Last Friday, 31 January, Shoko Sato continued his electrifying winning streak, and now he wants to confirm his status as one of the world’s top bantamweights against one of the ONE Championship uber-elite.
At ONE: FIRE & FURY, the Shooto Bantamweight World Champion took on yet another dangerous young athlete in “Pretty Boy” Kwon Won Il, but Sato’s aggression, skill, and intelligence were just too much for the of South Korean knockout artist.
Though the man from Tokyo, Japan, admits he was concerned about Kwon’s striking power, his veteran experience meant he was prepared and composed enough to stay clear of danger in Manila, Philippines.
“He has a lot of finishes by striking, so I had some fear about that. If I’d lost I was afraid I’d be back to square one, but I was sure that if I just had confidence in my preparation then it would go well,” Sato says.
“[His right hand] is difficult to see. I fought with my left guard up constantly, and I used my low kick while thinking, ‘Be careful, be careful,’ because I was afraid of his right cross,” he adds.
“During the match, I felt his reach was longer and the distance wasn’t as far as I thought. I felt I could deal with it.”
Kwon was active with his money punch in the opening moments, but once the Japanese athlete had nailed down the range and timing, he had no problem standing and exchanging strikes.
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“Firstly, my strategy was to trade with him as he came forward. I wanted to stop his momentum with calf kicks,” he explains.
“Then, my plan was to use footwork with striking and grappling, high and low, to break his concentration and stop his forward attacks.
“When it started, he did put on pressure and I dealt with it as I’d imagined. I didn’t panic, and I was able to carry out my strategy.”
The longer the contest lasted, the more success Sato had with his strikes, which seemed to make “Pretty Boy” more frustrated. His right hand became easier to counter, and that led him into a world of trouble.
However, rather than capitalizing with a counter shot, the man from Tokyo shot for a takedown and pressed his rival up against the fence. From there, he went to one of his go-to strategies – take the back, lock up a body triangle, threaten with a short choke, and then switch to finish with a rear-naked choke.
“I often get it in deep then switch [to the rear-naked]. I knew that if I got the takedown, he’d try to get up and give me his back. I was looking for that,” he explains.
The tap came just seconds later, and it was not long after that Sato was planning his next move.
The 31-year-old has built up momentum with a string of stoppages – three on the global stage and six overall – so he does not want to wait too much longer before he returns to the Circle. When he does, he has his eyes on the elite.
“The biggest thing is the relief from winning without injury. Now, that makes three straight wins in ONE, and I’m making a good case for a title run.
“I’m not injured, so if I’m offered in the next two or three months, I’d like to go again between April and June. It depends on ONE.
“If they’re ranked highly, anyone is okay – Bibiano Fernandes, Kevin Belingon, John Lineker. I want to test myself against these three. It’ll not be easy whichever it is. Lineker and Belingon are both strikers, so I think they’d be [the most] interesting.
“Now I’ve had three fights, everyone has a good feel for my matches. I will go for another strong finish again so as not to disappoint them!”