Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki will be celebrating his 20th anniversary as a professional mixed martial artist later this year.
The 39-year-old Japanese legend has seen and done it all in the sport, possessing a long list of accolades that included two celebrated reigns as the ONE lightweight champion.
In addition, he has faced the best fighters at the peak of his prime, sharing the stage with the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen, Caol Uno, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Kotetsu Boku, Kazushi Sakuraba and Ben Askren.
But over the 50 opponents he fought in his illustrious career, Aoki puts Eduard “Landslide” Folayang on a much higher pedestal.
“Definitely, he's No. 1 on my list,” Aoki said of the Filipino MMA superstar. “I spent five years fighting him. For me, Eduard is special because he's the only guy I've fought three times.”
The two men first crossed paths in November 2016 when Folayang shocked the world by stopping Aoki in the third round to capture the world title.
Aoki got his revenge on Folayang nearly three years later, reclaiming the gold by rendering the Filipino unconscious with a tight arm-triangle choke in the first round.
“Tobikan Judan” broke the deadlock in April 2021, submitting Folayang with a first-round armbar.
Although he is up 2-1 in their trilogy, it seems that Aoki wants one more dance with Folayang.
“The words we exchanged in the Circle right after the last match we had two years ago was ‘one more,’” the Japanese bared with glee.
But unlike their first three bouts that took place in Japan and Singapore, Aoki wants to do the fourth installment in the Philippines.
“We’ve done it twice in Singapore and once in Japan, so I think it’s fair to do it in the Philippines. I think it makes sense from a business standpoint. More than anything else, I feel that way as well,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Folayang conceded that he wouldn't turn down the chance to tie the series with Aoki.
“I will be down to do it if there’s an opportunity to fight him again,” Folayang said.
The two rivals reconnected last January when Aoki visited Folayang in Baguio City.
Given the close relationship that they developed, many speculated that Folayang could join Aoki at Evolve MMA in Singapore.
Last March 10, Folayang announced his departure from Team Lakay, ending his nearly two-decade relationship with the stable that he helped build from the ground up.
Folayang also addressed rumors that he will be going to Evolve MMA.
“Right now, I'm a ronin. I'm thankful that I get a lot of invitations from friends in the industry. It's flattering, to be honest. Everyone wants to help out and understands the goal that I want to achieve,” the ex-lightweight kingpin explained.
“But at the moment, I'm training with different groups. That's the exciting part because it gives me the chance to get well acquainted with other styles.”
However, Folayang clarified that it will be a privilege if he gets invited to train at Evolve MMA.
“I am open to all possibilities. They have a world-class training facility and a great team led by a solid cast of remarkable coaches. If there's an opportunity, I'll be happy to train over there,” Folayang remarked.
“What I'm doing right now is eye-opening. I feel like a student hungry for more knowledge.”