Shu Hirata Talks Shinya Aoki, Yoshiyuki Yoshida and the State of Japanese MMA

Now that he's been cut by the UFC, Yoshiyuki Yoshida is belatedly considering cutting down to lightweight.

Daniel Herbertson talks to Shu Hirata, manager of Takeya Mizugaki and Yoshiyuki Yoshida, about Shinya Aoki:

...Aoki's fighting style is very risky to begin with and also, this is not to protect him or anything, but his strategy is not suitable for today's five-minute rounds and the 10-point must scoring system. His fight style is suitable for an unlimited time bout where judges score the entire bout (as in PRIDE or DREAM), not by rounds. His fight style is to look for that one or two opportunities to submit the opponent just like Royce Gracie did when he fought Kimo in the primitive era of MMA. In that fight Royce got beat up but yet won the fight with an armbar.

I mean, if you want to be really ultimate about it, Aoki's fight style is suitable for fighting in an open field with no judges. Fighters fight till one of them submits or gets knocked out kinda thing. He would be suitable for fighting in a place like Ganryu Island where Misashi Miyamoto faced Kojiro Sasaki. But we all know this is a modern era of MMA. So I am not surprised that Aoki got dominated because he has never really kept up with what has been taking place in the North America for the past ten years or so.

About Aoki's claim that if he lost, Japan would become an MMA "colony" of the USA:

You know, I've had dinner with Aoki so I know him and I think he is a good guy but I am going to say something very critical because I like the guy. Who the hell do you think you are? Really, who said that you are the representative of Japan?

While he was taking a safe path, the guys like Yushin Okami, Ryo Chonan, Akihiro Gono, Yoshiro Maeda, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Keitaro Nakamura, Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Mitsuhiro Miura, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Takeya Mizugaki and recently Takanori Gomi, and of course, many others, bravely stepped up and went to the real "Major League" called the UFC/WEC. Sure only few of them are still surviving in there but these guys are the fighters that carried the Japanese flag on their shoulders.

All Aoki did was, walked on a safe, glorious path created by DREAM and fought in Strikeforce, which is not necessarily the certified "Major League" of MMA. He is not walking on the tough road. Its like while Ichiro and Matusi are playing in the MLB, he was making a special appearance in some Canadian or Carribean baseball league. So for him to say Japan has become a MMA colony of the States just because he got beat by Melendez is a big insult to guys like Okami, Mizugaki and Yoshida who are still fighting and winning enough to stay in the big leagues.

Hirata also discusses the need for Japanese fighters to modernize their training and nutrition regimes to compete with the American and Brazilian fighters.

And he wraps up with a simple, but difficult to achieve, prescription for reviving MMA in Japan:

Look at MLB. its very popular in Japan now because there are Japanese stars that are doing well - like Ichiro and Matsui. But in the UFC or WEC, we still haven't seen Ichiro or Matsui yet. Think of it this way: if GSP or Anderson Silva were Japanese, then they would be all over the Japanese TV by now and even an old lady in the deep woods of Yamagata prefecture would know what the UFC is. So fighters are the ones that can really change everything. Even only one Japanese champ might be able to change everything. We need Japanese Tiger Woods in the UFC then everything would fall into the places for the entire industry.  

Hirata also talks to Mike Chiappetta about his fighter Yoshiyuki Yoshida and his potential move down to lightweight after being cut from the UFC:

That decision reflects the current conditions of Japanese MMA now," he said, adding that Yoshida believes he can earn more money elsewhere.

With a direction in mind, now the question will be whether Yoshida drops to lightweight or continues on as a welterweight. It is a debate which Yoshida had even before being offered the Guymon fight, and one that will be ongoing in the near future.

"Fifteen pounds is a huge drop, and it's better to drop it slowly," Hirata said. "He felt it was risky to try immediately, so he decided to stick with 170, but now he feels he should consider it."

I'm surprised that Hirata didn't include the need to master weight cutting techniques in his litany of ways for Japanese MMA fighters to improve. Look at Yoshida's losses in the UFC -- 2/3 of them came against powerhouses Josh Koscheck and Anthony Johnson. Both are men who come from a wrestling background where they learned to cut a lot of weight and put it back on by fight time. Johnson in particular is a behemoth for the 170lb division. 

Hirata is currently scouting Japanese high school judo and wrestling champions who will be willing to relocate to the U.S. to train and start their MMA careers. I certainly find that an exciting prospect. While there have been some truly legendary Japanese fighters in MMA -- Kazushi Sakuraba, Takanori Gomi, KID Yamamoto, Mach Sakurai, Rumina Sato, Caol Uno, Genki Sudo, etc -- it's been a while since Japan was regularly producing top-flight fighters.

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