Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out For in 2018


Since Hisaki Kato knocked out Joe Schilling, my list of Japanese rookies seemed to get quite a bit more attention. I unfortunately could not include Syuri Kondo and Daichi Abe in last year’s list due to their shorter careers. I could change the list structure to include such fighters, but it would mean that it is more of a gamble that they’ll be picked up by larger orgs. At the same time, you can still follow fighters’ improvement on UFC Fight Pass or DEEP Fight Global.

Naoki Inoue was picked up by the UFC and he was included in last year’s list. Likewise, Shintaro Ishiwatari chose to sign with Rizin and he also came from this list in 2017. Many fighters that I have spotlighted in the past now belong to larger orgs. Still, I can bring attention to more names because this year Japanese MMA succeeded in building a new generation.


Takumi Tamaru

Tamaru became known as a promising rookie after finishing Yasuhiro Urushitani in the first round. He then drew with Hayato Ishii, who is Megumi Fujii’s prodigy. Tamaru was sidelined with an injury for the remainder of 2017 and he will face PXC champ Riley Dutro on January 28. If he passes that tough test, his improvement curve will be very high.


Hayato Ishii

Ishii represents BURST gym and his coaches are Megumi Fujii and Shinji Sasaki. He won a close decision against Yoshiro Maeda and fought a tough scramble fest against Takumi Tamaru that ended in a draw. Ishii did lose to Tadaaki “Onibozu” Yamamoto in a title eliminator bout, but this did not worry me very much since his coach is a legendary MMA fighter.

Yuya Wakamatsu

Wakamatsu is from Ryo Chonan’s Tribe Tokyo MMA and he has scored KO wins against some opponents whom I have previously rated highly. He will next meet Senzo Ikeda, a former pro boxer. Ikeda defeated Japanese pioneer Mamoru Yamaguchi, who is known for his masterful Muay Thai, in the striking battles. If Wakamatsu knocks out Ikeda, it would be a sensational statement for the prospect to make.

Kana Watanabe

Watanabe has already had one Rizin fight, but I want to highlight that she defeated Shizuka Sugiyama, who had 19 fights’ worth of experience and who previously fought for a Deep Jewels title. Prior to that, Watanabe had only had her debut fight. While I normally don’t get too excited about a fighter’s future during their debut, hers against Hikari Sato was different. She knocked Sato down in that fight, which is rare since judo convert fighters have a bad habit of moving their arm. Some judo fighters can never get past that, but Watanabe passed the test.

Takashi Sato

Sato is back from an injury absence. He avenged his lone loss to Kenta Takagi with takedowns and ground and pound, but his most significant win came against Akihiro Murayama. He won with his striking on the feet. When he first lost to Takagi, I worried about his striking, but he has improved. Perhaps his next fight (maybe against Hiromitsu Miura?) will define his career path.

Yoshiki Nakahara

Nakahara’s dominant win against Akitoshi Tamura was shocking since Tamura is known for being very tough to finish. His punches dealt a huge amount of damage. He also won against Hiroshige Tanaka in striking, which is Tanaka’s specialty. After that fight, Nakahara petitioned Sean Shelby for an opportunity to compete for the UFC.

Koyomi's documentary (Japanese)

Koyomi Matsushima

Matsushima struggled early in career with his striking. His move to PancraseISM Yokohama changed his career path. He can mix takedowns effectively with striking now due to coaching from Satoru Kitaoka, and Matsushima recently defeated former PXC champ Kyle Aguon.

Ryuichiro Sumimura

Last year, DEEP held a welterweight grand prix. Sumimura shocked fans by upsetting Ken Hasegawa. In the process, he spoiled Hasegawa’s planned UFC signing and was crowned as DEEP’s welterweight champ. Sumimura has since declared that he wants to fight for Rizin.

Makoto Takahashi

Takahashi is only 17 years old, but he won a competitive fight against Hiroki Yamashita. I can’t say too much yet since he is so young, but when thinking about how Paraestra Matsudo has recently produced champions (Kanna Asakura, Yoshitaka Naito), we better keep an eye on him.



Jin Aoi

Takashi Nakakura’s student, Jin Aoi, faced Shooto Pac-Rim champ Ryogo Takahashi. Aoi lost, but he made the fight competitive when many predicted that Takahashi would dominate. He tried unsuccessfully to counter Takahashi’s trademark low kicks and leglocks in the fight. Aoi is still young and he has plenty of time to develop his career.



Yoshinori Horie

Many Japanese fans took note of Horie’s striking and finishing ability, and Horie is this year’s best rookie in Pancrase. His karate swings are very wild and that makes it hard to predict their course. He is a part of the Pancrase featherweight division, which is the deepest in Japan. Therefore, he needs time before stepping up to major orgs, but he is young enough to wait.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2017

It's baaack! This is the 2017 edition of the annual Fighters to Watch For series.

Yoshitaka Naito is excluded from this year’s list because he fought for One FC and won their world title, but will we see his long-awaited match against Mitsuhisa Sunabe? I hope so. Tatsumitsu Wada competed for Rizin and defeated Kai Kara-France, so I left him off of this prospects list as well.

Since UFC Fight Pass has added Shooto and Pancrase, I think that you'll enjoy this list even more than before.



Ishiwatari's 2016 campaign was defined by avenging his loss to Jonathan Brookins. He defeated Brookins in spite of Brookins missing weight, which is worth more than an average win. Ishiwatari was continuously taken down and lost a decision to Brookins in their first fight, but he defeated his overweight opponent with sprawls in the rematch that showcased his improved takedown defense.


Takumi Tamaru vs Kohei Haruka


Tamaru earned his biggest career win in 2016 against Yasuhiro Urushitani. He did not allow Urushitani to use his striking pressure and submitted Urushitani with an armbar. Even though Urushitani is in the twilight of his career and declared that he will retire after his next fight, Tamaru needed just one round to become the fastest man to ever finish him.



Kanbe battled injuries throughout 2016, but he did engage in a semi-brawl situation with Jarred Brooks. I look forward to major promotions building strawweight classes so that they can face each other.



Mizuki continued her winning streak with three finishes in 2016 before suffering a knee injury. She is not yet in the UFC rankings due to being outside of the organization, but we all know she should be in there.




Naoki Inoue vs Naoyuki Kato


Mizuki's little brother scored his biggest win to date in 2016 when he defeated Yuya Shibata, who is a former DEEP title challenger. Of course, the Inoue siblings are best known as strikers, but Naoki has used his excellent submission skills to finish seven of his nine professional opponents, and remains unbeaten.



Suzuki’s lone fight in 2016 ended in a first-round submission victory over Seok-Yong Kim. We need to see him compete for higher stakes this year. Hopefully the rumored Rizin Flyweight Grand Prix picks him up.




Kurosawa captured Shooto gold in 2016 when he defeated Ryuto Sawada again. He is a teammate of Yoshitaka Naito, who is One FC champion. I expect Kurosawa to face international opposition this year, which will hopefully help to develop and showcase atomweight competition around the world.



Even though she lost to Rin Nakai, Murata is still very early in her MMA career. I do not think that she was in the best physical condition against Nakai, and I expect that she will face appropriate opponents in fights that allow her to develop her skills this year.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em. Syncopation and Combination

When you watch a fight, do you ever wonder why a strike did or did not land? Sometimes, when a fighter's skill level is too low, he or she may not see an opponent's punch coming because of poor reflexes, but most times fighters are matched up against a similar level of opposition.

As a result, fighters use tricks in order to land strikes. For example, fighters use combinations. A jab grabs an opponent's attention, followed by a second strike that is designed to try to KO the opponent while they are unaware that the strike is coming. Of course, if the competition level is high, combinations will be more common and prevalent.

For example, combinations are used in order to see how an opponent will react in defense. Then, with the next combo, when the opponent thinks they know which strikes will come, perhaps the first punch is the same jab but the second kick is to the head rather than to the body, which the opponent does not expect.

What I ask is do you realize how physiological reflexes work between these moves? Essentially, people think in expectations about what we will do in the future. When you type a sentence, you unconsciously type on the keyboard. You don't think about how to type. Memory and reflexes work there.

Such a thing works in striking defense, too. Fighters are trained to use combinations in order to trick opponents' reflexes. They use mixtures of strong-weak, fast-slow strikes in order to affect opponents' physiological reactions. Sometimes, fighters get hit by the second shot in a combination even if it is slower, which is because physiological reactions can matter more than simple reflex speed.

This type of strike's trick is resembled by music's rhythm. When you listen to music and feel a groove, there is a gap between slow-fast, weak-strong beats that makes your waist move like syncopation.

When you watch beautiful combinations or defense in fights (like Anderson Silva), you should take note of which moves are fast or slow, and which weak or strong. This will improve your ability to identify the beauty of the skills used in fights.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2016

We're back with the 2016 edition of Fighters to Watch For.

The most pleasant thing from last year's list was Hisaki Kato's knockout of Joe Schilling in Bellator. I mentioned Kato in the 2015 list and he was quite unknown beforehand due to the fact that his fights in HEAT were not well-known. I personally believe that I contributed to increasing his recognition.

Hisaki Kato is now in Bellator, so he is excluded from this list. Ayaka Hamasaki (Invicta champ) and Yuki Motoya (Rizin) should get attention without my inclusion, so I excluded them this year. I hope you enjoy watching rookie fighters grow like I do.




Koyomi Matsushima

Matsushima debuted in February and he fought five times in 2015. He finished all of the fights and four of them ended in the first round. He has not had any competitive fights yet, and I want him to have good striking training because I think there is danger if he can't get a proper striking coach. Other than that, he is physically the best rookie since Kyoji Horiguchi.

See video of his slam KO in PXC:  and his KO in Shooto:




Tatsumitsu Wada

While Motoya had a no contest in Rizin, Wada had two fights against Korean fighters in 2015. He has not recently faced quality opponents in Japan besides Motoya and Ogikubo. He will face Jae Nam Yoo at Deep: 75 Impact.




Shintaro Ishiwatari

Ishiwatari suffered an injury early this past year. He fought Victor Henry in December and it was Japanese MMA's Fight of the Year. He has been unable to win against some of the elite opponents in his career, but I still want to see him in the major MMA scene because his fights are almost always very entertaining.


Kento Kanbe

Kanbe was crowned as the Pancrase light flyweight champion this past year with a one-sided beating of Yukitaka Musashi. He needs to change divisions now since Pancrase adopted the unified weight classes. I'm looking forward to watching him face the champion in a different weight class.




Yoshitaka Naito

In 2015, Naito beat younger strawweight fighters like Ryuto Sawada, and I previously named Sawada as a fighter to watch out for. Naito is always looking for takedowns and ground and pound to set up submissions, and he engages in fun scrambles during fights. I hope he appears in a major promotion to help build a new division. He has the gimmick of "Nobita," which is derived from the famous manga character "Draemon."




Mizuki Inoue

Mizuki had a rough 2015 with a loss against Alexa Grasso and a difficult fight against Emi Fujino. She began 2016 with a win against Lacey Schuckman, but I hope that she improves her physical power and wrestling.


Hayato Suzuki

Suzuki is not well-known as a prospect because he fights for Grachan, which has a small fan base, but his win against Shooto ranker Yosuke Saruta definitely gave him recognition in the JMMA world. He was crowned as Grachan champ in September. I hope he will face other organizations' champions in order to further elevate his status.


Ryohei "Ken Asuka" Kurosawa and Ryuto Sawada

Kurosawa was knocked out by Junji Ito and Sawada was submitted by Yoshitaka Naito in 2015, but both are young and talented. Sawada is only 20 and Kurosawa is 22.


Kanako Murata

Murata has not yet debuted in MMA, but she is the first Japanese female athlete with such a high amateur status to convert to MMA. She had a wrestling match against Saori Yoshida and almost won the match before losing it in the late stages. Of course, I don't know how well she can adapt to MMA, but I can't hide my anticipation.

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sneak Peek into the Reversal Gym Yokohama Ground Slam with Shuichiro Katsumura and Seiichiro Ito

What best reminds you of Shuichiro Katsumura? His work at Tohoku for earthquake charities, or perhaps his Ninja Choke against Masakatsu Ueda?

I will discuss another side of Katsumura today. He is also known for owning his gym, Ground Slam, where he has taught Michinori Tanaka. His teaching and cornering was highly valued by many fighters. Hideo Tokoro has had him in his corner and Michihiro Omigawa had Katsumura corner him for his UFC fight.


Katsumura did Shinici Kojima's corner

I brought my anonymous customer to receive teaching from Katsumura. I had only offered Katsumura for teaching, but surprisingly there was another fighter at the gym who provided additional assistance. Katsumura's student, ZST flyweight Seiichiro Ito, arrived for personal training.


Shuichiro Katsumura

Katsumura said that he needed an assistant in order to demonstrate grappling, but he has many students, so my customer was very lucky to get to work with both a Shooto champ and ZST champ at the same time.

Katsumura taught his Ninja Choke, which is hard to set up, and he showed my customer variations of how he sets up Ninja Chokes depending on the situation. He also demonstrated how to escape from mount as well.


Katsumura and Ito

Katsumura's personal training costs 7000 yen per hour. He requires a translator for teaching people who do not speak Japanese.



Big thanks to Shuichiro Katsumura, Seiichiro Ito and my anonymous customer. Also big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sneak Peek into the Alliance Square with Katsunori Kikuno

Here is the continuation of my annual "Gym Sneak Peek" series. This time, the personal trainer is Katsunori Kikuno, an Okinawan Kenpo Karate fighter who currently competes for the UFC.



Of course, some of his fans might ask, "Isn't he a Kyokushin Karate fighter?" Kikuno tries to maximize his striking damage like the "Ichigeki" philosophy does now, which involves new karate, but Okinawa is where karate evolved and he learned from the oldest karate style.


Yamashiro teaching his karate with Kikuno

Kikuno was taught new tsuki (strikes) by Yoshitomo Yamashiro, who is an Okinawan Kenpo Karate master. Kikuno's KO victories against Luiz Andrade I and Takafumi Ito were both created by his new tsuki.



Kikuno taught my customer in a very friendly manner and he explained the details of his strikes. He demonstrated what he has done recently, but also taught his trademark crescent kick as well.



If you're a traditional martial arts fan, nothing is more fun than learning from Kikuno, who tries to adapt ancient skills to modern combat sports. He has not shown his tsuki KOs in the UFC yet, but I am one who enjoys something different in MMA and I'm waiting for that moment.



Learning from Kikuno costs 10,000 yen per hour. He requires a translator for teaching since explaining karate techniques in English can be quite difficult.



Big thanks to Katsunori Kikuno and my anonymous customer. Also big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mitsuyo Maeda's biography tell us old world and old fight world relate to early MMA

If Mitsuyo Maeda had not visited Brazil, MMA may not exist. If it did, it would be very different.


"A Lion's Dream (Conde Koma)" is the biography of Maeda. Written by Norio Kouyama, this book was honored with the Shogakukan Non-Fiction Award. Kouyama is not a martial arts specialist, so in this review of the book I evaluate how much merit it has as a biography.

Jigoro Kano was ambitious about education. He had dedicated himself to developing judo in Japan, but at the same time he was known as an educator. During this time, Japan was not valued as an equal by the western world, and martial arts were regarded lightly because of western culture and its guns. Martial arts were treated as strange samurai tactics that were not useful (against guns) during the Meiji period in Japan.

Kano believed that education could change the perspective about martial arts and of Japan itself. Therefore, he believed that he needed to expand traditional martial arts by introducing them to the western world. He dispatched many of his students around the world. Tsunejiro Tomita was set to be dispatched, but he was already more than 40 years old and Kano felt that he needed to recruit more of the younger active martial artists for this task. Luckily for Maeda, his other mentors were sent to Butokukai and he was able to travel abroad.

Butokukai Head Quarter

Before two judokas began the trip, one was recognized in America. That man was Yoshitsugu Yamashita, who impressed Theodore Roosevelt with his judo. Roosevelt wanted to bring a judo class to Annapolis, but Annapolis did not like that idea. After further discussion, Yamashita was permitted to compete at Annapolis. He fought a wrestler, Lieutenant Joseph Grant, who was roughly 10 years younger than Yamashita. Grant stood 2.0 meters tall and weighed 160kgs. Yamashita was 1.6 meters tall and weighed only 68kgs.

Yamashita had already spent one year in the United States and he knew how wrestlers fought. He countered Grant's forward movement with a throw and immediately went for a rear-naked choke. Grant stood up to try to flip Yamashita, but Yamashita secured an armbar when Grant used his left arm to stand. Grant gave up the fight and that made Yamashita the new judo coach at Annapolis.

Tomita and Maeda arrived in New York and were invited to West Point due to Yamashita's success at Annapolis. Maeda fought a school wrestling champion who took top position early in the match. The audience believed that that was the definition of victory, but Maeda rose to his feet and threw the wrestler before submitting him with an armbar. The audience still believed that the wrestler had won by pinfall.

Even at his advanced age, the audience believed that Tomita was better than Maeda since he was Maeda's mentor. As an athlete, Tomita was past his prime, but West Point arranged for him to compete against an even better fighter than Maeda had faced.

Tomita lost that fight and that made his and Maeda's evaluations lower. This is why Maeda went on to challenge many other martial arts fighters for money and recognition. He made trips to many countries to challenge other martial artists, and he understood judo's merits and faults against various disciplines.

During his breakdown of wrestling, Maeda noted that he would only accept fights against clothed opponents. He felt that he would still defeat unclothed wrestlers who were the same size as him, but he could lose to heavier opponents simply due to a power disadvantage. He recommended the Tsurikomigoshi technique against wrestlers because catching an arm would benefit the judoka and also defend against an opponent's attacks if a throw failed.

Maeda broke down tactics for competing against a boxer as well. He tried to challenge Jack Johnson, but Johnson refused to take part in a cross martial arts battle. The author of "Conde Koma" points out that this was similar to how proud Helio Gracie was when Joe Louis refused his challenge.

Maeda's foes were not billed as the strongest martial artists. Each one would simply be presented to him as a boxing champion or a wrestling champion. Maeda was confident that he could beat all of them, but there was a level of respect from both sides and his opponents did not proclaim to be "masters" at boxing or wrestling.

Maeda gained fame among Japanese immigrants in the United States due to the martial arts contests that he won. At the time, a movement had begun in America against Japanese immigrants. Maeda was conscious of the respect from immigrants and also of the social circumstances. He used the ring name "Yamato Maeda" to encourage people and himself.

During his trips all over world, Maeda spent time in some countries where Japanese people had comfortable lives. Brazil was undeveloped compared to America, but Maeda felt that there were still opportunities for Japanese immigrants to thrive.

I have omitted Maeda's time in Japan and in Brazil from this review because that should be read if and when it is presented in book form. "Conde Koma" is more about the social situations that Maeda faced and it includes almost nothing about his relationship with the Gracies or his education. Still, it is interesting because it explains how he encountered cross martial arts fights and how his journey resembled that of the early Gracies. It also educates newer MMA fans who are not familiar with the lineage of martial arts.

Yoshizo Machida, who manages Maeda's grave, shows a copy of "Conde Koma."

My other artcile about Judo's advance to the world

Big thanks to Robert Sargent  (MMA Rising) for English editing.