Masakazu Imanari is a veteran of almost 40 fights, and he's seen as a consensus #19 ranked bantamweight in the world. He has fought some of the very best fighters in his division and the "Master of Leg Locks" will be looking to live up to his reputation when he makes his ONE FC debut on March 31.
Imanari spoke with BloodyElbow.com about his upcoming fight, and when asked about his love for leg locks, the "Ashikan Judan" gave a brief and simple answer: "Because it hurts the opponent!"
A total of 15 fighters have succumbed to his grappling skills, with most of them coming off these devastating, and potentially very damaging submissions. He will be gunning for a repeat of this performance against one of the region's fastest rising prospects in Kevin Belingon. The Filipino fighter is part of that Team Lakay stable that has produced several MMA champions and top fighters, and although Imanari will still be much more experienced, he isn't taking him lightly. In fact, he even has very high praise for the strong potential of his Wushu-based opponent.
"He’s very dangerous opponent and can be like the Manny Pacquiao of MMA," Imanari says, as he draws comparisons to the Filipino boxing icon, "I am training very hard and I do not underestimate him. He has never lost a fight so even though he is not very famous now, if he wins more fights, one day he could be the best fighter in the world."
"I want to be the first man to defeat him and to show that I am ready to become the ONE FC bantamweight champion!" he exclaimed.
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Comparisons to Pacquiao may be a bit unfair as it puts a tremendous amount of expectations that no one in combat sports can probably ever live up to, but as a statement coming from his opponent, it is definitely a huge compliment.
Can Kevin Belingon avoid Imanari's devastating leg locks? -- Photo by Taro Irei for Sherdog
Imanari has fought some of the best fighters from different countries, but for majority of his 12-year career, most of these fights were held into his home country. On March 31, he will be venturing outside Japan and into Singapore, and while the time zones are relatively similar, he will be competing under a different rule-set, different weather conditions, and he will be fighting in a cage, instead of a ring.
These things may sound trivial to some, but for a huge number of fighters, those things can make an impact and will need a lot of time to get adjusted and acclimated to. Imanari on the other hand, just shrugs off the various changes.
"I feel the same wherever I fight." Imanari continued, "This should be my third time (fighting outside Japan) but it doesn’t make too much difference to me where I fight. All I care about is my opponent and I don’t think about other things, only beating him,"
"This would also be my third time in a cage. I think there is a little bit of difference from fighting in a ring, but I am comfortable on both."
Although there's not really much that surprises the experienced fighter in Imanari, Belingon will also be bringing his Wushu/Sanshou base that not a lot of people are used to training against. The BJJ black belt says he'll be ready and is expecting yet another stiff challenge.
"I have never had an easy fight. I am not interested in fighting easy fighters. I want to challenge myself against the best fighters in the world." he said, "I would like to fight as much as I can, and of course, I eventually want to fight for the ONE FC bantamweight title"