Sometimes solid veteran fighters slip through the cracks of history. Guys who haven't lost to anyone except the best competition, and yet somehow have never been particularly well known either. Enter Naoyuki Kotani onto that list as he makes his return to the UFC following a nearly seven year absence. After Naoyuki's agent, Monte Cox posted the news of the fighter's return to the UFC, Fight Sport Asia was first on the scene with the announcement of Naoyuki's matchup, with the report that he will be facing off against TUF Smashes winner Norman Parke at UFC Fight Night Dublin on July 19th.
Who is Naoyuki Kotani?
A Rings, Pride, and UFC vet, the bulk of the 32-year old Naoyuki Kotani's career has been spent with regional Japanese Promotion Zst! (pronounced "zest," for anyone who wants to know). What that means is that his record is all over the place with a mix of young prospects, grizzled vets, and of course his fair share of cans. It all culminates into a 33-10-7 record and a 13 fight win streak compiled over the last four years. It's when you look at Kotani's losses however, that his record really shows some depth, there's not a poor fighter to be found. Losses to Jorge Masvidal, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Koji Oishi, Dennis Siver, Thiago Tavares, Luiz Azeredo, Roger Huerta, Yves Edwards, Marcus Aurelio, and Rich Clementi, when every one of them was in their prime or coming up the ranks is hardly damning. Kotani comes to the UFC not just with a lot of experience, but with a lot of experience against a UFC level of competition. He trains out of Rodeo Style MMA which hs produced some decent regional talent for Pancrase and ZST.
What you should expect:
Unfortunately, and despite all his experience, Kotani seems to suffer in may of the same ways other classic Japanese MMA fighters have suffered in international competition. He fights at a really low output pace. His range striking is mostly accounted for by a nice variety of front and leg kicks, though none thrown with a lot of authority. He has some decent dirty boxing, but doesn't go to it nearly as consistently as he could. He does, however, appear to be very strong in the clinch, and somewhat difficult to overpower. When he does go for submissions, he does so with power and authority. Unfortunately his shot and clinch entries aren't always great, so he's often an opportunist grappler rather than creating openings for himself. He has shown some decent chained wrestling and has a heavy catch wrestling base, so it's possible that he can find success with some skills not prevalent in most camps. His fight with Thiago Tavares was surprisingly competitive, in part because of Kotani's catch grappling setups.
What this means for his debut:
If I only have tape to go on, I've got to give the advantages to Parke. He's much more aggressive in his striking, and much more consistent in his wrestling. He can match Kotani's clinch game and base strength, and works a lot harder with his dirty boxing and kickboxing. The big difference is, that Kotani has a varied submission offense and Parke doesn't have much in the way of finishing ability. So Kotani will have three rounds to work with and try and make an exciting submission happen. Parke is the safer bet, but it should make for an interesting fight.
To get us more acquainted, here's footage of Kotani's last fight against Yoshihiro Koyama: