The Japanese star accepted an offer to make his ONE Championship debut on just two weeks’ notice at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 7 December 2018.
Though he was on the road to recovery from an injury and had little time to prepare, the Kawaguchi City native knew that this was a risk worth taking.
Not only would he get to compete on the global stage, but he could make an immediate dent on his division if he were to beat former ONE Strawweight World Champion Alex “Little Rock” Silva.
With so much to gain, he could not let the opportunity pass him by.
“Normally, if you get an offer two weeks [before a bout], you would want to reject it. But the opponent was a former champion and the stage was ONE, so I decided to take it,” the 32-year-old recalls.
“I thought I wouldn’t have any more bouts in that year. I had an orbital blowout fracture from a Shooto bout in July, so I had [originally] set my target to return the following year.”
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Aside from the final push in what little preparation time he had left, “The Ninja” also had a few more responsibilities to fulfill before event day.
Some of those responsibilities included losing weight, adapting to the rules of the new organization, and dealing with ONE Championship’s revolutionary hydration testing, which he had never done before.
“I had to lose five kilograms in two weeks. I brought food from Japan, and in Kuala Lumpur, the only local thing I had was fruits,” he remembers.
“I had never done a hydration check, so I was anxious whether I was okay or not. I could weigh myself on the scale, but there was no way to check my hydration values.”
Saruta was already a 10-year veteran of the Japanese mixed martial arts scene and had captured the Shooto Strawweight World Title in 2017, so he had learned to overcome much of the pre-bout anxiety.
However, up to that point, all 28 of his professional contests had taken place in “The Land Of The Rising Sun.”
With the scale of the task at hand and his new surroundings, “The Ninja” recognized that he was on edge when he found his emotions slipping in the changing room.
“I might have been stressed a bit,” he confesses. “When I was warming up, I had an altercation with my cornerman, although he is not a bad guy. Maybe a part of me was a little bit nervous about my first bout abroad.”
Nonetheless, once the opening bell sounded, Saruta delivered a masterful performance.
Yosuke Saruta made a HUGE statement in his ONE debut against former ONE World Champion Alex Silva!Manila | 12 April | 6:00PM | Watch on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onehonor19
Posted by ONE Championship on Thursday, April 4, 2019
Silva – a submission specialist with a third-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – almost locked up his signature armbar a few times, but the Wajutsu Keishukai HEARTS representative overcame the “scary moments” and dominated much of the contest.
“I intended to prove myself. I challenged [one of] the top athletes in the world, imagining how strong he would be,” Saruta explains.
“I think I was able to showcase how much I can do and my strong points. I was always dominant, even in scrambles – not only the ground game, but also in the striking. Honestly, I wanted to aim for the finish, but I was able to perform as usual.”
When the final bell brought the extraordinary three-round battle to a close, the exhausted Japanese hero laid sprawled out on the mat.
“I don’t normally go down in a sprawl like that, but the biggest concern I had was stamina,” he adds.
“Normally, I train more than a month to enhance my stamina, but I only had two weeks. I was nervous about this, so [at the end of the match] I was like, ‘I went all out! I am so exhausted!'”
“The Ninja” gave it everything he had and, against the odds, pulled off his first victory on the global stage. This win came through his own hard work, but he revealed another big sacrifice he had to make in order to be in KL.
Saruta had canceled his honeymoon to compete in the event. Despite being married to his wife for two years, his busy competition schedule never allowed them to plan the trip. When they had finally booked a trip to Singapore to celebrate, he received the bout offer.
“She didn’t get mad. No matter what others say, I do what I decide. I had been selfish and kept doing what I wanted to do, so I guess she was like, ‘Oh, again…'” Saruta jokes.
Thankfully, his wife gave her full support so he could follow his dream, and she flew to Malaysia to be by his side and cheer him on.
“She has a good command of English,” he says. “The reason why I was able to step up on two-weeks’ notice was all thanks to her. The ONE contract is in English, and she helped me out. I got a good result, so she was happy for me.”
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無事帰国して通常の生活に戻りました???? 改めて凄い舞台で試合が出来て良かったです。 ONE championshipの盛り上がり最高でした‼️ 関係者の方々お世話になりました????♂️ ありがとうございました???? Went back to Japan and returned to normal life ????! I’m so much pleasure to be on such an impressive stage, ONE Championship!! It’s really amazing that the crowd was so excited!! Really thanks to give me such amazing opportunity and for everyone who supported me:) #onechampionsip #yosukesaruta #MMA #BJJ #修斗 #shooto
Ultimately, the risk paid off.
Following that win, Saruta earned a shot at ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua “The Passion” Pacio and defeated the Filipino via split decision to win the gold in January 2019.
Without his courage to step up to the plate a month earlier, he would not have earned that opportunity and the biggest accolade of his career to date.
“Since that bout, I got good momentum and made it to the World Title bout,” he says.
“Even though my debut was a decision victory, I defeated Silva in a dominant way, and just a month after, I challenged Pacio at ONE: ETERNAL GLORY. I think if it wasn’t for the bout against Silva, I would not have gotten the chance against Pacio.”