Japanese sensation Hiroba Minowa has emerged as one of the most promising young mixed martial artists in the sport – and he could earn the next crack at the ONE Strawweight World Championship with a convincing performance next weekend.
The #4-ranked strawweight contender will attempt to take another step toward a shot at gold when he squares off against #3-ranked American Jarred “The Monkey God” Brooks in the opening contest of the main card at ONE: ONLY THE BRAVE, which broadcasts live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday, 28 January.
When Minowa kicked off his professional mixed martial arts career at age 17, it was clear that he possessed tremendous potential. And as the years have passed, he has certainly lived up to it.
The Saitama native has claimed the Shooto Strawweight Title, compiled an impressive 13-2 record, and has never been finished in his career.
In addition, he has enjoyed a flawless run during his time in ONE Championship, defeating Filipino wrecking ball Lito “Thunder Kid” Adiwang and #5-ranked strawweight contender Alex “Little Rock” Silva via split decision.
Minowa knows his toughest battle awaits him on 28 January, however. Brooks has used his dominant wrestling, stiff striking, and submission prowess to cruise to a 17-2 (1 NC) record, and he made a statement in his ONE debut by submitting Adiwang with an arm-triangle choke in the second round of their battle in October 2021.
Ahead of the biggest fight of his career, Minowa talks to ONEFC.com about his early success, his thoughts on Brooks, and why the world will see more Japanese fighters challenge for World Titles in 2022.
ONE Championship: You’re only 23 years old and have been incredibly successful ever since making your pro debut at age 17. How does it feel to have achieved such success at a young age?
Hiroba Minowa: When it comes to that, it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in, but it’s the teenagers who are winning medals at the Olympics [and in other competitions]. Even though I would become a [Shooto] champion at this young age, I’ve been doing MMA for almost 10 years now. It’s not that I’m early, but I think MMA is rather behind other sports.
I think there will be more teenage champions in the future. Mixed martial arts is a very special sport. The fact that I’m here now is not an amazing thing, but a trend of the times. If you only look at Shooto, there are fighters younger than me. That kind of time has come.
In fact, we need to have a generational change. If you look at martial arts as a general sport, I think the age of the fighters is older. In the past, MMA fighters came to the sport after having done wrestling or boxing or [some other martial art]. Now, there are more and more fighters who want to do MMA from the start. It’s a heavy burden to say that I’m leading the way, but I feel that I’m the leader of the young fighters.
ONE: You won your first two ONE Championship fights, over Lito Adiwang and Alex Silva, via split decision, but some critics felt the results could have gone the other way. How do you respond to that?
HM: If you just look at the Adiwang fight, it looks like I just barely won. It might look like I lost to the viewer. I think that’s what the split decision is. It’s not right to say that you haven’t won against a fighter who has done that two or three times. Minowa is a fighter who can win in the split, isn’t he? People who say that just say it themselves. A win is a win.
ONE: Do you feel you need a dominant win to silence the critics?
HM: The first thing is to win. I’m planning to win. And when I need to finish, I will do so. It’s the same feeling, as always.
ONE: Let’s talk about your upcoming fight with Jarred Brooks. What are his strengths and weaknesses, and in what ways do you think your skills are better?
HM: His strengths are his wrestling and his body control. His finishing power in his victory over Adiwang is amazing. Also, his takedown ability is great. That was my first impression.
In terms of the compatibility between Adiwang and Brooks, I think Adiwang was unlikely to win [their fight]. On the other hand, my style can work well against an opponent like Brooks if I get into it. If there’s a style to beat Brooks, it’s Minowa’s style.
What I’m better at is my mixed martial arts ability. If you look at wrestling, grappling, striking, and physicality individually, he’s probably better than me. But I’m stronger in my ability to combine them and make them work together. If you look at my last two fights, you can see that.
In addition to my newaza (ground fighting) skills, I think I’m stronger in striking, escaping, and pounding, and other combinations of techniques. In terms of mixed martial arts, I think I’m the better fighter.
ONE: Brooks is an emotional guy, which was noticeable in his post-fight interview when he beat Adiwang. Do you feel being emotional could be a weakness?
HM: It can be a weakness or a strength. I think it depends on whether he can control his emotions or not. I try not to get emotional. And when I do, I try to control it. I don’t fight without emotions, but I think I’m relatively calm.
ONE: Both you and Brooks defeated Adiwang, but he managed to score a finish. Does it bother you that some people feel like Brooks was more impressive in his fight?
HM: If it’s a fan saying it, I guess it’s fair. If it’s martial arts people saying it, it’s stupid. You studied me in my fight [with Adiwang] before you fought him. One thing Brooks was good at in his fight [with Adiwang was maintaining] his distance. I was exploring it in my match with him.
I’m sorry to say this to Adiwang, but whenever he looks like he is gaining momentum, he’s not swinging his punches. When I come out, he swings a counter. Brooks studied it well, matched Adiwang’s tackle, and took him down.
And to be honest, I feel like Brooks was able to win because he saw my fight and was able to study it. So, I want to say to all the fighters who fight Adiwang [in the future], thank me.
ONE: Do you think the winner of this fight deserves the next shot at ONE Strawweight World Champion Joshua Pacio?
HM: I think the winner deserves to fight Pacio. If we’re talking about the title, we’re the challengers.
ONE: How do you think this fight will ultimately play out?
HM: There are several ways, but I think I’ll win by ippon (submission) in the third round. I think I’ll win by split decision, even if I have a tough time. If there is some luck involved, I may win by KO. I may be able to win by ippon in the first round.
ONE: Ayaka Miura recently challenged for a World Title, and Yuya Wakamatsu takes on Adriano Moraes for the flyweight gold at ONE X in March. How does it feel to see your compatriots getting World Title shots?
HM: It’s the revival of the Japanese. Comparatively, Japanese fighters used to join ONE at a high rate and came close to winning the title. But they didn’t get it. Or won it and lost it. More and more Japanese [athletes] are coming up from the bottom and challenging for the title, so I think we will see a rush of Japanese title fights this year.