Mikey Musumeci explains how winning a NAGA belt nearly ended his competitive career

Ahead of his match with Shinya Aoki at ONE Championship, Mikey Musumeci spoke about the time he nearly stopped competing in BJJ.

Current ONE flyweight submission grappling world champion Mikey Musumeci will soon return to action, as he’s set to take on longtime MMA submission specialist Shinya Aoki in an openweight match this Friday at ONE Fight Night 15.

Undefeated in ONE Championship and with five IBJJF world titles to his name, Musumeci has firmly established himself as one of the world’s top pound-for-pound jiu-jitsu competitors, but the self-described “momma’s boy” says he once nearly stepped away from BJJ competition.

According to him, his mother has never enjoyed watching her son compete.

“I remember when I was a kid, my mom was so scared of me doing jiu-jitsu,” he said in an interview with ONE Championship. “She’s like, ‘I don’t want you to compete anymore. I don’t want you to compete anymore.’” 

An IBJJF gi and no-gi juvenile world champion, Musumeci was an incredibly successful competitor from an early age. But before he was one of jiu-jitsu’s most promising young talents, the New Jersey native had his sights set on a different prize.

“But I wanted to win a belt at NAGA.”

In retrospect, Musumeci’s goal of earning a NAGA belt – one of grappling’s most iconic yet common prizes – seems silly.

He knew what he wanted, though, and cut a deal with his mother:

“So then I said that my mom like, ‘No, no. Just let me compete one more time. I wanna win a belt, please. I really wanna win a belt.’ She’s like, ‘OK, one more competition so you can win.’ So then I went and competed and I won like 3 belts and I came home and she’s like, ‘Now you’re done.’”

Of course, Musumeci was far from done. Since that pivotal NAGA tournament, he’s gone on to become arguably the greatest American-born BJJ competitor, finding loads of success in both gi and no-gi black belt ranks.

“And then then she let me keep going,” he recalled. “But we had a deal when I was a kid, I was going to stop competing because she was scared of me competing… I was able to break that deal and keep competing, luckily. But yeah, I almost stopped competing at that point.”

Mikey Musumeci embraces the size disadvantage against Shinya Aoki

Still competing and still accepting unique challenges, Mikey Musumeci will now take on an opponent who outweighs him by a significant margin.

Long considered one of MMA’s finest ground fighters, Shinya Aoki is an ADCC veteran, a former ONE MMA world champion, and owns 30 career submissions.

Importantly, the Japanese veteran has spent the vast majority of his career competing at 155 or 170 pounds. Musumeci, on the other hand, holds the ONE submission grappling title at 135 pounds and has competed in the IBJJF at 126 pounds.

“I think he’ll have like 30 pounds on me for sure,” Musumeci speculated. “At least 35, like 30, 35 pounds, maybe 40 pounds even. I don’t know how much he weighs, but it should be interesting. I always love challenges with people bigger than me to see how good my jiu-jitsu is.”

Indeed, the size difference will play a key factor in this match.

While Musumeci is the much more accomplished pure grappler, Aoki has proven to be a tough out for anyone in the world. Current ONE lightweight submission grappling world champion and reigning 77kg ADCC world champion Kade Ruotolo was unable to submit the Japanese fighter when the two met in May 2022.

Heading into their clash this Friday, Musumeci says the real question is if he can tap Aoki:

“One thing I’ll also say about Shinya is that Kade Rotolo, the 170-pound champion, fought him and couldn’t finish. So I’m going up in weight and fighting a guy that the champion couldn’t finish and Shinya is a tough guy to finish, you know. So it’s gonna be a very – it’s gonna be an interesting match. Can I finish him? It’s going to be interesting.”

How to watch: ONE Fight Night 15 takes place on Friday, October 6, and will air live on Prime Video (free with Amazon Plus subscription) beginning at 8 PM ET.

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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