KIICHI “STRASSER” KUNIMOTO: From pro skater to pro fighter, a UFC dream come true

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UFC Fight Night 34 takes place in Singapore on January 4, 2013. There are four notable Japanese fighters making their debuts, and Kiichi “Strasser” Kunimoto is one of them.

At UFC Singapore, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Kikuno Katsunori finally make the jump from the glory days of mega-promotions in Japan to the UFC’s world stage. Prolific prodigy Shunichi Shimizu also debuts, with a whopping 46 fights to his credit. The final of the four is Kiichi Kunimoto.

Kunimoto may not be a name as recognizable as the former crew, but he’s made himself a presence to be reckoned with in Japan. He is the reigning Welterweight Champion in HEAT, Japan’s longest running promotion that uses a cage. He has trumped the talent pool there and now looks to swim in deeper waters.

Kunimoto may not be a name widely known now, but he aims to change that when he takes on Luiz Dutra in their dual debut. MMA-in-ASIA caught up with “Strasser” prior to his fight to learn about his background, his style, and his UFC debut.

MMA-in-ASIA: You’ve been the Welterweight Champion of HEAT for a long time now.

Kiichi: One year, since I originally won it. I’ve had two fights that I was defending.

MMA-in-ASIA: You’ve been very dominant, with all submission finishes. Is this because of your style, or a lack of opponents?

Kiichi: If I didn’t get the UFC offer, HEAT was thinking about having the Shooto Pacific Rim Champion come in to fight me. I was asking them to bring in ex-UFC fighters.

MMA-in-ASIA: There has never been any English media coverage of you, so not many people outside of Japan know much about you. Have you ever done an English media interview?

Kiichi: No, this is my first!

MMA-in-ASIA: What would you like to share about Strasser the person?

Kiichi: I was a professional skate boarder in Japan before I did MMA.

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Strasser Kiichi, courtesy Sherdog

MMA-in-ASIA: I feel like I already know you because you are very active on Facebook. You post a picture every day! I’m going to make a calendar just for you and call it “365 days of Strasser”.

Kiichi: It’s very difficult to have coverage by Japanese media, so I have to promote myself!

MMA-in-ASIA: You have very strong training partners. Motonobu Tezuka comes to mind. Is your style strong and pressuring like his?

Kiichi: Well, Tezuka’s small for me, my best training partner is Yasuaki Kishimoto. And Ryo who fights in DEEP. We are all based in Osaka. We all train there. Paraestra. We have a new cage.

MMA-in-ASIA: What kind of style can people expect to see from you?

Kiichi: I’m an all-rounder. I always mix stand up and tackling. Takedown and ground and pound.

MMA-in-ASIA: So why have all your fights been ending by submission?

Kiichi: I love stand up, and I love grappling. Mentally, I like to stand up, but then, my ground work is very good too, so…

MMA-in-ASIA: Your first opponent was to be Lim HyunGyu. What was your feeling when you accepted the fight?

Kiichi: Well, my goal was to be in the UFC. So I have to beat all of the good fighters in Asia. And Lim was one of them. He’s won two fights in the UFC, so I thought it was a great opportunity for me. When I beat him, it would be a great mark for me, rather than another debut fighter.

MMA-in-ASIA: How did you feel when the opponent was changed when Lim got moved up?

Kiichi: When I signed the contract, my intention was to beat Lim. When I was notified that the opponent had been changed, I was so disappointed. But my coach and my manager said to forget about the past. After that, I focused on the new opponent.

MMA-in-ASIA: It wasn’t too close to the fight, so you still had a good amount of time to refocus.

Kiichi: Yes, you’re right.

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Strasser Kiichi, courtesy Bunbunmaru

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a game plan?

Kiichi: Of course I have a game plan… my style is like an animal! A cheetah. That’s the power I’d like to show to my opponent. Stalking and attacking!

MMA-in-ASIA: How did you get the name “Strasser”?

Kiichi: I went to Dave Strasser’s gym in the US to train. In those days, not so many guys went to the US to train MMA. One day we had a barbecue party, and he said I had to have a fight name. So, that became it. I took his!

MMA-in-ASIA: Did you completely stop skateboarding?

Kiichi: When I started my career in MMA, I switched, completely quit skateboarding. It’s very easy to get injured, like breaking an ankle.

MMA-in-ASIA: How do you feel about making your debut in Singapore, in the UFC’s first card in South East Asia?

Kiichi: I don’t mind where I fight. The important thing is that I must win the fight.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a game plan?

Kiichi: Yes, I do. Start by standing up, then take him down. He may be able to cage walk and get up. So I will take him down again. Hopefully I can then submit him, or I’ll ground and pound him. If I can KO him, that will be very lucky for me.

MMA-in-ASIA: Does your cage fighting experience mean you will have an advantage over many other Japanese fighters?

Kiichi: Yes. The reasons I went to HEAT instead of staying in Pancrase was because it used a cage. I was preparing to fight in the UFC.

MMA-in-ASIA: What is your favorite submission?

Kiichi: Shoulder lock!