Saturday, January 9, 2021

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2021

 This annual series looking at Japanese MMA prospects is back. With the Covid-19 situation, Rizin could not use foreign fighters and so Japanese prospects were easily picked up by the promotion. However, some others still remain, and they are waiting on fans like you to confirm their talents and to enjoy watching their careers develop. As always, I have excluded fighters who moved on to the UFC, Bellator, Rizin and One.

Tatsuro Taira (7-0)

Ryota Matsune’s student at Paraestra Okinawa, Tatsuro Taira, has recently shown significant improvement in his career. In November, he defeated Kiyotaka Shimizu, who is known as a good veteran fighter. Taira was not only better at grappling but also won in striking, which is normally Shimizu's strongest area. Okinawa rarely produces well-known MMA fighters, aside from Matsune and Mitsuhisa Sunabe. Now that Matsune and Sunabe are back there and have started a gym, that trend should change. Taira has declared that he wants to go to the world's top promotion, the UFC. However, during this pandemic situation, going to Rizin first could be a wise choice.

Tatsuro Taira vs Yamato Takagi

Tatsuya Saika (7-1)

This past year, Saika won the interim lightweight King of Pancrase title. Not only that, he finished opponent Genpei Hayashi with a scary one-shot uppercut. Saika wants to fight against Takasuke Kume, who is the King of Pancrase champion, but also declared that he would like to compete for Rizin.

Tatsuya "Yanbo" Saika vs Takaya Tsukuda


Seika Izawa (2-0)

Izawa has a strong background in wrestling and judo, but the fact that she beat DEEP Jewels champ Miki Motono in only her second MMA fight still shocked me. She landed right body kicks over and over against Motono and was able to control the distance well. By avoiding most of Motono's jabs and straight punches, Izawa showed how capable she is when it comes to MMA striking. Izawa stated that she wants a title rematch against Motono and plans to take the championship. Later on, she wants to be in the world's top organization, the UFC.

Seika Izawa vs Miki Motono

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Japanese MMA Fighters to Watch Out 2020

After one year's rest, the list is baaaaaack!! Due to Rizin and One signing up a lot of local talent, however, there is a smaller group of fighters to list this year. The purpose of this list is to identify and highlight Japanese talent that is not yet well-known, and so those who are fighting for the UFC, Bellator, Rizin, One or Invicta FC are excluded. Of course, people love fighters with flawless records, but I do regret that I did not previously include the Asakura brothers in my list after they had lost in Road FC. So don't give up on those who may not have the cleanest records here. 

If I was asked to name one fighter who had the biggest impact on the local MMA scene in Japan, Kazuma would be the strongest candidate. His most amazing performances are his endless suplexes against opponents. He can suplex and he can KO opponents with his fists. Kazuma is not the youngest at age 33, but if he can immobilise opponents and save power when needed, we will soon see him on the roster for a major promotion with one or two more wins.

Kazuma Kuramoto vs Kei Iwaki

Kazumasa is not a well-known MMA fighter due to coming from the rural Yamaguchi Prefecture. He is regarded for capturing the Rebel FC title by defeating Rodolfo Marques, but Rebel FC's notoriety in Japan is low. Most recently, he defeated Issei Tamura by submission. This grappler is worth checking out.

Kazumasa Majima vs Rodolfo Marques

Tatsuya, nicknamed as "Yanbo," is known for his street-style wild punching. While absent from this list until now, Tatsuya can follow the lead of the Asakura brothers by rising up from a small promotion to the top of JMMA. Tatsuya graduated from the regional promotion Fighting Nexus and people finally took note of him as a talented rookie when he defeated Tom Santos in Pancrase. I don't know how far this wild-swinging Filipino-Japanese fighter can go, but he will next fight Salimkhan Sadulloev - who is really tough - and the winner will likely move up to a major promotion.

Tatsuya Saika vs Young Uk Woo

Tamaru continued his winning streak in 2019 after losing to Riley Dutro the previous year. He next competes against Nobuki Fujii, who is always in search of takedowns while constantly moving forward. Tamaru is known for his grappling and it is not easy to keep him in bottom position. If he wins his fight against Nobuki Fujii, I want to see him competing on a larger stage.

Horie's brief UFC run came to an end when he was knocked out at UFC 240, but I see that there is still hope for him. He led the first round of his UFC 240 fight with quick footwork and punches. If he can continue to master his footwork through karate, with the same in-and-out movement that we have loved from Lyoto Machida and Kyoji Horiguchi, we will see him back in a major promotion within two years as he is still only 24 years old.

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

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 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.