Itsuki Hirata was supposed to fight Ham Seo Hee last winter, but the Japanese star failed to make weight for the contest. Ham refused to accept a catchweight bout, and ONE Championship was forced to reschedule. The two atomweights found themselves becoming bitter rivals, adding more spice to the new date at ONE Fight Night 8 on March 24.
“Not being able to have the fight that everyone was looking forward to was the most regrettable thing. As for Ham Seo Hee declining to accept a catchweight fight, I didn’t particularly have any thoughts about it,” said Hirata.
Since that time, Hirata returned to the United States. “Android 18” expanded on her training across multiple gyms as she tries to realize her high potential in the sport. Although she has a strong grappling game, Hirata wants to become more well-rounded and the best all-around martial artist she can be.
“Right now, I’m training at four different gyms: 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, United MMA for striking, Brooklyn MMA for MMA, and Serra-Longo for MMA and strength & conditioning in New Jersey. I’ve been focusing on wrestling and grappling, just like the last time,” said the 23-year-old.
However, fans should not expect to see Hirata try to stand and exchange with Ham. The Serra-Longo Fight Team representative knows where her strengths lie. And after watching Ham’s matches with Denice Zamboanga, she has growing confidence she can impose her will against the South Korean.
“I think Ham is good at boxing range. When I watched her fight with [Denice] Zamboanga, I felt that her range of wrestling, grappling, and takedown techniques was narrow. I’m good at takedowns and ground fighting, so I hope to take it there, if possible,” said Hirata.
Ham has long been considered one of the best athletes in the division. Hirata agrees with that assertion and notes that her veteran savvy is one of her biggest advantages inside the Circle. But “Android 18” also thinks her age is catching up with her.
The atomweight collision at ONE Fight Night 8 will also be a mental test for Japan’s rising star. Hirata plans to meet Ham head-on and not end up on her back foot. She does not want to be overwhelmed by the more experienced Ham.
“I believe that having the courage to move forward and not back down when I hit is more important. If I back down, I believe I will receive twice the power of the strike from Ham, so having the courage to move forward is crucial. I think that not backing down is the most important thing because no matter how much practice I have, it cannot compare to the experience of the opponent,” said the 23-year-old.
Hirata is coming to shake up the atomweight division by taking out the #2-ranked contender. But a victory does not mean she will call for a title shot. Hirata wants to earn her shot by defeating the best in the world so that she can leave no doubt about her position at the top of the mountain. She is hopeful that the climb begins on March 24.
“While the title shot is important, there are still many opponents I want to defeat. I want to become a fighter who is deserving of the championship and can make everyone understand that,” said Hirata.
ONE Fight Night 8 emanates from the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, March 24. The action begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Prime Video. The event is free for all Amazon Prime members based in the U.S. and Canada.