Tatsuya Kawajiri tells Fight Sport Asia “You can expect a Japanese Samurai inside the Octagon”

Tatsuya Kawajiri (32-7-2), a veteran of the sport for over a decade remains one of Asia’s most respected fighters in Mixed Martial Arts today.

The fighter dubbed “Crusher” began his Mixed Martial Arts journey back in 2000, and since then has become a fan favorite over the years.

Having fought the likes of Takanori Gomi, Caol Uno, Shinya Aoki, Gilbert Melendez, Kazunori Yokota, Josh Thomson, Eddie Alvarez, Kazuyuki Miyata and most recently Michihiro Omigawa throughout his career.

The Japanese icon now takes on a new challenge when he makes his promotional debut with the UFC on January 4th, 2014 against Nova Uniao product Hacran Dias.

Currently on a five-fight win streak, the former Shooto Welterweight Champion (154-lbs) looks to make a name for himself with a much larger audience. And that begins with his first hurdle Hacran Dias at the turn of next year when the UFC takes it’s first trip to Singapore.

Fight Sport Asia caught up with the Japanese legend to discuss his career, signing with the UFC, his upcoming fight and much, much more.

FSA:
First off Congratulations on getting signed by the UFC. How long have you knowing about the news?

Kawajiri:
Thank you.
We did communicate in August once but I couldn’t take the offer back then because I wasn’t sure about the future of DREAM, and also, I had an offer from Vale Tudo Japan as well.
However, I couldn’t reach an agreement with Vale Tudo Japan and also I was notified that DREAM on NYE is not a sure thing so I decided to test my skill in the UFC.


FSA:

You’re one of the most well respected fighters in all of Asia, but how did you get started in the sport?

Kawajiri:
In 1997, I went to see K-1 GP at Tokyo Dome. The ticket I bought was the cheapest, all the way in the back, farthest from the ring.
From there, I watched Ernest Hoost vs Francisco Filho and even from where I was, far away from the ring, I still felt this tremendous sense of tension.
Then, I thought to myself, “wow, kakutougi is awesome”. Then, I wanted to do kakutougi too.

FSA:

Can you tell us how the nickname “Crusher” came about?

Kawajiri:
When I was fighting in Shooto back in 2003, the producer of cable TV that was televising Shooto, he came up with this nickname from watching the way I fight.

FSA:

Since dropping to Featherweight (145lbs) you’ve finished three of your last four opponents. How do you find cutting the weight?

Kawajiri:
When I was fighting at the lightweight division, I didn’t really plan well on the weight cut. I did in a rather reckless way. But ever since I went down to the featherweight division, I plan well so the weight cut has been easier for me at this weight class.

FSA:

You haven’t fought since December of last year. Were you injured, or did you decide to take sometime off?

Kawajiri:
In February of this year, I injured myself, and went under the knife. I recovered from this injury pretty quickly but I decided to concentrate on training for six months.

FSA:
Some fans thought you may have retired. Did the thought ever cross your mind?

Kawajiri:

When I got injured, I did think, “Maybe I can’t continue anymore” and when I couldn’t confirm my fights, more than few times, a thought of “Maybe its over?” crossed my mind. 
However, many people around me kept on supporting and I like kakutougi more than anything so I didn’t wanted to quit in a half way.

FSA:

Before you got started in MMA did you have any type of background in Martial Arts?

Kawajiri:
I played baseball in elementary school and junior high school. In high school I did track and field. I did 800 meter run. I had no prior kakutougi experience.


FSA:

How does it feel to finally get the chance to showcase your skills inside the Octagon?

Kawajiri:
When I signed that UFC contract I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep well that night.

FSA:
Have you any highlights in your career that stand out for you?

Kawajiri:
When I won Shooto’s welterweight (155 lbs) title in 2004. Not just myself but also, my team mates, supporters and fans, everyone were happy. It was an unforgettable experience.

FSA:
Speaking of Shooto what did you think of former Champion Kyoji Horiguchi’s UFC debut?

Kawajiri:
Considering how he took on a last minute offer, I think he did a fantastic fight.
He may still have few concerns but he should be able to cover that with fabulous talent and that explosive power.


FSA:

What motivates you to get up and train in the morning?

Kawajiri:
I just want to be strong. That’s all.

FSA:

Do you follow any other sports besides fighting?

Kawajiri:
No. I can’t get interested in anything else but kakutougi.

FSA:

You’ve seen it all and done it all, but have you any advice/tips for any young aspiring fighters?

Kawajiri:
As a fighter, its a common sense to be stoic and think about only winning. 
Also, you maybe fighting an opponent in the fight but that is not the only thing the fighter has to battle against. If you want to become successful as a pro fighter, you would have to deal with fans, media, people in the industry, yourself, and many other things.
Its not only about self-satisfaction.

FSA:

Are there any prospects that we should be keeping an eye out for coming out of T-Blood?

Kawajiri:
Yohei Sakamoto from T-BLOOD is someone you need to watch. 
Sure, he may not have so much experience yet but in the training I even want to avoid him and that’s how strong he is.

FSA:

Talk us through a normal days training at T-Blood?

Kawajiri: 
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do boxing.
Tuesday and Thursday is No Gi training.
Saturday is MMA training. And I do weight training and I teach classes as well.


FSA:

Depending on your opponent do you ever switch between camps?

Kawajiri:
No I don’t.
Instead of changing my training method according to the opponent, I emphasize more about making myself better and stronger from training.


FSA:

What do you in your spare time when your not training? Do you have any hobbies?

Kawajiri:
I spent a time with my family on my day offs.
I have no other hobby besides kakutougi. To me the best way to spend a day off is to play with my daughter.

FSA:
You’re known throughout the MMA community as a Legend, but do you a favorite fighter of your own?

Kawajiri:
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai and Kazushi Sakuraba. Those two have been my heroes from long time ago.

FSA:

Is there anyone on the UFC roster that you enjoy watching compete?

Kawajiri:
GSP because as an athlete I think he is most superior.
BJ Penn because he has got that aura of wildness, and I think he is a natural born fighter.
They maybe completely opposite but I really like these two guys’ fights.

FSA:

What do you think about the sports growth in Asia?

Kawajiri:
Its very good that UFC, the world’s highest peak in the MMA, are now being watched by people around the world. And MMA growth in Asia where I resides means its a big chance for me.
I am determined to capitalize on this opportunity.

FSA:

You’ve been in some really entertaining battles throughout your career. Are there any that stand out for you, personally?

Kawajiri:
A fight against Takanori Gomi.
I lost that fight. Gomi and myself fought each other but also, we fought against the fans, public and many other things.
And, I believe, so many fans enjoyed that fight and it pushed lighter weight classes to the main stream of the Japanese MMA.

FSA:
You fought for your second time inside a cage at ONE FC winning the fight via Submission (Triangle Choke). How do you find the experience?

Kawajiri:
Yes I did fight for ONE FC once. 
The experience in ONE FC cage and Singapore would help me in this upcoming UFC Singapore show for sure.


FSA:

What can fans who haven’t saw your fights before expect from “Crusher”?

Kawajiri:
You will see a Japanese Samurai in the Octagon.

FSA:
Have you any dream match-ups now that you’re with the UFC?

Kawajiri:
I wonder who would be good for this?
Japanese fans might want to see a rematch against Gomi.
Right now we are in a different weight class but as a dream match I guess its possible for us to fight again.
But I don’t have any feeling of wanting to avenge that loss. I would like to see all Japanese fighters do well in the UFC and if we can let people in Japan know how fantastic UFC is, then it would be great.

FSA:

What’s your goal for 2014?

Kawajiri:
To become UFC featherweight champion.

FSA:

It was announced that you will debut against Brazil’s Hacran Dias at UFC Fight Night 34. What do you think of your opponent?

Kawajiri:
He belongs to Nova Uniao where both Jose Aldo and Renan Barao trains. He must be going through a high level of training at that team.
On top of this, he only lost twice in his career.
Even in the last fight, although he lost, I thought Dias was actually closed to knocking out the opponent in the third round.
So I think he is a very dangerous opponent.

FSA:

Your opponent is coming off a loss. Do you see this as being an advantage?

Kawajiri:
His loss in the last fight is not a good reference in this subject. Dias could have won that fight. It was that close.
But in the UFC, if you lose two in a row, more than likely you would get released so he is going to be desperate for a win. But that is same for me.
And, I think, we have a similar fight style so a fighter that is superior in every departments would win this fight and I believe that is myself.

FSA: 
If you’re able to stifle the grappler’s offense. Do you see yourself as having the better stand-up?

Kawajiri:
Recently, I’ve been winning fights on the ground.
But, I’ve fought, and exchanged fists with fantastic strikers like K-1 champion, Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez.
I may not be better than the others but I certainly don’t think I am inferior compared to the other fighters.

FSA:

Where do you see yourself in the division with a win over Dias?

Kawajiri:
After I beat Dias, I want to be ranked in the UFC ranking.

FSA: 
You called out Cub Swanson on twitter. Is that a fight you will be pursuing after your debut?


Kawajiri:
I just want to be UFC featherweight champion and I am willing beat anyone in my way to get that title.

FSA:
Are you happy that your first fight will be in Asia? I imagine a lot of friends and family will be travelling over. 

Kawajiri:
Yes I am very satisfied.
No matter what, I want to win this UFC debut fight.
So, Singapore has less time difference and I do have an experience of fighting in Singapore so I think these factors would be an advantage for me.

FSA:
Prior to the Melendez fight you said that you didn’t train in a cage. Are things still the same, or do you now have a cage in your gym?

Kawajiri:
In today’s Japanese MMA, its very difficult to find an opportunity to train in the full-size cage. In my gym we don’t have cage at all.
But there is no sense in hoping for something I can’t get for now.
So I will do my best under the environment I am in right now.
I do have this clear image of myself fighting in the cage. And I had no problem fighting in Japan like this. 
I believe, imagination is infinite.
And I do believe in myself.


FSA would like to thank Kawajiri for given time out his busy schedule, and wish him luck on his UFC debut.

You can watch Kawajiri make his long awaited debut against Hacran Dias on January 4th at UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore.

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Picture credit: Tatsuya Kawajiri
Follow Kawajiri on Twitter (@CRUSHER_MMA) and Facebook
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Categories: Featured, Interview, MMA, Singapore, UFC

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