The duo first met back on Dynamite! 2008, with Alvarez tapping out to with a heel hook submission from Aoki. We spoke to the DREAM lightweight champion, and while he finished that fight in less than 2 minutes, he feels like he's taking on a completely different opponent now.
"Both of our games have improved a lot over the last 3 years." Shinya Aoki said in an exclusive interview with BloodyElbow.com, "I cannot use what happened in the first fight as a reference for this fight."
After their first meeting, Alvarez has won seven straight bouts running through Bellator's division, where he claimed, and defended the promotion's lightweight title in the process. He then lost a fight of the year candidate to the next tournament winner in Michael Chandler. Shinya says he has been paying close attention to those events leading up to this long awaited rematch.
"I have seen all of Alvarez’s recent fights in Bellator, and he is much improved. He is a very dangerous fighter from all positions" said Aoki, who clearly holds his opponent in high regard. "This will be a new challenge, and I trust my team and my coaches at Evolve MMA."
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He's is talking about Evolve MMA, and since joining the Singapore-based fight team, the huge improvements on his game has been well documented. He truly believes in his teammates, and he constantly praises and gives credit to them for making him a much better fighter.
"Training at Evolve MMA has been very important, and it will help me a lot in my upcoming fight with Alvarez." Aoki continued, "Here, I train with world champions every day in every area of MMA. Chatri Sityodtong, Heath Sims, Namsaknoi, Attachai (Fairtex), Zorobabel Moreira, and the rest of the Evolve Fight Team have been very instrumental to my development as a fighter."
His improved striking game was on display on his last fight against Satoru Kitaoka, but his Muay Thai coaches believe that he hasn't even reached his potential. While their team is currently prepped and focused for his showdown with Alvarez, they have mentioned in the past about wanting to get Aoki professional Muay Thai fights in Thailand to take his learning a step further. Shinya of course, is also willing to take the challenge to get his development to the next level.
"I agree with Kru Orono. Competing professionally in Muay Thai would be a great experience and really help to build my confidence. If possible, I would like to compete professionally in Muay Thai in Thailand some time this year."
Shinya Aoki, training with BJJ world champ, and ONE FC contender, Zorobabel Moreira at Evolve MMA.
For all the talk surrounding his new found striking skills, I have always felt that his most important improvements has been coming from what will always be Aoki's bread and butter, which is his grappling. He has long been one of the best grapplers in the sport, and after moving training camps to Singapore, he's still sharpening his already dangerous skill set.
He's been working with top-level BJJ world champions, and with the recent addition of Jake Butler and Team Quest's Heath Sims, their top flight wrestling program has also been helping Aoki round out his game even more.
"My ground game is always improving. I get to work with the best every day, and I am learning new things every day." Aoki explains, "Heath is a great wrestling coach, and has taught me a lot. Jake is a great wrestler, and I have learned so much from him too. He's has a very aggressive style and he's very strong."
"Also, the BJJ level at Evolve is very, very high... world standard. My teammates make me better on the ground." he continues, "All of this training will all be very useful in my upcoming fight, and it is also very important for my career."
Aoki believes that Alvarez has improved tremendously as well, but much like the first fight, he knows it will be an entertaining battle of styles.
"I think it is going to be a great fight. Both of us will try to impose our game plans on each other, and who ever does that more effectively will win." Shinya said, "I am training very hard for my upcoming fight, and will do my best to give my fans a great show."
Both guys have changed a lot in the past 3 years, but which fighter can implement and impose their styles better come fight time? I guess we'll find out on April 20th.