Koyomi “Moushigo” Matsushima was already a keen martial artist as a young child, but it was not until he had a close encounter with his idol that he was thrust toward a career as an athlete.
On that day, Matsushima was a 6-year-old who had practiced karate and watched live mixed martial arts since his kindergarten years, but the landmark Shooto 10th Anniversary show captured his imagination like never before.
The main event featured Matsushima’s role model, Rumina “Moon Wolf” Sato, a pioneer and legend of Japanese mixed martial arts. He was one of the most dangerous grapplers in the world and infamous for claiming 15 of his first 16 wins via submission.
“Rumina Sato is the reason I started martial arts. When I was a child I watched him fight and decided I wanted to do it,” he says.
“It wasn’t just his submissions that were strong, he had strong stand-up skills – knockouts with his knees and stuff,” he adds. “It was really state-of-the-art martial arts at that time.”
Just a few months before “Moushigo” went to see his favorite athlete compete, he had made his draw drop with a legendary finish his previous bout against America’s Charles Diaz. As soon as the bell went to start the action, Sato attacked with a flying armbar that ended the match immediately.
“He won in a matter of seconds, I think it was 6 seconds. That left a great impression on me,” Matsushima says.
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That anniversary show was stacked with stars including Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Matt Hughes, and Akihiro Gono, but “Moon Wolf’s” recent heroics meant the Yokohama native was most excited to see him face Caol Uno for the vacant Shooto Welterweight Championship in the main event.
Uno said he hoped the contest would go down in history, and it did. Hard-core fans still cite it as one of the most incredible World Title bouts in mixed martial arts.
It showcased skills the likes of which had not been seen by much of the world at a time when the sport was still in its infancy and heavyweights were the big draws.
These smaller men showed technique, precision, and speed as they gave everything in their pursuit of the belt. Sato took Uno’s back early and threatened with submissions. He controlled the stand-up exchanges, too, but his rival found a way back into the match, and ultimately forced the tap with less than a minute remaining in the final round.
For Matsushima, the result did not matter. The breathtaking skills of his hero moved him to decide his dream there and then – to become a professional mixed martial artist like him.
“The place was jam-packed with people. I remember even feeling the impact of watching that match,” he explains.
“I’d watched other matches before, but this one I saw live at the venue and thought, ‘I want to make a living from martial arts too,’ and here I am now.”
Matsushima followed in his hero’s footsteps when he made his professional debut in Shooto in February 2015, but he made his name with his knockout power. At Tokyo’s Shinjuku Face venue, he won by TKO in 10 seconds, stamping his name in the books as one of the leaders of the new generation in Japan.
“It’s not quite like Korakuen Hall, but it’s a kind of sacred place for martial arts and I’d seen a lot of martial arts events there, so I have a very good memory of that,” he says.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever fight in front of people. Of course, that was my dream, so actually being able to fight in a [professional] show was an honor.”
Despite his aggression in the Circle, Matsushima is a somewhat shy and private character. But chasing his dream has thrust on him the limelight of the world’s largest martial arts organization and he has handled the pressure to rise to the occasion and win against some of the best in the world.
Joining the ONE Championship roster has motivated him even more to shape his athletic future, and in turn inspire a whole new generation of mixed martial artists, just like Sato.
“I’m not really very good with public appearances, I get quite nervous…particularly the walkouts. But, now I’m getting used to it and I’m able to concentrate more in matches.
“Now I’m fighting amongst all the excitement of ONE. There were tons of fans at the Manila show [ONE: DAWN OF HEROES] recently. This is what keeps me wanting to continue winning.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he adds, “but I’d be very happy if someone started martial arts after watching me compete.”