Japanese MMA

10 Japanese Fighters To Keep an Eye On

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Prospect talk is always a hot topic in MMA. People look all over the USA, Russia, Europe, and other places to see if they can pinpoint the next fighters that could be champions in UFC, PFL, Rizin, or One. A lot of pundits though overlook Japan when it comes to prospects. With successful fighters from Japan such as Rinya Nakamura, Tetsuro Taira, Makoto “Shinryu” and Rei Tsuruya, we could be seeing a new golden age of Japanese fighters having success abroad. Here are 10 fighters, 5 men and 5 women, from Japan who you should keep an eye on and start paying attention to.

Hirotaka Nakada (6-5)

A fighter out of Kenji Osawa’s gym Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts, “The Rich” is a 2019 amateur Pancrase All Japan winner. Fighting mainly in Pancrase, he has finished top fighters such s Yojiro Uchimura and former UFC fighter Issei Tamura. At 27 years old he is still honing his fight craft and is improving in every fight. Every fight he has been in, win or lose, he never turns it off. He is always coming forward and is not afraid to brawl. His next fight will be at Pancrase 341 on March 31 where he will take on Shyudi Yamauchi.

Moeri Suda (10-6)

The atomweight division in Japan might be one of the divisions that doesn’t get the love it deserves. While there are no atom weight divisions in UFC or PFL, maybe they will one day make one after seeing such fighters as Suda. Suda’s dad is a former MMA fighter who owns the gym she trains at. During the pandemic, she got into MMA. At 19, she already has wins over top atomweights such as Hikaru Aono and Aya Murakami. She is a wizard on the ground and she will force the fight there. From there she will likely slap on her trademark armbar.

Kaito (5-5)

Another fighter out of Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts, he won the lightweight championship in Amateur Pancrase in 2020 and the Deep Future King tournament in 2021. At 5’10,” he is a long and tall striker who can deliver high volume and powerful strikes. The 24-year-old is always pressing forward and mixing his high-level striking with punches, kicks, and knees.  His biggest win to date was a closely fought contest against another prospect, Hiroto Gomyo. His next fight will be at Deep Tokyo Impact 2024 1st Round on March 23 where he will take on Tatsumi.

Chihiro Sawada (6-0-1)

Another atomweight tearing up the scene, Sawada is a freestyle wrestling champion who has slowly climbed up as one of the top fighters in her division. She currently holds the Shooto atomweight championship and has dominated in all of her wins. The 26-year-old trains out of one of the top gyms in Japan, AACC, where she trains alongside Ayaka Hamasaki, Saori Oshima, and many other accomplished fighters. She has used her championship freestyle wrestling skills in almost all of her matches.

Hiroto Gomyo (4-2)

A pro fighter with only 2 years of experience, Gomyo fights out of one of the newest and most well-rounded gyms, Japan Top Team. The 28-year-old has shown technical and powerful striking and when necessary, willingness to grapple. While JTT has many up-and-coming fighters, Gomyo stands out among all of them as the one to truly break out. He takes on Karate Kinotshita at Deep 118 Impact on March 9.

Karen (8-2)

Karen formerly known as Karen Date and Karen Pravjara, has shown to be one of the most unique and colorful women’s fighters from Japan. Coming from a karate background the 2o-year-old has sliced and diced faces with her deadly elbows. Her unorthodox striking has made her a tough fighter to figure out for many who have faced her. A former Pancrase strawweight champion, she will no doubt climb back up the ranks to title contention.

Tatsuya Saika (10-4)

You don’t want to take a punch from Tatsuya Saika. If you do, you’re likely to be staring at the lights. All but one of his wins have come by KO/TKO. The 33-year-old is a kill-or-be-killed type of fighter and never puts on a boring performance. Fighting most of his career in Pancrase, he may not be the most well-rounded, but he can give almost any fighter trouble on the feet. He takes on Akira at Pancrase 341 on March 31.

Ayaka Watanabe (3-2)

Another atomweight fighter on the rise, Ayaka Watanabe is one of the most exciting strikers in the division. The current Shooto super atomweight champion, she has finished all of the opponents she has beaten. The 26-year-old always is fighting in the pocket and overwhelms her opponents with her striking. She gives them no room to breathe.

Igor Tanabe (5-0)

Originally born in Brazil but now living in Japan, Igor Tanabe is maybe the best upperweight jiu-jitsu black belt in Japan. At only 23 years old, he has already beaten veterans of the game such as Melvin Manhoef and Daichi Abe. He has also finished all 5 of his opponents in the first round. His grappling skills are the best at his weight class and as he continues to improve his striking, he could be the next big thing. His ability to get a dominant position and isolate limbs for a submission is a sight to see. A black belt out of Igloo and honing his striking out of one of the top kickboxing gyms Battle Box, once his striking gets to an elite level, he will be a force to be reckoned with at welterweight. His next fight is at Rizin Landmark 9 in Kobe on March 23 where he takes on Kiichi Kunimoto.

Honoka Shigeta (3-0)

The 20-year-old judo competitor is still young to MMA but she is on track to have a successful career. Shigeta did judo from 4th grade through high school, getting 2nd at the Tokyo Tournament in high school. Her dad is an MMA fan. When she was in middle school she saw Kanna Asakura beat Rena on TV in Rizin and she thought it was cool. She then told her dad that after she’s done with judo, she’s going to switch to MMA. She now trains with Asakura at Paraestra Chiba. Her next fight is at Pancrase 341 on March 31 where she challenges flyweight champion Takayo Hashi for the belt.

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Andrew has been a long time MMA and pro wrestling fan. When he isn't writing about MMA, he is usually training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, playing video games, or going bar hopping (he only drinks on days that end in "y"). He also co-hosts the RIZIN focused podcast "We are RIZIN" which you can listen to on Soundcloud & Stitcher.

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