ONE on TNT IV’s Shinya Aoki Doesn’t Feel End Is Near: “I’m Still Improving”

Shinya Aoki had been lined up for a big fight with young American star Sage Northcutt at ONE on TNT IV.

Complications from COVID-19, however, have seen Northcutt fall out of the bout. Instead, Aoki (46-9, 1NC) features in a rubber match with Eduard Folayang.

The pair have fought twice before, with both previous encounters coming in title fights. In 2016, Folayang defeated Aoki to claim the Japanese fighter’s lightweight title. In 2019, Aoki submitted Folayang to win the belt back.

There will be no title on the line Wednesday at ONE on TNT IV. In fact, Aoki admitted during this week that he “wasn’t expecting Folayang’s trilogy.” Nor is he expecting to be paired up with another fighter he has a long history with, who is also fighting on the card — Eddie Alvarez. “I’m not expecting [to fight] against Eddie. Whatever I want, I never get it, so I’m not asking for anything,” he stated via translator.

There’s a possibility that could happen, however, given ONE’s top exec., Chatri Sityodtong, expressed interest in the fight during his own media day session.

Aoki was also asked about Alvarez’s recent DQ loss to Iuri Lapicus, which was later overturned to a No Contest. “Don’t make me do that. I don’t want to get in trouble,” he laughed.

Then there’s champ Christian Lee, who brought about the end to Aoki’s second reign as lightweight champion. “He’s really young. I saw a lot of improvement,” Aoki said of Lee’s most recent title defense, a finish of Timofey Nastyukhin. “When I fought two years ago against Christian, I felt that he was going to get better and strong, and he really did.”

Despite their history and what a fourth straight win under ONE Championship banner could mean, Aoki “is not looking at Christian’s belt,” he stated. Instead, he “just wants to continuously fight, and enjoy the martial arts.”

As he frequently has in recent times, the 37-year old wore a t-shirt this week emblazoned with the slogan “Age is just a number.” So what’s the secret to success at his age? Well, it’s not a secret at all, said Aoki.

“It’s not a secret, but practice every day, eat good food, practice well, sleep well. Just do the basic important things that you have to do in life, and then you can keep your conditioning.”

As to whether he’s coming up on the end of his career, Aoki said he’d been asked that before. The answer is the same. “It’s not the end, I don’t feel the end. I don’t feel I’m in the best condition right now, and I’m still improving.”

Watch the full ONE on TNT IV media day interview with Shinya Aoki above. The event takes place Wednesday, April 28, with the main card airing live on TNT starting at 10PM ET.