Kuniyoshi Hironaka: Shooto Champ on title defense, JMMA’s future

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Kuniyoshi Hironaka is the current Shooto World Welterweight Champion, the 70kg division of the promotion. He was also the Cage Force Lightweight Champion. In 2006, when the UFC eye was on Japan, Hironaka was a cool 10-2 in Shooto and was signed up to compete at UFC 64, and subsequently on four more cards. Hironaka then went on to compete in DREAM, Cage Force, Pancrase, then back to his Shooto roots. Now at 21-8, Hironaka is indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Professor Hironaka of Master Japan is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo. He was recently at fellow Academia Az associate Professor Makoto Arimaki’s Hong Kong Jiu Jitsu for a seminar in the gi. MMA-in-ASIA caught some nice techniques during the class, and was able to sit down for a brief interview with the Shooto champ.

MMA-in-ASIA: I saw your last fight at Vale Tudo Japan 1. This was supposed to be a very hard fight for you, a foreign opponent with ground skills. You took away his grappling game. Did you train differently for that fight?

Hironaka: I knew that his guillotine on his left was very strong, and his favorite, at least it seemed like one of his favorites. So I made sure that when I tackled I ended up on his right. But I trained too much on that side and my ear hurts on the right side!

MMA-in-ASIA: You haven’t had a title defence in one year, why is that?

Hironaka: I wanted to fight earlier, but there were some injuries, so it was kind of delayed. By I want a fight by the end of this year.

MMA-in-ASIA: Any idea who it might be against?

Hironaka: It’s probably going to be someone ranked near number one in Shooto. But I want it by Autumn, hopefully.

MMA-in-ASIA: Pancrase has a new CEO who is changing many things, and DEEP is doing the cage, it seems like these organizations are evolving. Do you think Shooto should keep its tradition or make any changes?

Hironaka: VTJ started with the cage. Shooto may change to a cage, but I don’t know. In this day and age, things have changed, mixed martial arts has changed. The most important thing is for Shooto to evolve and become stronger. Of course traditions is very important, but in Shooto, it should be internationally strong, right? For example, using elbows, the cage, I think it’s okay to change in this way so that it’s in synch with the world’s standards and the most avant guard of MMA standards.

MMA-in-ASIA: How has the UFC changed since you were fighting in the promotion?

Hironaka: In MMA, a flashy KO or finish is favored by the audience, or a submission is favored by the audience. Before, it was rougher, wild swings. But now everybody is more refined, they can go to the ground, the striking is very refined. Their game seems to be really strong, they have takedown defense, it is more whole. Especially the striking is becoming much, much better.

MMA-in-ASIA: In Japan, the bigger promotions have gone and there’s no more broadcast. So it seems the younger generation is only thinking about how quickly they can get in the UFC. Do you think these young guys should take the chance if they get offered fights in the UFC, or do you think they should stay in Japan, get a little bit older, get a little bit stronger, more refined?

Hironaka: There’s no need to stay in Japan and refine. It’s okay if they’re young and go for the UFC, they can always retry later. I think the most ideal way is to go to other Asian promotions that have a cage like PXC or Korea’s ROAD FC and try to become champion.

MMA-in-ASIA: About ROAD FC, they had many Japanese fighters in their last show, like Michihiro Omigawa and Takafumi Otsuka, and they both lost to Koreans. Now there are other Koreans like Choi DooHo in DEEP and Parky, who you’ve fought before, and it seems the level of Korean athletes is getting higher, maybe higher than Japan. Would you agree?

Hironaka: When I saw the PXC fighters, the Korean Top Team guys, I thought they were really strong guys. I was very impressed. I have the feeling that maybe it’s because they have the military service, maybe that produces more discipline, heart, and body conditioning. Japan doesn’t have that, so maybe that’s making a difference, I don’t know. I think the Korean body type is tall, long legs and arms, very good base. They have a judo background. Their physical condition seems very good.

MMA-in-ASIA: What kind of hobbies do you have outside of martial arts?

Hironaka: Drinking! [laughs] Only drinking. And watching techniques on YouTube. For me, martial arts is my hobby.

MMA-in-ASIA: I like to ask this of Japanese fighters: what is your favorite food?

Hironaka: Yakitori. And sushi.

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