Following the only defeat of her MMA career so far, Japanese atomweight Itsuki Hirata decided to step outside of her comfort zone.
That result was a devastating loss for the woman known as “Android” 18,” but it also inspired her to evolve her skills before returning to the Circle at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
“When I came back to Japan [after the loss], my family told me, ‘It’s not the end,’ even though I had thought it would be the end of the world if I lost.
“But this loss lifted me up to the view that I must push myself more by going to train in the USA.”
Hirata’s native Japan features many world-class gyms, but the United States is home to around 335 million people – the world’s third-biggest population.
With that in mind, the young judoka was interested in traveling across the Pacific Ocean to encounter a variety of training partners and combat styles.
“I went [to the USA] because there is a wide range of athletes. There are many athletes with a long reach, height, and many female athletes.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to compete against non-Japanese athletes, so let’s go train abroad and challenge the people I’ve never experienced.’”
Itsuki Hirata Leveling Up Her Striking Game In The USA
Itsuki Hirata has trained at some elite gyms in New York, including Serra BJJ and Longo And Weidman MMA.
But above all, she credits striking coach Nestor Marte at Ultimate Gym as the most important piece of the puzzle.
Known for her grappling, “Android 18” has put a lot of focus into honing her Muay Thai skills so she can resume her charge toward the top of the atomweight division as a more well-rounded athlete.
“I go to several gyms to train in striking, BJJ, and Muay Thai, but striking is the biggest part for me.
“The striking coach, Nestor, who will be in my corner in the upcoming fight, is very harsh, but he tells me, ‘This is affection’ after every practice. I spent a month there this time because I was only able to go for two weeks last time.
“I practice in a way that reminds me of the days when I belonged to the judo club at junior high school. I practice so hard that I believe it will have to pay off.”
Formerly known by the nickname “Strong Heart Fighter,” Hirata has earned respect for her tenacity, but her time in New York has helped fortify her mental game – as well as her skills.
Marte’s training methods have forged an even tougher mindset for “Android 18,” which she will need for her showdown with Chinese striker Lin Heqin at ONE on Prime Video 1 on August 26.
“I thought I had a stronger heart than others, but I realized the guts of the fighters I’ve trained with there are stronger than mine.
“The team has [high-level] fighters and professional boxers. We spar in a style where I stand in the middle and my partners take a turn [to spar with me].
“My mentality has been strengthened to survive in that environment.”