In essence, he is the Nick Diaz of Japan: a fighter who is infuriating on a personal level, but delivers a skillful masterpiece almost every time he steps out. In Japan he is not just a superstar, but one of the top performers in mixed martial arts.
It is a shame that is all he will ever be—a top fighter in Japan, but never world class.
And that is because he is used to fighting in a ring.
He has fought in Shooto, DREAM and Pride—all of which use rings. When he came to America and fought in Strikeforce, he lost to Gilbert Melendez easily. The fight itself wasn't very good, but the fifth round told a story for those keen enough to catch it.
Aoki had Melendez in a rubber guard and was working for a submission, but Melendez was able to use the cage to stop Aoki from working further and limited his range of motions and movement.
The cage actually affects what fans see.
Many wrestlers succeed in the UFC because they can cut weight and use power wrestling to press strikers and submission experts against the cage. Because of the resistance that the cage gives—something ring ropes would never do—it leaves opponents trapped.
This leaves the fighters trapped underneath the wrestlers with a dilemma. If they push their opponent, they leave themselves open to being struck repeatedly. That gives the wrestlers who cut a lot of weight and use their mass to bully their opponents around the ring an edge.
That doesn't mean there aren't fighters who learn how to get around wrestling, but many adapt it into their game plan instead of learning how to prevent it while working on their own style.
And why shouldn't they? Sooner or later, they will run up against someone who hasn't encoded the same knowledge into their game plan and it will leave them open to a relatively large chunk of what cage fighting involves.
It means that the fighter who has learned how to wrestle can get an easy win.
Fighters like Aoki, who choose to fight in an aggressive manner and go for the finish while ignoring wrestling, and how it relates to the cage, will always come out on the losing end when they face top competition.
It is what has held BJ Penn back as well. Penn doesn't care to learn certain techniques.
Aoki has much of the same attitude and went as far as to say that if he lost to Melendez that MMA in Japan would be over (via Bloody Elbow). That statement shows the arrogance of Aoki.
He is only 28, but he is stubborn and trains and fights in Japan where most of the promotions use a ring. Unless he is willing to change his mind and learn how to effectively use a cage, he will never be more then a talented fighter with great potential.
In the first photo in this article, Aoki stood in front of the word "evolve." Now, that is what he needs to do if he ever wants to be the best.
And with his attitude, it just ins't going to happen.
Matthew Hemphill writes for the MMA and professional wrestling portion of Bleacher Report. He also hosts a blog elbaexiled.blogspot.com which focuses on books, music, comic books, video games, film, and generally anything that could be related to the realms of nerdom.