Yuta Sasaki is the latest Japanese fighter to sign with the UFC and surely the first mixed martial artist in history to describe his fighting style as ‘Tengu’ which, apparently, translates as ‘Long Nosed Goblin’.
It makes Sasaki something of an enigma but there is nothing mysterious about his 17-1-2 record or the seven fight winning streak which secured him a coveted slot on the UFC’s bantamweight roster.
There is a high concentration of Japanese talent at 135 lbs and Sasaki says he has spent his entire career working to get the call from the UFC.
“UFC is the world's best MMA promotion so I was always thinking about UFC but I did not want to fight for the UFC before I felt I was ready,” he told Fightland.
After 20 fights in Japan, the majority of which were held under the Shooto banner, Sasaki’s time has finally come and he will be making his UFC debut on August 23rd when he takes on Roland Delorme in Macau.
It will be the seventh Octagon outing for Delorme and Sasaki says he has plenty of respect for the Canadian.
“Delorme is tall, big and I think he is a very good grappler with a very strong heart. I think this is going to be a very good fight.”
While Sasaki will be desperate to secure his 18th career victory the 24th year old, who is known for his eccentric haircuts, thinks that ability alone is not always enough to secure a fighter’s UFC future and is determined to make a lasting impression on fans,.
“In the UFC's bantamweight division, there are so many good fighters with magnetic personality so I have to continue to put my effort so I can shine more than the others.”
It was not Sasaki’s appearance but his exemplary record in Japan which brought him to the attention of UFC matchmakers as he secured 10 of his 17 wins inside the distance with the majority coming by way of submission.
He is better known for his submissions and his striking but Sasaki believes he has evolved into a genuinely well-rounded fighter.
“My favorite is fighting on the ground but recently I've gained confidence with my striking skill too so I feel I am an all-round fighter now.”
He has been training MMA for six years and also has a background in Kendo and wrestling but it is when asked to describe his style that Sasaki starts to become slightly more enigmatic.
“My fight style is same as ‘Tengu’ (long-nosed goblin). There are no specific designs or forms but more free, like water, is what I am trying to achieve.”
While he sometimes sounds like a Bruce Lee disciple it was not movies which inspired Sasaki to take up MMA but a Japanese legend competing in the biggest promotion the country has ever seen.
“I decided that I wanted to be a fighter when I watched Takanori Gomi's fights in Pride and to this this day he is still my idol,” Sasaki said.
Sasaki’s record might make for some impressive reading but there are not too many big name opponents on his resume. In fact the only time he has faced a Western fighter he lost, dropping a unanimous decision to Japanese based American Guy Delumeau in 2011.
That defeat is the sole blemish on Sasaki’s otherwise immaculate record but he acknowledges that he is likely to face a step up in competition now that he is plying his trade inside the Octagon.
“In UFC I think there is no such thing as a weak fighter. I know I am going to have to face tougher competitions than before but I also believe that the UFC is the place where my performance can reach the highest potential.”
Perhaps the only disappointment for Sasaki is that instead of being scheduled for the upcoming Tokyo card he is slated to make his UFC debut on Chinese territory but the 24 year old says he is just happy that he won’t have to travel outside of Asia,
“Honestly I wanted to fight in the Japan show but Macau is also in Asia so it’s easy for me to adjust and I really appreciate being able to fight my first UFC fight on an Asia show.”
After such a successful career in Japan Sasaki could be forgiven for deciding to stick to a training formula which is tried and tested but he says he has been making some adjustments as he prepares for UFC Fight Night 48.
“I've changed my training environment and also concentrated bit more on acquiring specialized knowledge and skills. I feel both mentally and physically fit now.”
Fight fans will have to wait until August 23rd to see exactly what skills Sasaki has been acquiring and whether his patented long nosed goblin style will succeed in the UFC but the Japanese bantamweight already looks set to bring an element of much needed intrigue into the Octagon.
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