Japanese mixed martial arts star Shinya Aoki capped off an outstanding night for Singapore’s Team Evolve on Friday by grabbing the ONE FC World lightweight belt off compatriot Kotetsu Boku via one of his trademark submissions.
A sold out audience for the Kings & Champions event at the 12,000-seater Singapore Indoor Stadium were enthralled by 10 ballistic bouts that concluded with the title match won midway through the second round by Aoki.
The 29-year-old had his opponent dominated from start to finish, moving quickly to ground him and set up a string of submission attempts that Boku barely escaped. The result seemed somewhat of a foregone conclusion after the opening exchanges, with Aoki’s godlike ability in grappling eventually working out an opportunity to end the fight with a rear naked choke.
“The fight went exactly to plan,” Aoki told reporters through his interpreter and Team Evolve founder Chatri Sityodtong.
“I won easily, but the training I went through to get here was so hard. Sparring with my training partners was scarier than the actual fight.”
Boku was left looking deflated at the end, but managed to flash a smile and nod of resignation to his corner.
Aoki, widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound Asian MMA fighter in the division, avenged the loss of his team-mate Zorobabel Moreira to Boku last year when the belt was inaugurated. The Grandmaster of Flying Submissions, as his nickname translates, says he is not concerned who he will face next in defence of his title.
“I don’t care who I fight next – I’ll leave that up to my coaches. But I’ll fight anyone, anywhere on the planet.”
A worthy contender, however, did not immediately spring to mind for analysts of the sport and it will be interesting to see who ONE FC lines up for the champion in the future.
Team Evolve, meanwhile, were left celebrating a perfect five wins out of five from their fighters on the night’s card.
In the co-main event, an engrossing middleweight match that went the distance featured a hard-earned points victory for American Brock Larson over feared striker and fan favourite Melvin Manhoef.
Surviving the first two rounds was key for Larson, who at one point resorted to galloping around the perimeter of the ring to avoid his rival, much to the amusement of the crowd.
A vicious-looking kick by the Dutch-Surinamese fighter could’ve easily ended it by connecting with Larson’s face when he was in a kneeling position, but it missed by a literal whisker.
As Manhoef started to tire, Larson’s ground game came into play, and a series of hands and elbows when mounting his opponent late on was enough to swing the judges decision the way of the American.
The Bantamweight Grand Prix semi-finals produced two one-sided wins for Kevin Belingon of the Philippines and Masakatsu Ueda of Japan. Belingon hammered Australian-Vietnamese Thanh Vu with high-energy kicks and punches to the head to force a referee stoppage in the second round, while Ueda competently finished off Jens Pulver of the US with a D’Arce choke in round 2.
The undercard had set up the night well with some spectacular match-ups.
Team Evolve lightweight Eddie Ng of Hong Kong submitted French showman Arnaud Lepont with an opportunistic armbar at the end of the second round.
A three-round thriller bursting with quality had Brazilian bantamweight Leandro Issa emerge victorious on points over Yusup Saadulaev of Russia.
Brazil flyweight Alex Silva weathered some entertaining attacks from Filipino Wushu legend Rene Catalan to ground out an armbar submission in the first round. In one of the bloodiest bouts of the night, Pakistani MMA pioneer Bashir Ahmad scored a popular decision win over Thailand’s Shannon Wiratchai despite bleeding profusely from a gash in the forehead since the first round of their featherweight tie.
US wrestler Jake Butler made quick work of late stand-in fighter Swain Cangco of the Northern Marina Islands, deploying progressively cleaner strikes to wrap up their light-heavyweight battle in less than three minutes.
The opening match between Chen Yun Ting of Malaysia and Singaporean Ronald Low was not what the home crowd had hoped for, with the visitor busting open his opponent’s nose early on and throwing kicks and uppercut punches until the ref waved it off in the first round.
As the ONE FC promotions packs up its latest and most prolific event, attention now turns to the next card, Rise to Power in Manila on May 31.
“This year we have 12 events scheduled and 24 events scheduled next year, so it’s a really, really busy calendar,” ONE FC CEO Victor Cui told the Post.
“Our team actually spends less time focusing on this year and more time focusing on 2014 and we are expanding to pretty much every major city across the region.”
It remains to be seen whether ONE FC will bring an event to Cambodia, although the organisation seems keen to promote their activities as much as possible in the Kingdom, including free live broadcasts of the fights on local channel MyTV.