(There’s a reason the Japanese version of The Fonz was never as popular.)
Because of his limited English skills and the general lack of western media access to him, we don’t get to hear from Shinya Aoki in his own words all that often. As a recent interview with Japan’s Gong Magazine (then translated for Fighter’s Only) confirms, that’s a damn shame. Aoki more or less refused to get bogged down in the normal/boring technical discussion about how his style matches up with Gilbert Melendez’s, and instead cut right to what he feels the stakes are in this bout:
“Japan’s best comes to USA. This is amazing…my technical side is evidenced by my long career. It is the same as my old fights so it does not need to be discussed. Instead, the most important point is this: ‘If Aoki loses, it is over for Japan’
“I love Japan and it is certain that if I lose, Japan will become a colony of US MMA. Some maniacs say that USA’s MMA is the best but I do not worship US MMA so this is big war to me, just like my fight against [Sengoku champion] Hirota [on New Year’s Eve].”
So, let’s see what we’ve got here. Completely overblown nationalist rhetoric? Check. Inflated sense of self-importance coupled with a reference to yourself in the third person? Check. Giving us a simple, but compelling narrative to explain why this fight matters? Total check.
This is exactly the kind of thing that will play wonderfully in the American MMA scene, which almost just makes you sad that we haven’t had more Aoki in our lives before now. But let’s not kid ourselves, Aoki needs the U.S. even more than we need him. He admits that he’s run out of interesting fights in Dream. There are a couple of intriguing possibilities for him in Strikeforce, and of course the talent sharing arrangement between the two organizations means we could see some of those fights on Japanese soil as well.
But what Aoki really needs now are fresh challengers and a fresh narrative. The whole, ‘I’ll kill you if Dream tells me to’ stuff? That doesn’t work as well against other Dream fighters, and we already saw what he did to his rival in the other major Japanese promotion. He needs new objects to prove his fierce allegiance against. If he can convince fans that the fight is a struggle of national pride, so much the better.