponent with right hands. After a number of unanswered strikes, the referee was forced to stop the bout. Folayang began to celebrate his victory while a dejected and defeated Aoki exited without his title.

Those moments have to be going through Aoki’s head at least a little, but when asked which competitor he’d rather face, he didn’t have a preference. Is Shinya Aoki really indifferent about the opponent?

Perhaps he’s just preventing himself from being taken with the possibility of gaining revenge for one of the worst losses he’s experienced under the ONE Championship banner. One thing is for sure; if Aoki does earn his second stint as ONE Lightweight World Champion and the coronation comes at Folayang’s expense, you could make the argument the win is the biggest of Tobikan Judan’s career.

Do you think Shinya Aoki can win ONE gold for a second time?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 10/14/2018.