You know what you are in for when you accept a match-up against Shinya Aoki. After 49 MMA fights, everyone knows what the Japanese veteran brings to the table and Shannon Wiratchai, who fights him on Friday, is well aware of the challenge which awaits at ONE: Reign of Kings.
“He always goes for the takedown, getting things to the cage, and on the ground he can finish, for sure. I hope I can work hard enough to defend his takedowns, and create an opportunity to take my striking to him.”
However, Wiratchai has one secret weapon which he hopes will give him the edge. He’s been working every day at Tiger Muay Thai with a former teammate and training partner of Aoki’s.
“I have so many high level training partners here at Tiger, but one person I have to mention, and he is the main reason I came to Tiger early this time, is Professor Stuart Cooper. He used to be at Evolve MMA before and he was Shinya’s roommate. He is the one who really knows what Shinya likes to do.”
There are parallels between this bout and Wiratchai’s ONE Championship debut. After having two bouts in a Bangkok nightclub, he was offered a fight with Mitch Chilson at the MOA Arena.
“I was so scared, but when I took that offer it became my motivation to step my game up. This time maybe it is a good chance because hearing (Aoki’s) name already motivates me. It is like you have the chance to date your first crush!”
Wiratchai knocked out Chilson with a right hook followed by a soccer kick. It was retrospectively changed to a no-contest, but the Thai fighter was offered a rematch and finished it with exactly the same combination, and this time the result stood.
ONE Championship recently announced that a Thai fighter would challenge for a title in October. Pongsiri Mitsatit and Wiratchai are among the top contenders in their respective divisions and both will be in action in Manila on Friday.
Wiratchai, who has won seven out of his last eight fights, thinks that a win over Aoki might be enough to secure him a shot at the belt. But he’s more concerned with the possibility of beating a legend than the prospect of challenging a champion next.
“If I defeat him, surely I will get the title shot, right? But really, when I meet him, I will not care about the title. He is my title shot in life.”
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Wiratchai doesn’t tend to go the distance. He hasn’t won by decision since 2015 and the majority of his victories come by way of KO. Aoki has been stopped with strikes six times in his career with the defeat to Eduard Folayang that cost him his ONE Championship lightweight belt perhaps the most glaring example.
They are very different fighters but Folayang set a blueprint that Wiratchai wants to follow. To beat the former champion he will almost certainly need to score a stoppage due to strikes and as the fight approaches there is one question on the 29 year old’s mind,
‘I think I can knock him out but the question is how can I land my fist on his chin?’