In his early years as a mixed martial arts competitor, Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta saw a man who made him believe he could achieve great things.
That man was Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, and Saruta — who will challenge Joshua “The Passion” Pacio for the ONE Strawweight World Title at ONE: REVOLUTION on Friday, 24 September — recalls how the American star struck a chord with him.
“When I started to compete in martial arts, I admired DJ,” the Japanese star says.
“He has a similar body and weight as me. He defeated bigger athletes and finished them. It was amazing, and I thought I wanted to be a fighter like him.
“He gave me the hope that small fighters like me can fight bigger opponents.”
That inspiration has helped carry the 34-year-old Saruta to an impressive 21-9-3 career record. He also ruled ONE’s strawweight division as the World Champion and currently sits as the #1-ranked contender.
A lifelong fan of martial arts culture in Asia, “Mighty Mouse” would later move east to compete in ONE Championship beginning in 2019.
Athletes like Saruta, who had admired the AMC Pankration standout from a distance, could now see DJ in action up close – and potentially even face him inside the Circle.
For his part, “The Ninja” would relish the chance to move up in weight and take on his idol before the end of his fighting career.
However, he also believes he must first reclaim his spot atop the strawweight pile before earning the right to face the legendary American – which means defeating his longtime rival at ONE: REVOLUTION.
“I feel like it’s a must to win against Pacio this time. If I beat him, then I can step up [in weight],” Saruta says.
“I respect Demetrious Johnson. I have a goal to fight him before I retire. If I am to get a dream match with him, I should have the ONE belt. That should be a condition to fight him, I feel. So, to realize my goal, I have to beat Pacio.
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It’s all love from “The Ninja,” who would be honored to share the Circle with the GOAT, and he got the opportunity to tell DJ that when the pair conversed on social media last year.
“I had a chance to talk with him online last summer. I told him, ‘Let’s have a match in the future,’” Saruta says.
“I will keep it in my mind and remember my conversation with him. I’m willing to hold on to my dream because the chance won’t come soon. I’ll wait for it.”
Indeed, “The Ninja” will have to wait for any opportunity to face Johnson, whose super-fight against ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon was just announced for ONE Championship’s 10-year anniversary event, ONE X, in December.
But at the end of the day, Saruta does not need much more motivation to win back the strawweight gold.
He is already fired up to reclaim the belt from Pacio in their trilogy, and coming back from a KO defeat in their second contest would be an epic tale in itself.
But if “The Ninja” can earn the chance to compete against one of his heroes through his steely will and dedication, then his supporters would surely take that lesson of perseverance back into their own lives.
“The next fight will garner a lot of attention from people,” he adds. “I want people to be inspired by it and give them hope.”