Though flyweight champ Mikey Musumeci may be undefeated on the ONE Championship stage, he doesn’t consider himself a true victor unless he submits his opponent. It’s an objectively daunting task, especially when matched up against the legendary Shinya Aoki – whom even ADCC’s youngest-ever champion Kade Ruotolo couldn’t tap.
Nevertheless, Mikey was determined to make it happen. “I’m a perfectionist, and I’m very hard on myself,” he explains to me. “I said this before the match: ‘If I don’t submit Shinya, I lost.’”
He’s said the same thing before every match he’s ever taken on the ONE stage.
“I don’t really care about winning,” Mikey confides. “I know that with my style and game, it’s very easy to win – especially in the ONE Championship ruleset. For me, what’s really winning is finishing the person.”
True to his word, last weekend, ONE’s submission grappling flyweight king not only finished Aoki – he did it with Shinya’s very own patented Aoki-lock.
“I tricked him,” explains Mikey. “In technical jiu-jitsu terms, there’s two positions, and they’re directly correlated – and one gives you the other. So, I went for an outside heel hook – which is exposing his heel toward my mouth, and turning the knee inwards. The only way to defend the outside heel hook is opening your foot and opening your knee.
“Opening your foot and opening your knee exposes the Aoki-lock.” He grins, looking mischievous. “So I purposely attacked an outside heel hook – overtly, to make Shinya defend. And by defending it, he gave me the Aoki-lock.”
From Mikey’s point of view, his victorious game plan was the truest homage he could think of, to a man that he considers a grandmaster in the world of jiu-jitsu.
“[Shinya] really didn’t lose – he actually won, because he created that technique,” argues Mikey. “That was my mindset. People said I was disrespectful for doing his move on him, but I can’t believe that people would twist things that way. I had a hundred percent good vibes and good intentions by doing that technique on him.”
Musumeci, 27, has enough foresight to recognize that youth isn’t everlasting, and that one day, he too will be the aging legend standing in the path of ambitious youngsters hoping to make their name off defeating him. He simply hopes that when the day comes, he too will get to see, firsthand, the legacy he’s left on the sport.
“Immediately after the fight, I said to [Shinya], ‘This is your move! This is your move!’” remembers Mikey. “And he said ‘Thank you’ to me. So it was good vibes. It was a very special moment, not just for me, but for him also.”
It’s given him a lot of food for thought for what his own career will look like, another ten or fifteen years down the line. Musumeci would love, for example, to eventually find himself on the business end of his very own Mikey-lock, weaponized by a cheeky young up-and-comer. He hopes that by the time he reaches Shinya’s age, he’ll be able to lay claim to the same level of impact on jiu-jitsu as a whole.
“If I was to lose, I would love somebody to do a move that I invented on me!” exclaims Mikey. “It would be special. It would be really cool – like passing the torch from one generation to the other. I think that creates a really special moment.”
Though in previous interviews, Musumeci has declared his giant-slaying days in the absolute division long behind him, his victory over the stronger and heavier Aoki appears to have sparked new ambitions in the flyweight champ. It helps, of course, that Mikey employed training methods specifically designed to prep his game for the challenges of a bigger opponent.
“What I did was, in training, I avoided a lot of spots where I felt that people stronger than me would be difficult to finish,” he elaborates. “I have this training partner named Sergei – he’s Russian, so he’s definitely strong, right?”
Musumeci offers a conspiratorial grin, and chuckles, adding, “So every time I roll with him, I’m like, ‘Sergei, be Russian, be Russian!’ So I’ll get him in a triangle, and he starts squeezing. I get him in an armbar, and he locks his hands. It’s impossible for me to break. He’s strong as f**k. So I did a lot of training like that for the match – where I keep feeling like the person’s too strong, and I’m not going to be able to break through.
“That was an adaptation I made. I knew what to avoid, and what to go for – and I feel like that’s what made the difference for me.”
Having found success in a catchweight bout, Mikey would like to see a 145-pound division at ONE – and would be willing to move up in weight in order to test himself against more challenging opponents. “The thing is, I’m not afraid of anyone – I just sometimes need to stay in my division, and have some time to grow my jiu-jitsu, and not be reckless,” he explains, confiding that he’s previously burnt out from doing too many competitions in a row, all at different weight classes.
Musumeci assures me that he has since learned from that mistake – and furthermore, believes he’s found a way to more sustainably compete in multiple divisions.
The flyweight king has been frustrated by a sometimes difficult-to-please fanbase, some of whom have previously quibbled over the caliber of his opponents. “The thing is, everyone’s always p**sed at me,” Mikey tells me bluntly – and a little sadly. “They’re f**king mad at me, but I’m just competing. I compete with whoever they give me. But now, I feel like I’m at the point where I’m just sick of people complaining.”
He lists the most common grievances he’s heard: “I fight the current no-gi world champion at 125, but 125 is off-limits for me – everyone gets mad if I fight 125 now, even though that’s my weight class. So I’m not allowed to do that division with everyone getting mad. If I do 135, everyone gets pissed at me too.”
At this point, he’s ready to move up to 145 just to prove a point. Or, as he puts it, “just to shut everyone up.”
As an additional response to the criticism, Musumeci has taken to calling out the current best of the best among big names in modern jiu-jitsu. “My goal now – I’m begging ONE Championship for this match – is that I want to fight Baby Shark,” he shares. “I think that this match would explode.”
Diogo “Baby Shark” Reis, who completed the highly prestigious IBJJF Grand Slam back in 2019, most recently tore through his ADCC division to take his throne atop the men’s 66kg division. He also currently sits a solid ten pounds above Musumeci’s heaviest fighting weight, and twenty pounds above Mikey at his lightest.
“I think that Baby Shark said he could make 135, so I would love for him to come to ONE, and have me and him fight at 135,” says Musumeci. “So I’ve been repeatedly begging the ONE Championship people for this match.”
Mikey would also love to avenge his WNO loss to Gabriel Sousa, one of the only men on the planet to have successfully passed Musumeci’s guard in competition.
“There’s two people that I really want to beat next year,” says Mikey. “Baby Shark – and Gabriel Sousa. I really, really, want both these matches. I’m begging ONE for them. Gabriel Sousa can’t make 135, so I’ll move up to fight him, but one match at a time. I would really like to fight Diogo Reis, and then if I can beat him, I would like to fight Gabriel Sousa.”
It just might happen for him – and with potential matches in higher weight classes now on the table for ONE’s flyweight champion, Musumeci no doubt intends to keep collecting those viral submission victories.