Sorry, Mr. Aoki. Your opponent isn't Yoshihiro "Michael Jackson" Akiyama, but this is a fight I'm fairly certain American fans are dying to see:
Alvarez (15-1) and Aoki were on track to meet in the final of the Dream lightweight grand prix in July, but the American was unable to continue in the tournament after his grueling semifinal victory over Tatsuya Kawajiri. Aoki, meanwhile, went on to lose to alternate Joachim Hansen, the man Alvarez defeated in the quarterfinals.
A budding superstar and former Bodog Fight welterweight champion, Alvarez has made quite an impact since moving down in weight. Based out of Philadelphia’s Fight Factory, the 24-year-old has rattled off five straight wins since suffering the only defeat of his career -- a technical knockout loss to Nick Thompson in April 2007. Knockout victories over Brazilian Andre Amade and UFC veterans Aaron Riley and Derrick Noble anchor his impressive resume.
Alvarez, who married in September, still plans to compete at an Extreme Challenge show next month in Atlantic City, N.J. No opponent has been named.
One of the world’s premier submission grapplers, Aoki (18-3) last competed in September, when he submitted World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Todd Moore in 70 seconds at Dream 6. More than half (10) of the 25-year-old’s 18 career wins have come by submission. Seasoned by the Pride, Shooto and Deep promotions, Aoki holds notable victories against American Top Team ace Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante, Akira Kikuchi (twice) and Clay French. His loss to Hansen -- whom he also owns a win against -- in July ended a 13-fight unbeaten streak.
This is a monster fight and the modern MMA iteration of Striker vs. Grappler. It's also a fantastic fight for the New Year's Event and a demonstration of just how stacked the lightweight division is outside of the UFC.
And there's a point that bears repeating: December, January and February are going to be monster months for our sport. That means not only a tremendous amount of enjoyment as fans, but even more reward as major events (not so much those in Japan) continue to push MMA further into the mainstream.