Nobutatsu Suzuki is a Japanese MMA fighter who is not a household name – even though he’s racked up a 9-1 record in his career – and he’s out to change that. He’s climbed the ranks in ZST, a regional promotion known for having such oddities as no glove bouts, tag team MMA matches, and other varied rules that have made the Japanese MMA scene unique in the world. Suzuki has KOed every single opponent that he’s beaten, and only once has he lost, that being to none other than division leader and super subber K-Taro Nakamura. This put him in the sites of Matt Hume, the Wizard match maker for Singapore-based ONE Fighting Championships.
On May 31st, Suzuki will make his debut in the promotion. He’ll be taking on the highly experienced veteran Phil Baroni at ONE FC 9 “Rise to Power” at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. Baroni will be the hometown favorite of sorts as he’s already fought in front of the rabid Filipino fans at ONE FC 6. That outing saw him punch and punt Ribeiro into oblivion. However, Suzuki is a hardened Kyokushin veteran himself, and his style of fighting proves he is afraid of no man who steps in front of him.
MMA-in-Asia Correspondent John Merva spoke with Suzuki about his upcoming fight, his views on Japanese MMA, and the strains of working full-time while pursing a career in the cage.
MMA-in-ASIA: Please tell us how you got your start in MMA.
Suzuki N: I just wanted to get better at fighting, that really was all there was to it. I originally came to MMA from karate. I started Kyokushin Karate when I was 15.
MMA-in-ASIA: Has your karate training helped you much in your MMA career?
Suzuki N: Absolutely. In fact, one of the reasons I started MMA was because I wanted to prove that karate techniques can be used in MMA and I do try to show them off in my fights.
MMA-in-ASIA: You’re known for having great knockout power, does that come from your karate background?
Suzuki N: Yes, it’s all from karate.
MMA-in-ASIA: On May 31st you’re facing off against Phil Baroni, a well-known veteran who’s also known for his KO power. What is your strategy going into the fight and how do you view Phil as an opponent?
Suzuki N: I plan to use my striking to close up with him and drag him into the deeper waters before getting the knockout. Phil is a fighter who used to have a fairly rough image of relying on his power but he’s recently really worked on being more well-rounded and now he’s regarded as a wily fighter.
MMA-in-ASIA: In your last fight in Vale Tudo Japan you lost to Keita Nakamura, has that affected your mental preparation or training for your upcoming ONE FC bout?
Suzuki N: Not at all. In fact, my desire to fight the best in the world is all the motivation I need so I am so grateful to ONE FC for giving me this chance.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are you training with?
Suzuki N: I train with all levels of fighters from amateurs to professionals. I guess the most well-known name would be Takanori Gomi from the UFC.
MMA-in-ASIA: Are there any fighters who inspired you and helped you on your journey when you were just starting out?
Suzuki N: Karate or MMA?
Suzuki N: Well, when I joined the Kyokushinkai, it would have to be Toru Okamoto and in MMA, it would be Takanori Gomi. Without meeting Toru Okamoto I wouldn’t be who I am today and my first meeting with Gomi was truly inspiring.
MMA-in-ASIA: And what advice would you have for anyone wanting to start out in MMA today?
Suzuki N: The most important thing is to just keep going. If you persevere that will increase your strength and skills. You have to believe in yourself and not defeat yourself. I think those are the two things I would really like to say.
MMA-in-ASIA: What does the future hold for you?
Suzuki N: I want to prove my ability and show I have an unbreakable heart and will.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think we will see a recovery in the popularity of MMA in Japan?
Suzuki N: I really don’t see a recovery for Japan. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is that Japanese companies no longer have a positive image of MMA and I don’t think we can hope for any investment in the sport. One thing we see overseas is MMA forging links with casinos and getting money from them. However, the Japanese government hasn’t allowed the construction of casinos for the last ten years so that avenue seems to be lost to us.
MMA-in-ASIA: You’re 35 years old now, and recently we have seen fighters competing into their forties. Do you think that age is as much of a barrier as it used to be?
Suzuki N: I don’t think it’s much of a problem. Just that as you get older and want to continue competing you have to change things up for the sake of longevity, like diet and managing your recovery after training.
MMA-in-ASIA: What’s your usual training schedule like?
Suzuki N: Twice a week I do my physical training and then three times a week I do my strength work. In between the two and if work permits I do my MMA training.
Suzuki N: I’m an administrative solicitor. I’m actually our office rep.
MMA-in-ASIA: You’ve achieved what you have in MMA while working a full-time job?
Suzuki N: Yeah. To be honest, it’s not easy, but I just have to grin and bear it! It’s tough as my MMA life is of no interest to my clients, they just want the job done!
MMA-in-ASIA: With your MMA training and job, there’s probably not much time for hobbies! Do you have any interests outside of MMA?
Suzuki N: Not really. Obviously I don’t smoke or drink and I don’t gamble! I don’t know if I would call it a hobby, but I enjoy reading. I guess going on dates is my hobby really!
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have any final message?
Suzuki N: I would like to give my regards to the karate fighters of Japan and I will do my best to represent them.