Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let's get physical

Top Japanese talent continues to struggle fighting in the United States, except one.

Yushin Okami: why has he succeeded where others have not?

I think there are several reasons that Okami has had this kind of success, but I want to focus on one thing: quite simply, too many Japanese fighters overlook the physical aspect of the game.

I think there's a cultural difference between Japanese and western athletes, but there's also genetic differences. Take for example, Jon Entine's "Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It" as just one work that explains the difference across race when it comes to sports and potential success.

Okami is known for his power. When you watch his fights, you can hear his opponents tell their corners between rounds that he's too strong to handle. It's not surprising that Okami has focused on his physical strength, employing strength coach Yuya Igarashi since he was 26. It's rare for a young Japanese fighter to start emphasizing physical training so early on.

Okami doesn't believe Japanese are genetically weak, saying that the Japanese can compete in sports like powerlifting at the world level. However, there are many fighters who feel that way. I don't want to say that Okami is winning only because of strength and conditioning -- that's not it -- but I want to get rid of Japanese fighters making excuses about not being able to physically excel.

"Japanese fighters should try to evolve their skills; we don't have the genetics to get better physically." These thoughts are rampant in Japanese MMA. Many fighters try to compensate by overtraining. For example, former Deep champion and Pride veteran Nobuhiro Obiya took a year off after losing to Kazunori Yokota. He'd essentially overtraining and hurt his back. He needed the time off to heal his cervical vertebrae.

There are physical trainers for MMA purposes in Japan, but compared to the U.S., they're still far behind in terms of knowledge. MMA fighters need to physically experiment with their bodies and learn what works best, but they lack the knowledge. For example, many fighters still feel it's a risk to try to cut weight, fearing adverse effects or injury. As a result, there are still tons of Japanese fighters fighting in the wrong weight class even at the highest level.

This is the severe truth. If Japanese MMA doesn't correct it, fighters will face the savage results. However, there is hope. If somehow, Yushin Okami could earn a major title, it would be a huge statement about what's possible for Japanese fighters and how to achieve it.

Big thanks to Jordan Breen (write for Sherdog) for English and editing.