Here is the 2015 edition of Fighters to Watch For. Michinori Tanaka and Uruka Sasaki earned themselves a place in a major organization (UFC) last year. There are of course some new faces this time and we have more fighters with clean records. How I evaluate is based on who won against whom, but if a particular performance convinced me, I made a more risky choice. I hope hardcore MMA fans with this list will take note of who JMMA’s rise is.
Motoya’s 2014 was an active one and perfect for what he wanted. He avenged a loss against Tatsumitsu Wada and won his first international fight against former RFA champion Matt Manzanares. He used a variety of kicks to make his movements harder to read and his front kicks stopped Manzanares’ pressure. Motoya is the most popular newcomer staying in local Japanese promotions and he will soon be fighting in a big organization.
Wada has lost his DEEP flyweight belt against Motoya over the past year, but his year-end performance against Ryuichi Miki defined him as a top-three Japanese flyweight. Wada is known for his boxing skills and often beats his opponents constantly. Not only that, he avoided Miki’s strike-take combinations and finished Miki with an afterthought choke.
Ogikubo’s year was all about winning the VTJ Flyweight Tournament. He had a competitive fight against Takeshi Kasugai, but after that he smothered Kana Hyatt and showed positional wrestling superiority against Tsar Sklavos. Ogikubo asked for a fight against Yuki Motoya, but his injury prevented the fight.
Ando signed with One FC and his victories against Rafael Nunes and Zorobabel Moreira both ended in rounds, but in different ways. He strangled Nunes and knocked him out, then fought a striking battle against the big frame Moreira. Ando forced Zoro to fight passively after pushing him and, with Zoro’s mind weakened, Ando shut him down with a body shot.
Nakahara’s 2014 did not go well because he did not have an opportunity to fight. He was supposed to confront Honggang Yao, but the fight was canceled because Yao lost weight. When I think of Nakahara’s record and improvement curve, he stays here on this list.
Kato is not yet known, but he is the current HEAT middleweight champion and also a Daidojuku champion. HEAT is a Nagoya-based organization, so I have not watched his fights yet, but from his record and fast end times, he should be seen as at least a top-three Japanese middleweight. Another reason why I am interested in him is his Daidojuku skill. The first Japanese fighter in the UFC was Minoki Ichihara and he had no solution to Royce Gracie’s wrestling, but after all these years of MMA evolution, might Daidojuku contribute to great MMA’s style diversity? This is not a pure fighter evaluation, but I am also interested in him for such a reason.
Ayaka’s 2014 was about testing herself in a new section. She dominated former Jewels featherweight champion Naho Sugiyama in hitting and on the ground, and then fought and defeated Mei Yamaguchi. We can expect her to fight in the US soon as she did not participate in the DEEP Jewels featherweight GP, which is being held in her new division.
Mizuki’s 2014 did not go as she wanted. She lost weight in the finals of the DEEP Jewels lightweight GP and lost with DQ even though she submitted Emi Tomimatsu. She avenged her “loss” against Tomimatsu in her next fight to become Deep Jewels featherweight champion. Mizuki fought next with Karolina Kowalkiewicz at Invicta FC 9, but her precision hitting was not favored against Karolina’s amount of hitting. She will start 2015 against Alexa Grasso at Invicta FC 11. Mizuki is still only 20 years old, but she needs to develop more physical strength to give her precision hitting more value.
Kento Kanbe vs Suguru Hayakawa fight from 10:10
Kanbe may not be expected to be on this list because he is so early in his career at 18, but his dominance over opponents with his wrestling convinced me that he should be included here. Kanbe practices at Alliance Square and is currently a struggle-based prospect. His strong point, of course, is his ground game, but we know that current fighters in big promotions can not rely too much on wrestling. Alliance Square coach Tsuyoshi Kosaka knows how to build MMA talent, so I think Kanbe will develop a lot of battle skills, but I do not know how far he can go. I think we will one day see him challenge for a Pancrase title.
Kanbe is Pancrase’s lightest weight prospect. I do not know if he will fight in the top divisions in the future, but Shooto’s lightest prospect is Ryohei Kurosawa. His nickname, “Ken Asuka,” is from Karate Manga. His style is karate, which he started practicing at the age of six, but what impressed me the most was his extravagance against Ryuto Sawada, who is a top prospect.
Ando’s career is still too short, with only three fights so far, but he was a top-three wrestler at university. In his third fight, he beat Takahiro Ashida, who has 16 fights on his record and fought to a split decision against Miguel Torres. It shows Ando’s potential and what kind of athlete he is.
Ryuto Sawada vs Masayoshi Kato
Sawada had an outburst after his defeat against Kurosawa. He overtook and wrestled Yuki Shojo for the entire fight and let him down. This was surprising to me since Ryuto is small for Shooto’s flyweight division. He showed great KO power against Shojo, who had only one previous TKO loss in his career. Sawada is expected to face champion Yoshitaka Naito next year.
Many thanks to Robert Sargent (MMA styg) for English editing.