The ONE Championship flyweight division will have to protect their necks now that Aleksi “The Giant” Toivonen has shown how dangerous his grappling game is.
At ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY last Friday, 12 July, the Evolve representative from Finland needed just a small window of opportunity in the first round to jump on Akihiro “Superjap” Fujisawa’s back and make him tap to a rear-naked choke.
The victory kept the 27-year-old’s 100-percent finishing ratio alive and proved he was not fazed by his first appearance in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
As he celebrates his victory back in his homeland, “The Giant” explains how he set up and executed his superb submission, as well as when he expects to compete next in The Home Of Martial Arts.
ONE Championship: How did it feel to get your first win in The Home Of Martial Arts?
Aleksi Toivonen: I’m satisfied with the end result. I think that went as planned, you can never be dissatisfied with a three-minute win, but I still think I didn’t get to show what I can do.
There were a lot of things that we worked on in camp that I couldn’t execute like techniques, so I’m kind of disappointed about that, but at least there is something to work on for the next fight.
ONE: How difficult was it to deal with his movement on the feet?
AT: The plan was to feel him out. It was a bit awkward to start – he was moving sideways a lot. We were preparing for movement, but he was moving a lot, coming in with the forehead first, so I couldn’t find the timing for the counter.
The first minute and a half was a little awkward, but then I landed a few strikes and found the space for the leg kick, so the end went as planned.
ONE: You seemed to be composed the whole time, but did he pose any danger to you?
AT: I think every fight is important, and every fight brings its own challenges, so you have to be prepared for the challenge.
Fujisawa brought a lot to the table – kind of an awkward style. A lot of people have a hard time landing strikes [on him], and he has good top control.
Every single fight brings different challenges that you have to prepare for, so I fight calm, and I pace myself, but when I see the opening, then I just go.
ONE: Fujisawa stumbled when you landed your first leg kick, so was that a cue for you to set up another to knock him off-balance?
AT: Yeah, it wasn’t part of the initial game plan, but I saw how he moved and reacted, and I heard my corner advise me.
When I landed my first, I saw him step really heavy on the lead leg, so my corner yelled to do it again, and I just took the advice. I did it again, then entered into the grappling exchange, which is always fun for me.
ONE: Did you plan to shoot for a takedown at any point?
AT: Takedowns are always on the cards for me because I’m a grappler, I prefer to grapple almost anyone.
I’m not saying that’s always the game plan, but that’s always on the cards. I heard Alex Silva say, ‘Next time he comes forward, shoot for the takedown.’
I was like, okay I’ll do that, but then I saw the opening, I thought I would throw the one leg kick and see how that works, and it worked so no need to takedown this time.
ONE: Once you got the rear-naked choke, did you feel like it was over?
AT: Yeah, it was locked pretty tight. No matter what submission, if it’s on, it’s on. It will do the necessary damage to get the submission.
ONE: The win maintained your record of never leaving the first round – what does that say about you as an athlete, and how important is it to keep that streak alive?
AT: I don’t think it’s a big deal, but what it says about me as a fighter is my style of martial arts is aggressive, and it’s finish oriented.
I’m a fighter who hunts for submissions and hunts for the knockout, but I’m prepared always for a three or five-round fight – I’m prepared to go for the decision.
That’s just my style, it’s natural for me to go for the finish, so when I see an opening, I grab it with both hands.
ONE: Are there any things you feel you need to work on for your next match?
AT: For sure. We had a few things we worked on that I couldn’t execute. They were locked and loaded, but I just couldn’t fire, so that was a big thing.
The things that we specifically worked on need more work, and the next time, I hope I am able to execute them.
ONE: Where do you go from here?
AT: I’m feeling good. No major injuries – just bumps and bruises, and mainly from the camp. I hope to get a quick turnaround and be back in October, November – whatever is available.
I’m a work in progress. I have a lot of work to do to get to the top of the division, but I’m willing to put in the work.
I hope to get another fight this year, and then maybe early next year, so keep busy, keep racking up the fights, keep getting better, and eventually, reach the top of the division.