The relationship between Japanese MMA icon Shinya Aoki and ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong has seen better days.
On Sunday, Aoki returned to the ring at ONE 165 in his home country expecting to square off with ‘Super’ Sage Northcutt. Instead, ‘Tobikan Judan’ ended up fighting former ONE bantamweight world champion John Lineker in a remarkably short-notice openweight MMA bout. Given their significant size difference and opposing skill sets, Aoki made quick work of Lineker, earning a first-round submission via neck crank.
Following the bout, Aoki spoke with ONE commentator Mitch Chilson in the ring where he was asked about why he accepted the fight with Lineker. “Since he asked me to, there was no other choice, but to do it,” Aoki said, the “he” referring to Sityodtong.
However, it appeared as though Aoki had said something else that the translator either missed altogether or chose to omit. According to X user @puraiya, the former ONE lightweight titleholder shared his disdain for the promotion’s founder in his comments to the live crowd.
“When my relationship to Chatri, a man I thought of as a friend, became one of “boss and employee”, I really came to f*cking hate him… but when that guy asks something of me, I guess I have no choice.”
We can’t confirm the 100% accuracy of the translation provided, but during Aoki’s post-fight interview, there was a very noticeable moment of awkward silence from the crowd, indicating that he had said something more than what the translator revealed.
Fans tuning in and sharing their thoughts on social media were seemingly clued into what Aoki was saying.
One wrote, “I love how much the translator was stuttering trying to figure out what to say,” while another added, “I realized the awkward silence of the crowd for a sec.”
Chatri Sityodtong Has a History of Disrespecting Japanese Fighters Despite Desperately Trying to Break into the Market
It’s unclear what the issue, if any, is between Aoki and Sityodtong, but could it have something to do with the CEO’s continued disrespect towards Japanese fighters as a whole.
“The biggest challenge for Japan is… If you look at the last several years, it doesn’t matter which discipline, Japanese fighters come into ONE and they get crushed,” Sityodtong said in a post-fight press conference. In order for ONE Championship to blow up in Japan, we need the best of the best in Japan — K-1, Rise, RIZIN — they’re the best in Japan, but when they come to ONE Championship, they lose. If you look at the Japanese record, there’s a lot of losses in ONE.”
Sityodtong also kickstarted a war of words with K-1 producer Carlos Kikuta after the ONE CEO shot down the possibility of co-promoting an event with K-1, saying, “It’s a tiny organization and the level is very low.”