If you didn’t ruin your sleep cycle last week by staying up all night watching HDNet, then the first thing you probably saw was the headlines. Yes, it is true; Shinya Aoki is the new bad boy in MMA. He broke Mizuto Hirota’s arm and then flicked him and the crowd off.
The Lesnaresque display was only missing him saying “I’m gonna drink a Sapporo, because Kirin Ichiban doesn’t pay me nothing!” (Full Disclosure: I stole this not clever joke from a Cage Potato post on the UG. “Stole” is really too strong of a word. I’m merely mocking their brand of humor. “Humor” is really too strong of a word…)
People are now astonished with his behavior. The MMA public now has a reason to hate the scrawny and frail-looking guy. However, distain directed towards Aoki really has little to do with his lack of sportsmanship.
Aoki has come to represent the evolution of MMA, and somehow most of the MMA public views this as a terrible thing. He is a student of the game. He fights with a strategy. Apparently in a sport full of fighters saying, “we will strike until someone falls down” there is no room for this behavior.
Instead of focusing on his post-fight antics, let’s look at what he did during the fight. Hirota, by all informed accounts, was a dangerous opponent for Aoki. He has big power. He is hard to submit, and recently defeated Aoki’s homeboy Satoru Kitaoka. Plus he was a borderline top-ten lightweight*. What did Aoki do? He took him down and submitted him with an exotic submission in less than two minutes.
*Side note: Hirota was a top-ten lightweight before this fight. People have argued against this, but that doesn’t stop it from being true. He stopped Mitsuhiro Ishida and Kitaoka when they were both ranked. Thus, he was in the top-ten.
Aoki’s victories have been extremely impressive. His string of wins, since 2008, is more impressive than the body of work of any lightweight with the possible exception of BJ Penn*. Despite this, he is viewed as a sideshow by American fans. Also, it does not matter what Michael Schiavello says he is not that popular in Japan. Why does the world’s number two lightweight garner such little respect?
*Side note: Aoki’s quality wins since 2008: Cavalcante, Uno, Hansen, Alvarez, Hirota and Ribeiro. Penn’s quality wins since 2008: Sanchez, Florian, Sherk and Stevenson.
His level of respect is clearly linked to his style, which is not always crowd friendly. Sometimes it is boring. He will never drop someone with his hands, and he understands tactics. Here is the question though, why does a fighter have to have a crowd friendly style? MMA is a sport after all, and there are examples of boring champions in other sports.
During their championship runs the Spurs played a plodding style of basketball. Did this mean that Tim Duncan was overrated garbage? When the Ravens won the Super Bowl they had a stretch of games without scoring a TD. Did this mean Jamal Lewis wasn’t a top back?
People can have a problem with the middle fingers. It is their prerogative, but the lack of respect is getting criminal. Aoki is one of the game’s top lightweights. Hopefully in 2010 we can see him in Strikeforce* or the UFC, so he can once again silence some of his critics.
Aoki Antics Media Awards
The “article that makes Aoki look the most like pure evil” award goes to Mike Chiappetta.
The “article that twists people’s words around to make a point” award goes to Sergio Non.
The “everyone stole my quotes, but it is cool I’m a G” award goes to Tony Loisleur.