Color me surprised. Of all the top prospects kicking around Japan Takenori Sato was one I'd pegged as highly unlikely to ever make the jump to the UFC. It's not that he's not a good fighter, he most definitely is, but as the champion of a long standing Japanese MMA organization like Pancrase, it was sort of assumed that he wasgoing to be chained to their oars for as long as humanly possible and kept making just enough to make a baseline UFC offer look like small potatoes. However, Combate broke the news of his signing late Monday evening.
Update: Thanks to Jeremy Seaton for pointing out that Sato, in fact has spent the majority of his career training out of the recently closed Laughter7 gym under Kazushi Sakuraba. His move to Tribe Tokyo MMA has been a fairly recent one.
A product of Tribe Tokyo MMA, the 28 year old Takenori Sato has cut his teeth training alongside Ryo Chonan, Yuya Shirai, and Yoshiyuki Nakanishi while fighting for Pancrase in Japan. On the surface, his 17-8-7 record may not look particularly impressive, but after a rough first 6 years, where he went 9-8-5 he's gone on a ten fight unbeaten streak with wins over Kiichi Kunimoto and Keiichiro Yamamia. In general his record is dotted with wins over strong journeyman opposition and four of his last 8 wins have come by way of submission. At this point in his career he is almost certainly a finished product, but one who should be more than prepared to compete at the UFC level.
Watching Sato fight, a couple of things are immediately apparent. First and foremost, Sato's boxing will probably never be more than basic. He works combinations to the body and head, but he tends to drop his hands as he does it and is pretty static in his footwork. In part this is because he's setting himself up to shoot in on his opponent, in part it's because he's not a great boxer. He kicks well from the outside and will throw freely to the body and head to maintain distance. His shots vary from predictable to well timed, mostly because he tends to shoot non-stop. In some ways he reminds me a lot of Tatsuya Kawajiri, although less athletic and less of a scramble threat. He has a background in Judo, which he shows regularly in the clinch and seems well versed at hitting throws. For a time he was considered something of a Kazushi Sakuraba progeny, but it wouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind seeing him in the cage.
I don't know that Sato will have the raw athleticism to take on Erick Silva here, it's a pretty serious debut to make, but I fully expect him to be able to hang around in the middle of the welterweight division and make life hard on a lot of decent fighters. To get us better acquainted, here's footage of one of his more recent fights against Shingo Suzuki at Pancrase 247. Sato's fight starts at about 14 minutes in.
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