Eto Kimihiro has emerged as one of the most talented prospects in ONE Warrior Series.
After stumbling in his first showing with an erratic, deflating loss this past March, he learned from his mistakes, and came back even stronger with a dominant victory over Yusaku Inoue in July.
The self-proclaimed “fighting salaryman” – who claims to be equally as comfortable toiling away in an office wearing a suit and tie as he is competing inside the cage – has risen up the ranks thanks in part to his grappling prowess.
Yet, as of six years ago, he never envisioned himself participating in mixed martial arts, nor was he familiar with the sport.
Grappling With Athletics
Kimihiro was born and raised in Miyazaki prefecture, in southeastern Kyushu – the most southwesterly of Japan’s four main islands.
He was an active child who enjoyed the island’s warm climate, beautiful mountains, and coastal scenery.
Despite being physically gifted, Kimihiro admits he was not a natural athlete in his formative years. He struggled to find his athletic niche until he entered junior high school, where he joined the institution’s judo team.
“I have always been physically strong, but I was awkward and unwieldy when it came to athletics during my youth,” the 29-year-old says.
“I was once a gawky kid, but when I started practicing judo, my mobility and athletic skills really started to develop.”
Soon, it became clear his athletic prowess lay in the grappling arts.
In high school, Kimihiro caught the eye of its wrestling coach, who asked him to join the wrestling team. It turned out to be an auspicious move, as he excelled in the sport and claimed a top prize.
“The highlight of my high school wrestling career was winning the All-Japan Championship,” he says. “My athletic achievement in high school led to me being scouted to wrestle at a college in Tokyo.”
Following graduation, Kimihiro moved to the Japanese capital and enrolled in Senshu University – a powerhouse in the nation’s wrestling scene. His success continued, and culminated with a second-place finish in the All-Japan Collegiate Open Wrestling Championships.
The Doldrums Of An Office Life
Like many other collegiate wrestlers who do not progress on to the heights of the Olympic Games, Kimihiro saw no option but to hang up his wrestling singlet upon graduation.
The grappling standout acceded to the norm of pursuing a full-time corporate job. He joined a real estate firm, and officially embarked on a new chapter of his life as a “salaryman” in the corporate world.
Kimihiro, similar to any other men in a similar situation, became swept up in the transition to Japanese professional life, where long work hours are often the norm.
“For about two years after college graduation, I did not play any sports,” he admits.
He had a positive start to his new career, but an athlete of his caliber could only ignore the absence of competition in his life for so long.
“At some point, I started to question whether I gave wrestling everything I had,” he explains. “I finished as a runner-up in the wrestling championship in college, and I craved the athletic challenges once again.”
With a plan to compete in amateur wrestling tournaments, Kimihiro negotiated with his employer to switch to a position that would allow him to leave the office before 6pm on workdays so he could train.
Fortunately, the company was supportive of his efforts to restart his martial arts career.
A Serendipitous Encounter With Mixed Martial Arts
He did not initially plan to pursue mixed martial arts, but given after applying his wrestling pedigree to the sport, he soon caught the bug.
“Once I discovered how interesting and captivating mixed martial arts was, I was hooked,” he says.
“I never tire of exploring the different disciplines involved in mixed martial arts, and intricacies of the techniques stemming from those disciplines.”
The salaryman had finally found the challenge he craved outside the office, and he put all of his efforts into his newfound passion.
What started as a chance encounter with the sport had unfolded as a whirlwind ride. He swept Shooto’s amateur tournament, and in June 2013, he kicked off his professional career with a six-bout winning streak – primarily in the DEEP organization.
Coming Into His Own
改めて今回の試合にむけてやってきたことを振り返ってみました。 前回の試合の負けからいろんなことを変えてきました。 自分の弱さや臆病心や恐怖心と向き合う時間を常にもつこと。 もちろん戦いかたや戦術に試合に向き合う気持ちもすべて変えてきました。 試合の時に人の気持ちを背負うほど気持ちは強くないしカッコいい勝ち方をするほど試合で余裕もないのにカッコつけようとして空回りしてしまうことばかりでした。 前回の負けから自分の弱さをすべて真正面から受け入れてすべてを1度捨てて自分のために自分の一番得意なとこにこだわって試合をやろうと、最後は楽しんでやろうということにこだわって準備をしてきました。 今回はその結果上手くいきましたがまだまだ自分の弱さを克服出来てない部分は多々あるのでしっかりと満足せずに常に油断せず精進していきます。 あらためて応援ありがとうございました。 以下のURLから試合見れるので興味ある方はみてみてください。 https://youtu.be/DOD5oYi4oOs
Though he experienced early success, he had to learn to take the rough with the smooth.
Kimihiro suffered the first defeat of his career in February 2015, which was followed by a few more difficult bouts, but those experiences led him to embrace the physical, emotional, and cerebral challenges of mixed martial arts.
“After my first professional loss, I realized I needed a deeper level of commitment to the sport,” he explains.
“Also, in the last two to three years, I struggled to solidify my stylistic foundation as a fighter. I tried hard to improve my striking to complement my grappling, but when I tried to flaunt my striking, I ended up floundering.”
Kimihiro points to the ONE Warrior Series Season 1 Finale in March as “a particularly painful example,” in which he fell to South Korea’s Dae Sung Park via TKO.
Following that disappointing performance, the Japanese athlete went back to the drawing board to reexamine his strengths and focus on what had brought him success earlier in his career.
The soul-searching translated into a stunning performance in his most recent bout at ONE Warrior Series Season 2 Finale in July. In the evening’s final match-up, he utilized his high-level grappling prowess and stifling top control to earn an arm-triangle victory with only seconds remaining in round two.
Kimihiro has a newfound perspective on his approach to competing, and he is just coming into his own as a mixed martial artist. Now, after spending nearly the first five years of his career exclusively in Japan, he is ready to make the leap to the global stage for martial arts.
“The scale and production of ONE Championship’s events are truly amazing,” he marvels. “The promotion really knows how to treat, and motivate, its fighters.”
Becoming a mixed martial artist may not have been Kimihiro’s plan, but it seems as if he was destined to follow that path.
Carrying an impressive 14-4-2 record with him, he will continue to perform to the best of his ability in ONE Warrior Series, where more performances like his last will give him a great chance of joining the world’s best martial artists on the main ONE roster.