How Hiroyuki Tetsuka Stayed True To Himself To Chase His Dream

Hiroyuki “Last Samurai” Tetsuka has thrilled Japanese fans with his explosive power since his mixed martial arts debut, and he will get the chance to impress a global audience at ONE: CENTURY PART II.

He exploded into the professional ranks in 2015 with a pair of 10-second finishes, and rose to become the Pancrase Welterweight World Champion in June.

On 13 October, he will aim to put his heavy hands to work when he faces Shooto World Champion Hernani Perpetuo at the biggest martial arts event in history, and prove he is one of the best in the world.

His rise through the ranks is an inspirational story of passion, so ahead of his assignment at the Ryoguku Kokugikan, he reveals how he emerged from small-town countryside life to reach the cusp of superstardom in the world’s largest martial arts organization.

Family Ethics

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Tetsuka grew up in Shioyamachi, a small town in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo, right next to the mountains.

He was raised with his older sister by parents who instilled very strong principles.

“Three things I was often told still stand out – do not cause others trouble, get along well with your friends, and do not do anything bad,” the 29-year-old explains.

As a child, he was always drawn to the martial arts. His father and grandfather, both martial arts fans, often watched the illustrious New Year’s Eve martial arts shows on TV, and he was attracted to the fighting spirit shown by the athletes.

The only place to train in his neighborhood was a kendo dojo, so he joined at the age of 8, and continued until the age of 15. This gave him the foundations of patience, diligence, and technique that would help him to become an elite competitor in the years to come.

He learned more when he found Oda Kickboxing Gym. It was an hour away from his home, but that did not deter him, and he started making the long round-trip to train there immediately.

Out Of The Comfort Zone

After high school. “Last Samurai” moved into Tokyo to enroll at Japan Sports Science University in the Setagaya area, where he joined Team Dragon kickboxing gym while he studied to become a physical education teacher.

However, he wanted to learn to grapple and complete his mixed martial arts skill set. At that time, the sport had exploded in America, so he yearned to train abroad and elevate his skills.

He did not have the money to go to America to study or train, but an internet search revealed a program in Portland, America, where he could receive agricultural training on a farm. Once he graduated from university, he flew across the Pacific and landed at Rise Above MMA.

Tetsuka’s new lifestyle was tough at first, and it came with the added challenge of a language barrier.

“I couldn’t really speak much [English] at first until I made friends. The culture was different too. I studied by myself, talked with friends, and got used to it slowly,” he explains.

“When you train and spar with people, you naturally get along. It’s one of the great things about the martial arts.

“I discovered I loved grappling. I could use my muscles and strength more than in kickboxing.”

Two years and four amateur bouts later, he returned to Japan and joined Yamada Dojo, where he continued to develop his ground game with coach Koichi Ota, who is still in his corner to this day.

Staying True To Himself

When Tetsuka returned home, he used his P.E. teaching license to get a job as a teacher in his hometown junior high school, but he soon decided he would not be happy unless he dedicated his life to following his passion.

“I was working there giving my best to students, but I realized something wasn’t right,” he reveals.

“As a teacher, you have to inspire kids to chase their dreams, but I knew that I wanted to be a professional mixed martial artist, and I wasn’t making my dream come true. How could I tell them to do what I wasn’t doing?

“That was the moment I made up my mind to become a professional athlete.”

He completed a one-year contract and flew back to Portland for four months where he trained at Rose City Fight Club with coach Andy Minsker who honed the boxing skills he has used to such great effect.

Knockouts became his calling card, as his aggressive style has delivered all but one of his professional wins inside the distance. 

World Championship Dreams

Tetsuka faced a grueling challenge to become Pancrase Welterweight Champion when he faced the heavy-handed, iron-chinned veteran, Kenta Takagi.

When they had met three years before, “Last Samurai” was stopped early in the second round, but he went back to the drawing board and won four more bouts to earn a shot at the vacant belt against his old rival. 

This time, he put on the performance of his life to win by submission in round one and become the Welterweight King Of Pancrase.

“Before it, I was anxious. The first time, he broke my nose and I was cut badly,” the Tochigi native admits.

“I knew all too well how scary his striking was. The night before the weigh-ins, I was so scared that I couldn’t sleep.

“After the match, I felt such a release. It felt great to show how much I’d grown as an athlete in the three years between our two matches.”

That gave the 29-year-old the chance to step up a level and make his debut in the world’s largest martial arts organization as part of a quartet of Pancrase World Champion vs. Shooto World Champion match-ups.

Tetsuka expects to put on a show, and from there, go on to even greater things to make his name known around the world.

“My aim is to get the ONE Championship belt,” he adds.

”I want to be an athlete who makes people shiver in excitement when I perform.”

ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.

The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.