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Mixed Martial Arts

Top lightweights collide as Shinya Aoki meets Shannon Wiratchai in Manila

Flying a little under the radar is a spectacular match-up between former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki (40-8, 1NC) and rising Thai superstar Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai (9-2, 1NC).

The two lightweight contenders are set to do battle in a three round bout on the main card of ONE: Reign of Kings, which takes place Friday, July 27, at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. For all intents and purposes, it is shaping up to be an absolute sleeper hit.

Aoki is coming off a first-round submission victory over top contender Rasul Yakhyaev last May. Although the Japanese warrior hasn’t appeared to be his usual self in the past couple of years – having dropped back-to-back losses to Eduard Folayang and Ben Askren – he still remains as dangerous as ever, largely in part thanks to his high-level grappling game.

In mixed martial arts circles, Aoki is considered one of the most skilled pure grapplers in the sport. Out of 40 career victories, a whopping 25 have come by submission which represents over 63 percent of his overall wins. That is an impressive feat for sure, considering his career began in 2003 and spans 15 years of excellence.

Conversely, Wiratchai is in his career infancy, having had only 12 professional contests to date. He joined ONE Championship early on and has since put together an impressive streak, winning seven out of nine, including a stretch where he won six straight against high quality opponents.

Known for his charismatic entrances, Wiratchai is an absolute showstopper. Where Aoki is a grappling ace, Wiratchai is the opposite. He even developed his own style of martial arts called the OneShin Striking System, which is loosely based off principles pulled from disciplines such as western boxing, Muay Thai, and the like.

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The last time Wiratchai was in the cage was against Singapore’s Rahul Raju, whom he knocked out with one punch in just 21 seconds of action. The 29-year-old certainly brings excitement to every one of his bouts, and against a legend like Aoki, Wiratchai will be looking to make a statement.

When asked for his thoughts about facing Aoki, Wiratchai pointed to Aoki as one of the inspirations for sparking his love for martial arts.

“Shinya Aoki is a legend. I watched him 15 years ago on the internet. I was crazy about him. I was crazy about martial arts. I love this sport because of him,” said Wiratchai.

“Fifteen years later, I just want him to see what he has produced. I want to be in the cage and show my best performance. I just want to impress him like he impressed me.”

At 35 years of age, however, Aoki is at the tail end of a glorious career. Although the Japanese stalwart has mentioned previously that he would compete until he was 50, his physicality is clearly not what it used to be.

Aoki relies heavily on being able to absorb punishment long enough until the distance is closed and he is able to latch onto his opponents and bring them down to the ground. Against a dynamic striker such as Wiratchai, it could end badly once again for the veteran.

Still, Aoki has enough left in the tank to provide an entertaining bout with Wiratchai, and you can never count him out if and when the fight hits the mat.

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