Spotlighting three Japanese stars who will compete at ONE: A NEW ERA

Shinya Aoki, ONE Championship

Every athlete scheduled to compete on ONE Championship’s historic ONE: A NEW ERA card will have the opportunity to be a part of one of the most special events in the promotion’s history.

However, there are those who will have the honor of representing their home country in the promotion’s first-ever event in Japan. Tatsumitsu Wada and Mei Yamaguchi are set to see action, and so is kickboxer Hiroki Akimoto.

Three Japanese warriors, however, have drawn the toughest assignments of all. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Yuya Wakamatsu

The challenge ahead of Wakamatsu is serious.

In fact, of the three Japanese athletes set to compete, Wakamatsu has drawn the most difficult assignment. Wakamatsu has the pleasure of welcoming Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson to ONE Championship.

In the opening round of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix, Wakamatsu will attempt to do what few have ever done, and that’s defeat Mighty Mouse.

There is no question, Wakamatsu will be a massive underdog, but that won’t prevent him from giving maximum effort against one of the sport’s greatest athletes. At 24 years old, Wakamatsu is still very young, and he’s had just 13 professional bouts.

In his last outing, Wakamatsu lost a unanimous decision to Danny Kingad. Before arriving at ONE Championship, Wakamatsu had put together an impressive run with Pancrase. The loss to Kingad was his debut bout with ONE.

Johnson is an insanely good mixed martial artist and it is going to take someone truly elite to defeat him.

Ken Hasegawa

If you were unaware of who Hasegawa was before June 2018 at ONE: SPIRIT OF A WARRIOR, chances are you know exactly who he is now.

Hasegawa took on reigning ONE Middleweight World Champion Aung La N Sang and came close to pulling off his own huge upset. In the end, the champion proved to be too strong for Hasegawa. Aung La stopped Hasegawa in the fifth round of an intense war with a well-timed uppercut.

For Hasegawa however, it was a defeat that raised his stock. The bout easily took Bout of the Year honors for the promotion and it generated buzz for a rematch.

At ONE: NEW ERA, Hasegawa will get another chance to dethrone Aung La, and he’ll have the benefit of performing in front of a crowd that will undoubtedly be cheering him on. It won’t be easy as Hasegawa has some holes to plug if he hopes to accomplish what he couldn’t in the first match.

In the first bout, Hasegawa was aggressive early employing a counter-punching strategy that seemed to be catching Aung La off guard in the early rounds. However, Hasegawa appeared to tire as the bout went on, and the champion’s seemingly bottomless gas tank turned out to be the difference.

Aung La would take advantage of a weary and battered Hasegawa, and he set up the finish that effectively ended the bout. Hasegawa and his team should have had an opportunity to get more acquainted with Aung La’s tendencies. On March 31, we’ll find out if the adjustments will be enough to generate a more favorable result.

Shinya Aoki

Shinya Aoki

In the main event of this anticipated ONE Championship card, Japan’s greatest grappler and one of the true icons of Japanese martial arts, Shinya Aoki will get a rematch with his former conqueror and current ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang.

In the first matchup, Folayang upset the previously dominant Aoki to win the title and kick off his first reign as lightweight king.

Aoki had been tearing through the promotion with wizard-like grappling and submissions. Folayang was the first to survive Aoki’s aggressive attempts to take the bout to the ground.

While losing the fight in the eyes of many cageside, Folayang took the decision out of the judges’ hands in the third round. A knee stunned Aoki and the flurry of punches that followed forced the referee to stop the bout.

The loss kicked off the worst tailspin of Aoki’s career. He lost three straight bouts if you count the grappling-only match he had with Garry Tonon following the loss to Folayang. Six months later, he was stopped again by dominant former ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren.

Aoki recovered with a sensational 2018. He went 3-0 with finishes over Rasul Yakhyaev, Shannon Wiratchai, and Ev Ting to earn the chance to regain the title he lost.

That initial bout took place in November 2016. It has taken a little over two years for Aoki to get back to this spot. Folayang has since lost the title and regained it in his last bout against Amir Khan. When they rematch in the main event at ONE: A NEW ERA, will Aoki’s home-cage advantage be a factor, or will Folayang again prove to be up to the grappling challenge and emerge superior as a striker en route to a successful title defense?

How do you think these Japanese stars when ONE Championship debuts in the country on March 31?

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 3/17/2019.