Shinya Aoki will be returning to professional MMA competition against Sage Northcutt in the co-main event of ONE 156 on January 28th, 2023. Aoki is one of the most popular fighters in Japanese BJJ and MMA history, along with being a two-time lightweight world champion at ONE Championship. He’s had 59 professional fights over the course of the last twenty years but he’s been significantly less active during the later stage of his MMA career. By the time that he meets Northcutt it will have been fourteen months since he was last seen in action under MMA rules, when he lost by TKO in the first round to Saygid Izagakhmaev.
Aoki hasn’t been entirely inactive during that time though, as he actually faced Mikey Musumeci in a grappling match. He lost that match by submission, an unsurprising outcome given that Musumeci is one of the best grapplers of his generation in the lighter weight classes. Aoki is no slouch on the ground though of course, he actually has 30 submission wins in MMA and his nickname is Tobikan Judan (Master of Flying Submissions). That’s what makes his fight with Northcutt so interesting, as Northcutt is much more of a striker than a grappler and two of his three losses have come by way of submission.
Sage Northcutt is far earlier on in his MMA career than Shinya Aoki, although he too hasn’t been that active in recent years. He made his ONE Championship debut back in 2019 and suffered a devastating knockout loss that kept him out of action for almost four years. The fight with Aoki was actually originally put together during this time, although it fell through and never took place. Northcutt made his return to professional MMA competition earlier this year, and he shocked the crowd by locking up a brutal heel hook to get the win at ONE Fight Night 10. This showed that Northcutt has clearly developed his grappling skill to a much higher level, but it remains to be seen how that will hold up against an elite specialist like Aoki.
ONE Championship announced the news that Shinya Aoki was going to return to MMA against Sage Northcutt in the co-main event of ONE 165 in a recent post to their official Instagram account: