Keito Yamakita And Hiroba Minowa Both Eager To Make ‘Statement’ In Front Of Home Fans In Japan At ONE 165
ONE Championship’s long-awaited return to Japan will feature two of the country’s most exciting rising stars in mixed martial arts, as strawweight contenders Hiroba Minowa and Keito “Pocket Monk” Yamakita will both be in action at ONE 165: Superlek vs. Takeru.
Slated for this Sunday, January 28, at Tokyo’s Ariake Arena, this blockbuster event will be each man’s opportunity to climb the divisional rankings and showcase an electrifying skill set in front of a proud home crowd.
Minowa and Yamakita recently spoke to onefc.com about their upcoming high-stakes fights and what it means to once again compete in Japan – this time, on the world’s biggest stage.
Hiroba Minowa Motivated To Showcase Japanese Talent
First, #3-ranked strawweight MMA contender Minowa will battle #4-ranked Cuban powerhouse Gustavo “El Gladiador” Balart.
It appears to be a must-win fight for the Japanese athlete if he hopes to keep his World Title aspirations alive.
After winning back-to-back bouts to open his ONE tenure, the 25-year-old has suffered two consecutive losses, albeit against the division’s upper echelon.
Minowa says the losing streak isn’t on his mind. Instead, he’s supremely focused on – and inspired by – the opportunity to perform in front of his dedicated home fans:
“I am motivated, not because I am on a two-fight skid, but I, along with other Japanese fighters on the bill, have the chance to show Japanese MMA fans that ONE is a world-class organization. I am confident in my skills and the caliber of fighter that I am.”
The STF-trained athlete originally cut his teeth on the ultra-tough Japanese regional MMA circuit, winning a Shooto Championship before joining the world’s largest martial arts organization.
With that high-level experience and years of training alongside top competitors, Minowa will enter his showdown with the grappling-heavy Balart loaded with confidence:
“I respect his Olympic wrestling pedigree, but I do not think that his adaptation of his wrestling skill to MMA would present a problem for me. I have been training in all aspects of MMA since day one, and my MMA skill set does not trail anyone in the strawweight division.”
Ultimately, Minowa wants to not only pick up the win and climb toward the ONE Strawweight MMA World Title – but also prove that Japanese fighters belong on the global stage alongside the planet’s best fighters.
He explained his mindset for his first matchup on home soil in four years:
“Since we (Japanese fighters) in ONE usually fight overseas, many Japanese MMA fans may not be aware of who we are.
“That is why I need to make a statement with a decisive victory to show Japanese MMA fans that world-class MMA exists beyond the Japanese shores, and that fighters like us are holding our own against world-class talents.”
Keito Yamakita Plans To Go Bonus-Hunting Against Masunyane
Later on the card, undefeated sensation Yamakita will return for his sophomore appearance in ONE to take on #2-ranked strawweight MMA contender Bokang Masunyane.
A talented wrestler with prodigious physical strength, “Pocket Monk” shined in his promotional debut last March, securing a thrilling victory over former divisional kingpin Alex Silva.
He’ll now look to keep that momentum going, extend his unblemished 8-0 professional MMA record, and make a memorable impression at this massive event headlined by a Japanese megastar.
“This is a big event, with Takeru being featured as the headliner. I know that there are a lot of people who will be tuning in, so I hope to make a statement with my performance.”
The 27-year-old respects Masunyane’s power and wrestling ability, but like Minowa, he has a great deal of confidence in his own training and preparation with some of Japan’s top mixed martial artists.
“[Masunyane’s] background is in Greco-Roman wrestling, I believe, so he has a good repertoire of high-amplitude throws. However, there are fighters at my gym, like Kazuma Kuramoto, who have a robust Greco-Roman wrestling background, so I am not too worried about his wrestling credentials.
“Again, I go into each fight with the mentality that none of my opponents is on par with anyone who I train with at my gym.”
For Yamakita, a victory over Masunyane at ONE 165 could rocket him up the talent-laden strawweight MMA ranks.
And while he’s certainly fighting with 26 pounds of gold in mind, he’s also aiming to put on an unforgettable show and – if possible – secure a US$50,000 performance bonus from ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong:
“Besides winning the belt, I want to fight my heart out and put on the best performance I can. By doing so, I hope to leave my mark on the organization and turn people’s heads.
“I want to put on a performance that is worthy of a bonus, and I hope to be rewarded with bonus money from Chatri!”