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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.