Nothing inspires Shinya Aoki (47-10) more than squaring off with the hottest rising talents in ONE Championship.
On November 19, the former ONE lightweight world champion will face No. 4-ranked Saygid Izagakhmaev (21-2) at "ONE 163: Akimoto vs. Petchtanong," and he's excited to test himself once more against a potential future superstar.
At 39 years old and with 19 years of professional MMA competition behind him, it would be understandable if No. 5-ranked Aoki decided to filter the offers for him inside the ONE circle.
However, the Japanese legend has no intention of doing that.
Speaking about his upcoming battle with the Russian phenom, "Tobikan Judan" said:
"This match is very important for me. It's challenging. To be honest, I had two options. One was a kind of veterans match. The other was this opponent. I chose him. I feel the greatest pleasure in fighting against the strongest fighters at the moment.
While Aoki is motivated to continue pushing himself against the latest generation of elite athletes, those upstarts can also gain some prestige by defeating the Japanese icon.
With that in mind, "Tobikan Judan" knows those opponents will fight hard in hopes of elevating their status, but that doesn't faze him at all.
Instead, he relishes the prospect of a tough encounter that will bring out the best in himself – no matter the result.
"(Izagakhmaev) wants to enhance the value of his name, right? I have value [in the division] because I have competed for over 20 years. I have a lot of experience in major MMA events around the world. They are eager to fight against me, they may see me as a legendary fighter. I can understand their minds.
"Everyone said, 'Why did you accept this fight?' I thought everyone was underestimating me. They assume I am the underdog. I could see that many people are foolish enough to enjoy martial arts only in terms of winning and losing."
Aoki shakes off Izagakhmaev's 'disappointing' retirement comments
Fans are particularly excited to see how Aoki's bout with Izagakhmaev will play out due to their elite but contrasting grappling styles.
Aoki is a potent submission finisher who attacks from everywhere, while Izagakhmaev is a strong wrestler who likes to punish his rivals from top position.
"Tobikan Judan" doesn't want to predict how their clash of styles will turn out, but he knows it will lead to some interesting scenarios.
"(Izagakhmaev) is a very tough and powerful, old-style Russian fighter. He is good at attacking from top position. I will resist or change the position. This is challenging for me. I will use all of the abilities I have. This fight is very rewarding.
"It is impossible to predict [what strategy to use] because we are only dealing with what happens in the ONE circle. I decide what to do on the day of the match, taking into account the atmosphere of the day, the situation, and everything. That's why my fights are so exciting."
For his part, Izagakhmaev has predicted a dominant win that would improve his ONE record to 3-0 and send Aoki into retirement.
Those bold words might intimidate some opponents, but Aoki has been in the MMA game long enough to avoid taking them to heart.
And regardless of the outcome, "Tobikan Judan" knows he will live to fight another day.
The veteran added:
"He wants to make me retire, right? It's not your business. No one can end my fighting career. I can decide for myself.
"I am not young enough to be offended by such things. You know what, I was hoping for a little more quality trashtalk, but it is disappointing that it is so common."
This story first published at ONEFC.com.