It is Hirata's job to bring Japanese fighters to the West and to help them be successful. He is better at his job than anyone else. In this MMAFighting.com exclusive interview, Hirata sheds light on the problems with Japanese MMA, the failure of Shinya Aoki and the future of the sport in Japan.
For many fans, Shinya Aoki's fight against Gilbert Melendez was being used as a measuring stick for Japanese MMA as he was the first Japanese champion to fight in America in his prime since PRIDE collapsed. What did you think of the fight and were you surprised by the outcome?
Aoki implied after the fight that because of his loss Japanese MMA is inferior to American MMA. Japan is now just a "MMA colony" of America. What did you think about that?
While he was taking a safe path, the guys like Yushin Okami, Ryo Chonan, Akihiro Gono, Yoshiro Maeda, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, Keitaro Nakamura, Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Mitsuhiro Miura, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Takeya Mizugaki and recently Takanori Gomi, and of course, many others, bravely stepped up and went to the real "Major League" called the UFC/WEC. Sure only few of them are still surviving in there but these guys are the fighters that carried the Japanese flag on their shoulders.
All Aoki did was, walked on a safe, glorious path created by DREAM and fought in Strikeforce, which is not necessarily the certified "Major League" of MMA. He is not walking on the tough road. Its like while Ichiro and Matusi are playing in the MLB, he was making a special appearance in some Canadian or Carribean baseball league. So for him to say Japan has become a MMA colony of the States just because he got beat by Melendez is a big insult to guys like Okami, Mizugaki and Yoshida who are still fighting and winning enough to stay in the big leagues.
So what needs to change about Japanese MMA to allow more Japanese fighters to survive in the West?
I think fighters and gyms are not putting in enough effort to learn new training methods. There should be more fighters going to the states for training, and more trainers should be coming to the States to see and learn what the other MMA fighters and trainers are doing. Also, Japanese fighters should also put in a little more effort to learn about training, dieting, nutrition and everything else necessary for MMA. I think fighters and gyms should be more keen on bringing in their own sponsors. All of these things would ultimately bring more business to the world of the Japanese MMA but I don't see that happening. It has been the same for the last ten years or so.
Is there anybody fighting now that you think could become this champion that Japan needs?
I honestly think Yushin Okami and Takeya Mizuagki still have a chance to became the first Japanese champion in the Octagon. Besides them, I think fighters like Ikuo Usuda and Nobuhiro Obiya could be very competitive if they are willing to cut to 145 lbs. I've always believed that Hatsu Hioki could compete at the world's top level at 145 lbs, as could Lion Takeshi.
However, because of Japanese MMA politics some of those fighters won't leave Japan and test their skill in the Octagon so I am actually already looking to the younger generation of athletes.
I am now doing a heavy scout on high school judo or wrestling champions that are willing to begin MMA training here in the States and start a pro MMA career here in the States. I have to convince their parents as well but so far I am not having any difficulty explaining to kid's parents that UFC / WEC is far better than fighting in Japanese MMA shows.
Yes, times have changed. I can not mention his name here yet, but I am close to signing a 17-year old national high school judo champ that is willing to skip Japan as soon as possible and do MMA here in the States. This kid and his father are huge UFC fans so it took me five minutes to convince them.
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