Being humble can be hard when you are considered one of the very best at what you do. For Shinya Aoki, though, it comes as second nature to be a respectful and humble champion. The respect that he shows for fellow fighters, fans and all those who are close to him is something that, in Japanese culture, is instilled in people at quite an early age.

It is one thing to be one considered one of the best fighters to step into the cage, but it’s another entirely to succeed at so much and still appreciate the little things.

“The fans in Asia are truly amazing, and they have a huge respect for fighters and vice versa. To compete inside the ONE FC cage and hear the fans cheer on top of their lungs for you is a moment that I enjoy so much,” Aoki said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I believe that without fans, many fighters won’t be where they are today. Each fight I win, I win for my family, for my coaches, my teammates and most importantly my fans.”

Aoki (Evolve MMA)

Aoki set the MMA world abuzz with the announcement that he was making his featherweight debut in his next fight for ONE FC. Aoki, who is widely regarded as one of the best lightweight fighters in the world, makes the change with the purpose of adding yet another piece of gold to his collection.

“Throughout my career I have been primarily competing in the lightweight division, and with this decision to make my debut at a new weight class of the featherweight division, I can understand why there has been talk about it,” Aoki admitted. “The reason is simple—I love new challenges and I feel that I excel at new challenges.

“My ultimate goal is to slowly climb up the featherweight division ladder and hopefully earn a shot at the ONE FC [featherweight] title. I am [still] looking to defend the ONE FC lightweight title, for sure. We at Evolve MMA believe that we never give up, and if anyone wants that title, they have to fight and beat me for it.”

“It was definitely my dream to be a professional MMA fighter,” he continued. “And it was especially so, as I am from Japan, the home to many respected MMA artist. It is my honor to be part of this amazing legacy, and I want to be a complete mixed martial artist before I retire, that is my goal.”

With each new win, the question is not if, but rather when Aoki would be looking to make the transition into fighting in the UFC to compete against some of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.

“I am extremely happy competing in ONE FC, but if my head coach, Heath Sims, thinks I should move to the UFC and challenge in the featherweight division, I will,” Aoki revealed. “However, my ultimate goal is to earn my shot at the ONE FC featherweight world championship title.”

Aoki (Evolve MMA)

Having competed in a total of 40 mixed martial arts bouts, Aoki has seen his fair share of losses, but true to his humble personality, he doesn’t look to “right the wrongs” of the past, so to speak. Instead, he sees each of the six losses on his record in a completely different light.

“I don’t think of revenge, to be honest,” he explained. “My goal is to learn from my mistakes and ensure that I improve in that aspect and that I don’t make the same mistake again. All my previous opponents are tough. They’re all strong in their own way, and I respect all of them and their abilities.”

In his debut in the featherweight division, Aoki comes up against a tough opponent in Cody Stevens, who fights out of another acclaimed training camp in Tiger Muay Thai. Stevens enters the fight on a two-fight winning streak, and Aoki comes into the fight with a three-fight winning streak of his own.

“Cody Stevens is a really good opponent and is strong,” Aoki admitted. “But I will be giving my 110 percent on Oct. 18 in Singapore, and like in [all] MMA fights, you have to be ready for everything.”

In a sport where it’s more often than not that the most vocal that become the most renowned fighters, we continue to see Aoki, whose ways of respecting all of those around him has seen him through close to 10 years of professional competition.

One more championship belt may add to his already extensive and impressive list of accomplishments, but it won’t make him any less humble. That is what makes Aoki a champion like no other.

Aoki would like to thank Chatri Sityodtong, Heath Sims, members of the Evolve Fight Team, everyone at Evolve MMA who has helped him prepare for his upcoming fight and, most importantly, his family.

Top Photo: Shinya Aoki (Evolve MMA)