FightSport Asia’s 2014: Asian Prospects to Watch

Don’t know who to keep an eye on this year? Don’t fret, as Fight Sport Asia has you covered.

As the UFC looks to expand in Asia this year, Fight Sport Asia decided to take an in depth look at who we think will make the biggest impact in the next twelve months.

After the UFC signed Asian prospects Hyun Gyu Lim, Kyoji Horiguchi and Doo Ho Choi in 2013. Don’t be surprised to see that signing spree continue throughout the calendar year.

With 2013 exploding with many upcoming prospects. This is an exciting time for Asia, who many said was ‘dead’ in the fight game and had no talent left.

While the UFC remains the biggest Mixed Martial Arts promotion on the planet. Across the pond Pancrase, DEEP, Shooto, ONE FC among others have produced top talent throughout the years. And they don’t seem to be letting up in 2014.

So here’s our list of fighters we think you should keep an eye on.

In no particular order:

Michinori Tanaka (9-0)

Kicking things off is Ground Slam fighter Michinori Tanaka.

The 23-year-old began his journey in Mixed Martial Arts back in 2010, and gained recognition after winning the 2011 Shooto – Rookie Tournament. As well as winning the Tournament, Tanaka was also crowned the MVP.

Michinori soon moved to Pacific Xtreme Combat, where he would eventually claim Bantamweight gold overcoming Crisanto Pitpitunge.

Tanaka closed his year out by successfully defending his 135-lb strap for a first time vs. Kyle Aguon, and ended 2013 with a perfect 3-0 resume.

Yuta Sasaki (14-1-2)

“Ulka” is someone to really keep an eye on this year.

At 23-years of age Yuta has become somewhat of an unsung prospect in Asia.

The young prodigy had an incredible year posting a 4-0 record fighting under Shooto & VTJ, which included an eleven second knockout in the first frame over aggressive striker Kenji Yamamoto.

Shooto’s former Pacific Rim Featherweight Champion aims to build on that previous win, and keep momentum going in 2014.

Yuta is just days away from his first bout of the year, when he squares off against ZST Bantamweight Champion Keisuke Fujiwara at the Korakuen Hall on January 13th.

Jumabieke Tuerxun (14-0)

China’s hottest commodity has rolled through opponents since making his professional debut in the sport, but know one of notable worth.

Although his record states he’s flawless at 14-0 and has not fought since 2012. The Xin Sports product stayed relatively busy throughout 2013, and racked up a three-fight win streak [possibly more] fighting under some of the smaller promotions in China.

It was reported last year that the Bantamweight prospect had signed with the UFC. But soon after, Fight Sport Asia confirmed with sources close to the fighters camp who denied reports of the signing.

With the UFC heading back to Macau in March, there’s a good chance the 27-year-old free agent gets a spot on the card.

Eddie Ng (7-1)

Hong Kong’s native son Eddie Ng has become a fan favorite on the Asian MMA scene.

Making his rounds in ONE FC, Eddie was in fact offered a UFC contract late last year. However, after careful consideration “The Magician” opted to stay in Asia for the time being and progress his overall game.

The only blemish of his career comes at the hands of Joakim Engberg back in 2010. And since then Eddie has went onto dispose of opponents, winning five in-a-row with just one of his foes making it out of the first round.

Dae Hwan Kim (9-0-1)

Next up is another ONE FC fighter that goes by the name Dae Hwan Kim.

The South Korean opened up peoples eyes when he made his promotional debut in December of last year defeating Thanh Vu, in a highly entertaining contest.

As a new year begins fans will be itching to see more of Kim.

Standing at 5’6″ it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to see the young Korean drop down a weight class in the near future, where he could really showcase his true potential.

Nobumitsu Osawa (7-2)

Nobumitsu Osawa bounced back in 2013, following a loss to Kota Shimoishi.

The 27-year-old started his year off by getting his hand raised to a Unanimous Decision win over Kazuya Tanaka.

Osawa advanced to the semifinals of the Shooto – Infinity Welterweight (154-lbs) Tournament defeating Takahiro Suzuki.

Eventually Nobumitsu made it to the final, and lived up to the nickname “Tyson” after knocking out Koji Nishioka, to be crowned 2013’s Shooto – Infinity Welterweight Tournament Champion.

Osawa steps back into the ring on March 16th, when he squares off against Shinji Sasaki for the Pacific Rim Welterweight Championship.

Kazuki Nakajima (9-1)

“Soldier Boy” is The Outsider Lightweight Champion.

At 26-years of age Nakajima is in fact 11-1 since making his professional debut back in 2010.

The Japanese fighter is an aggressive, crowd-pleasing striker that fans love to watch.

Kazuki ended 2013 without a blemish on his record going 4-0 for the year, extending his win streak to ten.

Unfortunately, most of the guys who compete under the RINGS organization are tied down pretty tight to their contracts. So it’s doubtful we see someone like Nakajima stepping outside of Asia anytime soon.

Isao Kobayashi (14-1-4)

Isao Kobayashi is currently riding high at the moment, having gone 8-0-2 in his last ten outings.

Pancrase’s Lightweight King had a quiet 2013 matching up against Mixed Martial Arts veteran Jorge Patino and then defending his prestigious crown against Yoshiaki Takahashi.

The young prospect has fallen just once in his professional career, and that came at the hands of Koji Oishi. But in 2012 Isao got his revenge and defeated his foe, as well as claiming the Lightweight King of Pancrase title in the process.

Now onto 2014, Kobayashi looks to keep a three-year undefeated run intact.

We here at Fight Sport Asia expect big things for Kobayashi in the next twelve months.

Shintaro Ishiwatari (16-5-4) 

Staying with Pancrase for the time being.

The Bantamweight King was possibly on the verge of signing with the UFC back in 2013, before dropping an incredible bout to Kyoji Horiguchi. Both men were involved in a back-and-forth battle, which eventually saw Shintaro get stopped in the fifth round, in a well deserved Fight of the Year candidate.

Prior to the fight the 28-year-old was on a solid six-fight win streak.

Ishiwatari looks to build momentum, after his most recent win over Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniwa at PANCRASE 255.

Shintaro defends his Bantamweight crown against dangerous Submission artist Yo Saito at the Differ Ariake later next month.

Guan Wang (12-1-1)

While Jumabieke remains China’s best prospect. Guan, up until the end of last year was neck-and-neck with his Xin Sports teammate.

Like many Chinese Mixed Martial Artists, Guan originally came from a Sanda background where he won numerous titles and accolades.

After making his professional debut in the sport “The Dongbei Dragon” has racked up an impressive twelve-fight win streak, with nine of those coming by way of stoppage.

In 2013 he almost ended the year maintaining a spotless record, but at the last hurdle fell short to unbeaten Russian Bekbulat Magomedov under China’s biggest MMA promotion—RUFF.

Mizuki Inoue (7-1)

With the explosion of Women’s Mixed Martial Arts it was only fitting to add one of its brightest young stars.

The 19-year-old burst onto the Asian MMA scene fighting for JEWELS [now – DEEP: JEWELS] in her native Japan, where she went onto win her first two bouts, before losing to eventual Champion Ayaka Hamasaki.

Inoue hasn’t looked back since and has notched up a five-fight win streak, with three of those coming in 2013; including a successful debut on U.S soil defeating Bec Hyatt at Invicta FC.

Mizuki also cemented a place in the DEEP: JEWELS Lightweight (114-lbs) Tournament Finals defeating Emi Fujino.

The young phenom squares off against Emi Tomimatsu next month for the inaugural title.

Mikihito Yamagami (10-2)

One of the lesser talked about fighters in Japan is Mikihito Yamagami.

After towering above his peers for the last couple of years the former Shooto Flyweight (114-lbs) Champion relinquished his Championship to move up to 125-lbs.

The fan favorite decided to move up in weight in hopes of testing his skills in the UFC.

Yamagami made his debut in the division squaring off with one of its pioneers Mamoru Yamaguchi. After a closely contested match-up, Mikihito went onto win the bout via Majority Decision.

The 26-year-old is currently on a seven-fight win streak and finished last year 2-0 with wins under VTJ & HEAT.

Lu Zhenhong (5-1)

After starting his career in Mixed Mixed Martial Arts on the wrong side of a Split Decision, Lu has since racked together a five-fight win streak.

Although the 20-year-old has a lot of work to do in his stand-up the young prospect, for now gets by with his savvy grappling skills.

Fighting under the RUFF banner, Lu will be looking to make a statement here in 2014.

Rin Nakai  (15-0-1)

Bantamweights Queen of Pancrase is regarded as one of the sports best fighters not under contract by the UFC.

The Pancrase starlet began her career in Mixed Martial Arts back in 2006, and has since then piled up an impressive fifteen-fight win streak.

Although she has ventured outside of her promotion, it’s Pancrase where Nakai has made herself a staple.

Last year saw the Bantamweight Queen go 2-0 for the year, after defeating both Tara LaRosa & Brenda Gonzales.

Junji Ito (10-4)

Fan favorite “Sarumaru” is known to be one of Asia’s most exciting fighters to watch.

The 27-year-old fought just once in 2013 winning a dominant decision over Tadaaki Yamamoto.

Junji will get the chance to start his year off in what should be a helluva scrap, when he’s paired against Shinya Murofushi for the vacant Shooto Flyweight (114-lbs) title on January 13th.

If the UFC ever does decide to add the new weight class, then Junji will be one of the first names considered for the division.

Takashi Soya (5-0)

19-year-old Takashi Soya was voted last years MVP of the Shooto – Rookie Tournament.

The hard-hitting prospect has yet to taste defeat in his young career. And has finished four out of five opponents by way of KO/TKO since making his professional debut back in 2012.

Soya, who fights at Bantamweight (123-lbs) claimed the Tournament prize by dusting Ryuya Fukuda in the first round in devastating fashion, to close out a great year going 3-0.

Yuki Kawana (6-0-4)

Staying with the Shooto – Rookie Tournament winners, Kawana won the Tournaments Welterweight (154-lbs) prize.

The 23-year-old began his journey into Mixed Martial Arts making his professional debut at ZST, where he won his opening bout submitting (Kneebar) Shinichi Taira.

Since then, Kawana has went on to tap all but one of his opponents.

Last year proved to be a great twelve months for Yuki, who posted a 2-0 record—which included a win over Akira Toritani in the Shooto – Welterweight Rookie finals, to stamp his name on Asia’s MMA scene.

Takeshi Kasugai (13-2-1)

Takeshi Kasugai remained one of Asia’s busiest fighters last year going 5-0 for the calendar year.

The 25-year-old had an incredible 2013 disposing of opponents with ease fighting under the HEAT & Demolition banners.

With the UFC looking to expand their Flyweight division, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Kasugai make his Octagon debut later this year.

As it stands Shimura Dojo’s prize student hasn’t tasted defeat since 2010, and has since chalked up a ten-fight win streak.

Mark Striegl (12-1)

Mark Striegl remains the Philippines most promising young prospects.

But last year saw the 25-year-old drop his first bout of his professional career when he squared off against Jang Yong Kim.

After tasting defeat for the first time, Striegl looked to get back on track following the loss when he was set to face Ev Ting for a second time in their career. But after his opponent missed weight the bout was cancelled.

As a new year begins “Mugen” looks to climb back into title contention with PXC.

Satoshi Ishii (11-2-1)

Olympic gold medalist Satoshi Ishii transitioned to the sport back in 2009. And since then, Ishii has faced stern competition in his young career with names like Paulo Filho, Tim Sylvia, Pedro Rizzo, Sean McCorkle and Jeff Monson under his belt.

His two losses come at the hands of Mixed Martial Arts legend Fedor Emelianenko and fellow Japanese Judokan, Hidehiko Yoshida.

Like the aforementioned Takeshi Kasugai, Ishii also remained one of Asia’s busiest fighters throughout 2013 putting together a 6-0 record.

With last year behind him, Ishii looks to build on a seven-fight win streak and get a shot under the bright lights of the UFC.

Teruto Ishihara (6-1-1)

Teruto Ishihara is virtually an unknown to many fight fans.

The 22-year-old began his Mixed Martial career back in 2011, and since then has build up a respectable record. Ishihara has gone onto finish five of his six opponents by way of KO/TKO, which all have come inside the very first round.

Ishihara, who resides out of the Featherweight (132-lbs) division had a somewhat quiet year having only fought just once in 2013 defeating Koji Mori via TKO at VTJ 2nd.

His lone loss comes at the hands of a previously mentioned prospect on our list—Michinori Tanka. Since losing to his counterpart in the Shooto – Rookie Tournament Final, Teruto has went on a three-fight tear.

Keinosuke Yoshinaga (15-4)

The Outsider Welterweight Champion Keinosuke Yoshinaga has actually rallied a 17-4 resume in Mixed Martial Arts.

Keinosuke had a quiet 2013, finishing 2-0 for the year with wins over Yuki Saito & Takahiro Owaki. Both of which came under the RINGS banner.

The 30-year-old was contacted by the UFC in early 2012 but when questions were asked about his tattoos, the UFC decided to take a U-turn and passed up on the fighter.

After Teppei Hori pulled out of their scheduled bout due to injury last year the pair will finally meet at next months Outsider event scheduled for February 16th.

Roldan Sangcha-an (4-0)

One of Team Lakay’s up-and-coming fighters is Roldan Sangcha-an.

The young prospect is only 4-0 into his Mixed Martial Arts career, but that hasn’t stopped the buzz surrounding him.

After finishing 2-0 for the year with wins against Adam Cacay & Ernesto Montilla. Roldan was then rumored to have signed with the UFC.

As the UFC looks to add more talent from Asia, Roldan may end up getting a chance on an upcoming Fight Night card.

Ryo Hatta (6-0)

ZST veteran Ryo Hatta has yet to taste defeat in the sport.

Strapple prospect Hatta had a great 2013, after defeating both Kenichi Sawada & Yusuke Uehara via Submission.

Going into 2014, Ryo has went the distance just once in his professional career, with the rest of his wins coming by way of Submission.

Hatta remains as one of Asia’s most promising young grapplers at the moment.

Ryohei Kurosawa (4-0)

Although the UFC has yet to add a 115-lbs weight class, the division is already loaded to the brim with talent. And one of its upcoming stars is Ryohei Kurosawa.

Ryohei Kurosawa made waves competing in last years Shooto – Rookie Flyweight (114-lbs) Tournament, which he eventually won defeating Sho Nishida via Submission.

At 20-years of age Kurosawa has tons of potential, and is already slated for a return to the famed four corners of Shooto later this year, when he matches up with Tateo Lino on March 16th.

Ryuto Sawada (2-0)

Another fighter who resides out of the 114-lbs weight class is one of Asia’s brightest young stars, 18-year-old Mixed Martial Arts prodigy Ryuto Sawada.

The AACC product has a lot of hype behind him. In fact, VICE Japan followed Sawada last year leading up to his fight at VTJ 3rd for their fight documentary Fightland.

In 2013 Sawada made his professional debut, and posted a 2-0 resume defeating Hiroaki Shishino & Hiroyuki Takahashi.

Ryuto is already scheduled to participate in the upcoming Shooto – Infinity Tournament, that takes place in a couple of days time on January 13th.

*Honorable mentions: Danaa-BatgerelMyung Ho BaeRyuichi Miki, Eric KellyYuki MotoyaTakeshi KashiwazakiMitsuhisa SunabeAsuka MikamiKevin Belingon & Yoshitaka Naito.

Photo credit: Masanori Suzuki
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