When Shinya Aoki
claimed the DREAM lightweight belt he ranked himself No. 2 behind his idol BJ Penn
. With Frankie Edgar
's second victory over Penn it is clear that there is a new top lightweight king, but Aoki isn't buying it.
"I am really a huge fan of BJ Penn, he is one of my favorite fighters. He lost by decision. When we look at martial arts in it's most extreme form, we need to win by submission or knockout. In that sense, he didn't lose. He lost that fight but he is still 'the man'. He is still my favorite fighter."
With Edgar holding the strap we once again have a fighter with a wrestling backbone at the top of the UFC lightweight division and with Gray Maynard
being the next likely challenger, it doesn't look like that will change any time soon. This trend towards wrestling is another thing that Aoki has trouble with.Japanese MMA is totally different. We go for knockouts and submissions from the beginning and going for the decision isn't an option.
-- Shinya Aoki
"The American wrestling style - punching a little bit, getting a takedown and moving to side control to win the round has no risk. It's an easier fight. It's just using the judges. They don't even have to worry about injuries or anything like that. There is no risk."
The fact that Aoki uses the lack of risk as a criticism is interesting considering that he also recently claimed
that his own goal is "to win against my opponent without being in any dangerous situations" and that fighting with risk "makes the quality of MMA lower."
"Would you like to see Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard? Do you think it would be interesting?" Aoki asks.
I answer truthfully that I don't think it would be very exciting.
"Right! I'm a huge fan of the UFC, but I think that it hasn't been very interesting lately. There are good fighters of course but not so many interesting fights. They punch a little bit, then get a takedown and every round is just a repetition of that."
"I am a big fan of aggressive fighters like BJ Penn, Joe Stevenson, Kenny Florian, Melvin Guillard and Nate Diaz.. Everyone else is just wrestling and it's not interesting at all."
Aoki's thoughts on wrestling are eerily similar to those of Dan Hardy
and like Hardy, Aoki has lost an important fight due to wrestling - Aoki was unable to takedown Gilbert Melendez while Hardy was unable to stop the takedown against Georges St. Pierre.
"Japanese MMA is totally different. We go for knockouts and submissions from the beginning and going for the decision isn't an option."
When Aoki attempted to bring his Japanese MMA style to the U.S. it was obviously lacking. Although Gilbert Melendez is not traditionally thought of as a wrestler-boxer, that is certainly how he countered the DREAM lightweight champion during their bout in Strikeforce.
"It wasn't where I fought, (Japan or America, cage or ring), but I am just still weak. As a fight, I found weakness in myself."
Aoki's next bout was against Tatsuya Kawajiri for the DREAM Llghtweight title. While Kawajiri is not American, it can be said that he fights like the "American wrestlers" that Aoki objects to. The bout against Kawajiri was dramatically more successful for Aoki due to a change in mindset.
"After Melendez avoided my takedowns and just punched me I had to change my mindset. I had to get a submission. I was really desperate (against Kawajiri)."
Aoki believes that he doesn't deserve another shot at Melendez yet, but he must work to earn that fight. Aoki's upcoming bout against Marcus Aurélio at DREAM.16 on Sept. 25th will be the next step towards earning his shot but still, despite BJ Penn's loss to Edgar and Aoki's own loss to Gilbert Melendez, BJ Penn is still at the top of the heap and he is still the goal.
"BJ Penn, Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, Frankie Edgar they are the top four. BJ Penn is still No. 1. The most aggressive fighter is Eddie Alvarez. Frankie Edgar is the most defensive. When Penn lost, I didn't lose my goal at all. It is difficult for me to see that he lost the fight."
And Gray Maynard? The only man with a win over the UFC lightweight champion and the likely next challenger for the title?
"Gray Maynard is a good wrestler."