Kudo Champ Hisaki Kato talks about his Bellator 139 debut with Joe Schilling

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Hisaki Kato before Bellator 139
Hisaki Kato before Bellator 139

Kudo Champion Hisaki Kato will be making his international MMA debut at Bellator 139 against Joe Schilling.

The event takes place on June 26, 2015 in Mulvane, Kansas at the Kansas Star Arena and will be live on Spike television channel.

Many eyes have been on Kato since he made his MMA debut in Japan in 2013. He went undefeated in HEAT with KOs in four matches in a row, culminating in winning the HEAT Middleweight title. His first defense earlier in the year was an absolute cracker against Henrique Shigemoto, but it was Kato’s first time to be on the fence, losing to punches.

Eyes were still on the entertaining striker and Bellator quickly snapped him up. For his debut, Kato will face a thrilling striker in Schilling which can almost be guaranteed to deliver sparks. ASIA MMA spoke with Kato via phone before the event, and he discussed his background in Kudo, his take on Schilling, and his outlook on an MMA career.

ASIA MMA: First of all congratulations on getting into Bellator.

Kato:  Thank you.

ASIA MMA: How did you get involved in Kudo as a martial art?

Kato:  Actually I was living in France back in 2005 maybe. At that time there was a Kudo gym near my house and I wanted to do a Japanese martial art so that’s how I started it.

ASIA MMA: How old were you when you started?

Kato:  It was nine years ago. I’m 32 now so I was 23.

ASIA MMA: When was the last time you fought in Kudo

Kato:  After I stated Kudo, I moved back to Japan and I’m an instructor now and I fight every year in competition. My last competition was the world championships last November

ASIA MMA: I think I watched a world championship match from 2013 and it was interesting to see your style and to see how it translated over to MMA.

Kato:  Basically Kudo is different because the fighting time is short; you cannot have the same strategy. But for sure there are some things which you can try to do during an MMA fight.

ASIA MMA: What is the biggest thing you can carry over?

The distance I think. In Kudo it’s about controlling the distance and breaking the distance, that’s an important part for me.

ASIA MMA: Your punching is extremely powerful. I have some friends that fought with helmets before and I had the impression that when you punch that face shield that you don’t punch it strong because it’s a hard object But for you, it made everything I thought turn around.

Kato:  Yeah actually people are saying that about me, that I have strength and really a lot power in my punches. That’s my good weapon. Think people are more careful with the fighter’s right hand. For me leading with the left-hand punches is very different and it’s more difficult for an opponent to face a punch is coming from there.

ASIA MMA: Did Kudo develop your power or is this natural from you?

Kato:  Actually I have a background in handball. I know it’s not popular in the US but it’s very popular in Europe. The French nationality has won in the Olympics three times and many world championships. I studied handball when I was a kid. I played handball for 20 years. That’s why I have some power in my shoulders and my arms. I was playing in France in the first division in national one back when I was 19. After I moved to Japan I competed on the national team for handball for two or three years.

 I played handball for 20 years. That’s why I have some power in my shoulders and my arms.

ASIA MMA: What made you decide to try MMA?

Kato:  When I moved back to Japan in 2009 my objective was to compete in Kudo, and I wanted to develop my ground game, so I joined an MMA team. After training in Kudo and MMA I had some opportunities to get a professional fight. I wanted to try something different too.

ASIA MMA: Very brave of you to take off the helmet!

Kato:  I wanted to know how much damage I would have without the helmet.

ASIA MMA: What did you learn?

Kato:  It’s totally different. There are some small punches in Kudo that you don’t really care about, but in MMA you cannot afford to get hurt by a lot of jabs. In Kudo you just want to escape the big hands, you don’t worry about the small ones.

ASIA MMA: Why did you decide to join the organization HEAT?

Kato:  Because it was close to my home. I was in Nagoya.

ASIA MMA: The fight against Yuta Namakura – why did you accept the fight with such an experienced opponent?

Kato:  Because I trust my manager. He said, “We’ve got an opponent for you, will you fight with him?” and I said okay. For me, I’m not thinking about a long career in professional fighting. I have more of the martial way of thinking. In the way of real fighting, I will not think about the weight category of the opponent before the fight. I don’t want to choose my opponent.

For me, I’m not thinking about a long career in professional fighting. I have more of the martial way of thinking.

ASIA MMA: How did you get the opportunity to get into Bellator?

Kato:  I don’t know, you should ask my manager! I had a fight in HEAT in March but I lost. After that, I was hoping to have a quick revenge with that guy. Then I heard that Bellator was interested in having me.

ASIA MMA: Were you surprised at getting offered the title in HEAT so quickly?

Kato:  Yes and no, in Japan there are not a lot of heavy fighters. I was not surprised initially because I am a striker and people love to watch strikers fight.

ASIA MMA: In your fight with Shigemoto, people were really going crazy, especially the Brazilian fans were going crazy. You actually dropped him twice before he got you, you countered his takedowns and reversed him. Like you were saying earlier, you have to watch out for the heavy shots, but still you went in and engaged in a brawl. You kept taking punches and the referee Wado-san had to literally pull the other guy off of you because you wouldn’t go down. Has that made you change your strategy at all going into a high-profile Bellator fight?

Kato:  I think a lot about that fight. There are a lot of reasons why I lost that fight. One reason, I wasn’t training with bigger guys, but now I have been . In Japan it is difficult to fight with heavier fighters every day. So that’s why I moved back to France to spar a lot. Henrique, my opponent, did his preparation with big guys and famous guys and I didn’t do that. It was a good experience for me.

ASIA MMA: Speaking of your camp, Shilling said he is spending three weeks of his camp at ATT. He’s going to do standup with Carlos Condit and wrestling with King Mo. How does this affect you and thinking about your preparations?

Kato:  There is no doubt that there is nothing better than preparing your fight in America. They have all the knowledge and big names. I’m pretty sure he’s having serious preparation. But I have my good points too. I’ll have my chances too. I don’t care who he spars with, I’m in serious training too. They’re not famous but they are really angry guys like out of Chechen, Afghanistan, other countries. In France we have so many different nationalities of people, especially in Paris. I don’t care.

Hisaki Kato
Hisaki Kato

ASIA MMA: What is your average walk around weight?

Kato:  94.

ASIA MMA: Did you drop much weight for Kudo?

Kato:  I drop. It’s weight plus height divisions, and I’m fighting under 2oo centimeters so I need to drop to 85 kg. This time I have to cut to 84, so it’s quite the same. I’m thinking about my health. I don’t want to drop too much. I have to think about my life after fighting. I’m not planning to drop to 77, I prefer to be more natural. They should do it like in boxing where you’re only allowed to recover a few pounds.

ASIA MMA: Your train grappling at Alive, so I assume you train in the gi?

Kato:  Sure of course. At Alive sometimes I participate in gi, sometimes I participate in grappling.

ASIA MMA: Do you have a belt?

Kato:  I’ve never participated in a tournament and Alive’s policy is that you must compete to pass a belt test. I don’t care about the belt, I have my belt and Kudo. I can’t compete in everything, just the technique is good.

ASIA MMA: Schilling is a standup guy. Do you see any weaknesses that you plan on exploiting?

Kato:  Yeah sure I have a plan. I have a strategy. Of course I don’t want to speak a lot about it. I know I have some space with the punching. I’m a southpaw, I’m going to use that.

 I really don’t care about my record …  I just want to be proud of myself and what I’m doing during a fight.

ASIA MMA: Will this be your first time fighting in the US?

Kato:  I’ve competed in Kudo in the US but never MMA fights.

ASIA MMA: Will the time change be an issue?

Kato:  I moved to America one week before because I am worried about the jet lag. In Kudo we do some crazy things like we go to from Japan to Columbia overnight and the next morning you have some fights and then go back. It’s okay, I think I can handle this.

ASIA MMA: What is your key to winning this fight?

Kato:  I think the mental part. That’s why I went to France. I wanted to be sure of my mind when I get punched a lot, to be sure that my mind is still here, that I’ll still continue to fight and not give up. I’ve done a lot of training like this, with me in the center for ten minutes and a lot of people changing out every minute. I’m pretty confident with my mental strength now.

ASIA MMA: I think a lot of people want to see you stand in the middle and hit each other.

Kato:  I think that’s why they made this match.

ASIA MMA: Do you have to be more conservative now that this is an international fight?

Kato:  Actually, maybe not. I really don’t care about my record, I’m quite old now, I’m just doing this because I want to do it. I know I will never be really rich with the fighting. I just want to be proud of myself and what I’m doing during a fight. Maybe we will punch each other for 4 or 5 minutes. Or maybe I will try something else if I have a different angle of attack. I don’t know, it’s a fight.