KIKUNO KATSUNORI on his UFC debut, heavy hands, and the intense focus karate gives him

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Japanese karate icon Kikuno Katsunori makes his UFC debut on Singapore’s UFC Fight Night 34 on January 4, 2013.

Kikuno Katsunori (21-5-2) started his MMA career eight years ago. The lead up to the sport came through his length of time in traditional Japanese martial arts judo and karate. As such, he is one of the very few fighters who still retains the essence of his training in competition, and it shows. Katsunori’s iconic stalking, hands-low style has made him a favorite to watch, and his deadly hands have produced twelve knock outs.

Katsunori now makes his debut in front of an international audience when he steps foot in the UFC Ocatagon for the first time. The former DEEP Champion has not lost in his last five fights. With over 30 fights to his credit, he has finally ascended to the global stage of the UFC during its Asia expansion. Ahead of UFC Singapore, MMA-in-ASIA spoke with Katsunori about his traditional training, his UFC opportunity, and his opponent.

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MMA-in-ASIA: I’ve seen you fight live several times in Japan. You have a very unusual style that will be entertaining to see. Do you intents to change your style at all for international competition?

Katsunori: I have no intention to change my style right now. UFC fighters’ power, technique, speed, stamina, and mental strength are all great. I’m aware that they are all very good. That’s why I want to win the fight in a different manner. I want to distinguish myself.

MMA-in-ASIA: Many new fighters are looking to do the same – separate themselves out from the pack. Can you give advice to those coming from traditional arts backgrounds? On how you succeeded and how they can succeed while sticking to their roots?

Katsunori: It’s a competition after all, so if I don’t win it, it doesn’t mean anything. If I don’t win this fight, of course I have to start thinking, I might have to change something. The people around me are saying I have to do something different. So now, I’m not in a position to advise the younger fighters. But one thing I would like to say is that in karate or judo, it’s long years of accumulation of knowledge that go into those sports. So I believe that there’s something fantastic about these arts, so I just have to discover it and utilize it.

MMA-in-ASIA: So maybe one word would be dedication?

Katsunori: Yes. I believe in karate.

MMA-in-ASIA: I’m curious. Have you ever measured how hard you hit?

Katsunori: No! This is coming from karate suki (finding an opening), I know my hands are heavy. Suki from karate is about hurting human beings, it’s not about hitting pads. I think I have the technique to hurt the opponent.

MMA-in-ASIA: So it’s like a specialty.

Katsunori: It’s the technique from karate.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you still practice kata?

Katsunori: Actually, I do a lot of kata. To create energy and strength. So therefore the theory is a little different from modern MMA. One of the principals of Okinawan tempo karate is that I have to control my focus and balance first. That’s one of the most important things.

MMA-in-ASIA: I think you show this well, you’re very focused. In your movement around the cage, your hands are often low. People will criticize this. You’re already internationally known, but the UFC will make you widely known to more casual fans. How would you counter their criticism?

Katsunori: I have to win the fight first, and then they can’t say anything, right? [laughs] Actually, a lot of people already told me that in Japan too.

MMA-in-ASIA: Let your hands do the talking!

Katsunori: Yes!

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Kikuno Katsunori, courtesy Sherdog

MMA-in-ASIA: In English media, there isn’t much background about you as a person and what you do outside of MMA.

Katsunori: I spend time with family. And I read manga! [laughs] That’s my hobby.

MMA-in-ASIA: Didn’t I see pictures of you on a motorcycle?

Katsunori: It was just a 100cc!

MMA-in-ASIA: Didn’t you take a trip to the US and ride a Harley Davidson?

Katsunori: [laughs] It was my friend’s Harley Davidson and it was in Japan!

MMA-in-ASIA: Have you been mentally preparing for the cage?

Katsunori: I’ve fought in the cage a few times. So I have trained how to react when someone wants to push me against the cage. I, myself, don’t really use the cage to fight, so I only practice to use it when someone is attacking me.

MMA-in-ASIA: You have fought in front of huge crowds before in Japan. So, this is a small live event by comparison. But yet, this is the UFC. What are your feelings in going to a smaller venue in Singapore, yet being in a fight of greater importance?

Katsunori: I have nothing against it! It’s the UFC! [laughs] I’m just happy that I can fight for the UFC. It’s my first time fighting overseas as well. I have a little sense of nervousness, you know.

MMA-in-ASIA: The karate master is nervous? Wow! When you go into this fight, what will you be thinking about your opponent?

Katsunori: He’s tall! 190 cm tall. That’s my impression. He’s a striker. He can fight on the ground, I can see that. It’s the first time I’m facing a guy that tall. It’s a first experience for me.

MMA-in-ASIA: Do you see his height as an issue?

Katsunori: Well, in fight sports the guy who is bigger is usually tougher, so the taller guy has the advantage. The longer reach.

MMA-in-ASIA: I don’t think there’s anyone tougher than you!

Katsunori: Thank you.