Once a suit-and-tie-wearing salaryman, Eto is now dedicated to mixing his elite wrestling with speed and tenacity while adding a garnish of heavy hands. Also, the 31-year-old has another passion boiling in the background – his love of cooking.
Cooking is more than just a hobby for the Miyazaki native. Whereas many Japanese athletes rely on a partner at home, restaurants, or takeout for their daily dose of food, Eto is almost completely self-sufficient.
The lightweight contender was introduced to the culinary world at the age of 10 by his parents. His father is a licensed chef who, along with Eto’s mother, taught the youngster to make simple things for himself when he was hungry.
“At first, I cooked things like French toast and fried rice – simple stuff that I could make and eat quickly,” the mixed martial artist explains. “I always loved meat, so I would cook a lot of that, stir-fries, Japanese curry – anything I liked.”
Those skills gave him confidence as he became a young man and had to think carefully about the nutritional balance he needed as a competitive college wrestler.
Now, the ONE Championship athlete chooses and cooks the fuel for his body in the lead-up to touching gloves on the global stage.
“Before a match, I cook everything myself to keep control of my weight. I focus on low fat, high carb, and protein foods,” Eto says.
“For example, chicken breast – I try to make sure it doesn’t become dry because you know, pre-competition eating can be very plain. I think about cooking it another way using different equipment to keep it moist and tasty.”
The Miyazaki native also favors cooking up vegetables like broccoli and anything high in iron like spinach, while he recommends replacing a Japanese favorite, white sticky rice, with brown rice and its higher nutritional value. For extra fiber, Eto says Chinese radish is a great addition because it is cheap, flexible to cook, and easily digested.
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When it comes to new ideas, Eto does not follow any celebrity chefs or use recipe apps. So, how does the lightweight star go about learning new dishes and techniques?
“I look at the results from a quick web search and imagine what the various flavors will be like,” he says.
“Then, it’s a trial-and-error process, mixing and matching. It’s like martial arts in a way. You build your own original style based on experience and practice.”
Eto sees the world of cuisine as another life challenge and takes great satisfaction when his homemade efforts turn out well. He even takes inspiration for those meals from his immediate surroundings.
“I try to reproduce dishes I’ve seen on TV or eaten at a restaurant,” he says. “The attraction for me is making something [of that quality] without having to go to a restaurant. If I can, I’ll make it myself.”
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Additionally, Eto takes pride in cooking his own unique versions of classic Japanese, Chinese, and Western dishes. It has given him another outlet for the curiosity and creativity that helped make him a world-class athlete in The Home Of Martial Arts.
For Eto, his martial arts prowess and culinary ambitions go hand in hand. Like a chemist in a laboratory, he experiments with the knowledge and ingredients he has, and he approaches his cooking with a problem-solving attitude.
Perhaps the ultimate test would be cooking a meal for ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong. But what exactly would the lightweight make for him?
“Rather than make one of my specialties, I’d like to try making something [Chatri] liked,” he says.
“I’d do some research and arrange it in my own original way for him. I think that would be more fun, taking something and adding my own taste to it.”
Finally, Eto has advice for anyone who wants to start cooking:
“Any dishes that have a ready-made roux or stock, and anything that you don’t need a knife for,” he says.
“Try something like French toast where you just mix and cook. Then, when you get used to cutting and chopping, try stir-fries and stews. That way, you can make progress as you get better.”
It’s no coincidence that the idea of starting with the basics and making steady progress is the same concept Eto has long applied to his rise through the ranks in mixed martial arts.