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Bellator headliner Hisaki Kato's sister survived Paris terrorist attacks

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Hisaki Kato has the biggest fight of his life Friday night against a longtime MMA standout. He won't be thinking about it much until he steps into the cage.

Last Friday night in Paris, at least 129 people were killed  in a coordinated terrorist attack carried out by militants, multiple reports said. Seven different locations were hit. One of those places was a restaurant in Rue de Charonne where Kato's sister, Nathalie, was having dinner.

Nathalie was one of the lucky ones, if you could call it that. She was inside the restaurant when gunmen outside opened fire on the terrace. At least 19 people were killed, according to reports.

Kato was on a plane en route to the United States when this was going on. He had left Paris just a few hours earlier. When he landed for a layover at Newark Airport, Kato had many messages on his phone, including one from his sister telling him what happened and that she was safe.

By Wednesday, Kato was settled into his hotel room at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. He'll fight Melvin Manhoef in the main event of Bellator 146 on Friday night in a bout that could earn him a title shot.

Pardon Kato, though, if there will be other things on his mind until the cage door is closed.

"I'm focusing on the fight, but I don't need a long time to be 100 percent focused on what I have to do," Kato said. "It's still a few days before, so my thoughts are on Paris now.

"I will switch to fighting mode when it's time. Now, I still want to hear my friends' voices, my family's voices. I'm still chatting and mailing with them when I have time."

Kato, 33, was born in Paris, the son of Japanese immigrants. He grew up right in the part of the city that was hit hardest by the attacks. All of his friends still live there, as does Nathalie and their mother. Kato lives in Japan now, but still does his training camps at NBF gym in Paris. Last Friday night, his training partners and coaches were holed up in the gym hiding during the attacks perpetrated by suicide bombers and gunmen.

Just 24 hours before the tragedy, Kato walked right beside what was ground zero of the tragedy: the Bataclan concert venue. At least 89 people were killed there by men with AK-47s wearing suicide vests during a rock performance by Eagles of Death Metal.

"I was happy that I left that day, because the day before on my way to the gym I just walked behind and in front of the Bataclan," Kato said. "I remember walking by the Bataclan and thinking, 'Oh, tonight is the concert for the American rock band.' There were so many people waiting to get inside. I remember thinking, '[The band] must be famous, but I don't know them.'"

Kato's memories of that night will be decidedly different now, though he'll be putting on a brave face in order to honor his country Friday night. He is very happy that his coach, Fabien Hillairet, was able to fly out of Paris this week. He was scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma on Wednesday night. Despite all the things going on at home, Hillairet still made the choice to be by Kato's side for the Bellator event.

"I'm really happy he's still coming," said Kato, who is coming off a stunning, second-round knockout of Joe Schilling in June. "He will be with me. For me, it's some extra motivation. I really want to do good in front of him."

Kato's other sister, Amelie, who lives in New York, will be there cageside for support as well, according to Bellator spokesman Danny Brener.

The shock is slowly starting to wear off and has switched to a burning desire to fight for his city and country. Kato will have that opportunity Friday night in a fight that could make him a bonafide Bellator contender.

"The first two days, it was a weird feeling," Kato said. "Now, I'm OK. I'm just thinking about doing good, because that's the only way I can do something good for my country. A good victory -- that's the only thing I can do. And I've been training a lot for it. I'm just more motivated for this fight.

"Even if I don't do good, I want the Parisian people to be proud of me. Any way they will be really proud of me. But if I win, of course, I have a flag. I will show the flag to the world."