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Hisaki Kato on Schilling KO: 'I knew I was there to lose'

Hisaki Kato makes his return to the MMA cage for Bellator 146 in his first bout after a stunning upset of kickboxer Joe Schilling. This time around though, he's much less of an underdog.

via Bellator MMA

When Hisaki Kato made his Bellator debut last June against Joe Schilling, he did so as a complete unknown. Even hardcore fans who have been following the ins and outs of the sport for years had no idea who Kato was. The expectations for his ability were, to put it mildly, rock bottom. Joe Schilling was the action fighter, brought over to Bellator by Coker to provide entertainment on every card he was booked for. And that meant that he'd get his fair share of soft matchups that would let him show off his striking skills to the public. Kato was supposed to be that soft matchup.

Of course, the wonderful thing about combat sports is that, every so often, athletes get to write their own stories. And there's no better way to change a narrative than by beating the pants off someone you were expected to get shelled by. Now, Kato is getting ready to face another familiar MMA/Kickboxing crossover, and one with a lot more cage experience than Schilling. He'll be fighting Melvin Manhoef at Bellator 146 on November 20th. Kato sat down with Bloody Elbow to talk about his career in MMA, his fight with Schilling, and his upcoming bout:

"No no, not at all," Kato assured, when asked if his career had changed since his big KO win. "Even if I now have a contract with Bellator, I'm still living in Japan and when I'm back in Japan my life is quite the same. So, no nothing changed."

Even if nothing has changed for him, personally, one thing is certainly different both for bookmakers and fans. Kato no longer seems like a fighter being brought in to lose, a position even he admits he felt for his Schilling fight:

"Yeah, I did feel that way," Kato said. "I knew I was there to lose. So yeah of course. I know that Coker called me to fight, so even if you think about winning, you never know. I wanted to prove that."

And while he knew that he wasn't expected to win, he feels that a chance to fight a name fighter on a big stage wasn't just an opportunity to get exposure and move his career forward, it was exactly what he needed at that moment to kickstart himself to work harder.

"It was really what I needed," Kato replied, a little hesitantly. "My fight before was a loss and I was really thinking about changing my training camp, going back to my former country in France to work on myself harder. So, when this opportunity came, I knew it was the right time to do it; to do a training camp away from my family for 8 weeks and just to try to train harder every day to be ready for the fight. So, it was the perfect moment for me. It was perfect timing. I was not like, 'Oh, I will accept because it's a big promotion.' I accepted because I knew it would be fun for me and it would be a great moment for me to change my training environment."

Kato had been living in Japan full time, where he teaches Kudo and has been a regular tournament competitor in the Karate based sport.

"I've been doing Kudo," Kato said, when asked about what drove him to MMA. "It was based from the Kyokushin full contact Karate. Kudo is... You can punch the face, you have a helmet and you have the ground game too. You have the throwing and Jiu Jitsu part too. So, that compares well to MMA with a gi on. It's quite close actually. I've been doing that for 7 years, 8 years maybe.

"MMA is just something you can do when you are at your prime, but Kudo is more like a martial art. I will do it for the rest of my life. It's different for me. MMA is just one moment in your life, but Kudo is a lifestyle for me. So, I'm still doing it, I'm still teaching it while I'm in Japan, and in the future I want to continue to do that.

"By training in Kudo you train and try to get good martial experience. We wear a helmet during the fights in Kudo and I wanted to fight without any protection, to just test my skills. That's why I started to fight in MMA."

And jumping in against fighters like Schilling and Manhoef is definitely one way to get good MMA experience quickly. Kato is now set to headline the November 20th Bellator card; a fast rising star for the organization. And while he's no longer the massive underdog and facing a kickboxer with a somewhat different and more MMA tailored style in Melvin Manhoef, Kato isn't planning on changing anything in his preparation or approach.

"They don't have the same style, but for me the approach is the same. For eight weeks I've had to improve my conditioning, my physical condition, my skills. And now I have to set my mind on the best mental experience to be ready for the fight. Actually that's quite the same. You have to enter into an MMA cage and you have to win. Basically you have to do the same thing."

You can follow Hisaki Kato on Twitter @Hisakialive

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