There is a new generation of Mixed Martial Artists evolving in Japan. They are young men who started with the pursuit of some form of martial arts while still in school. Then in the rich soil that is Japan, they graduated into MMA camps chock full of talent. One of this next generation is Michinori Tanaka. He hails from one of the most decorated and prolific gyms in Japan, Reversal Gym Yokohama Groundslam.
At 22 years old, Michinori – Nori P as he’s known to gym mates – is two years deep into his MMA career and holds a pristine record of 6 wins, no losses. His camp put him in Shooto to build him up right, and his record shows a stepping stairs effect of increasingly challenging competition. Michinori earned the Shooto Rookie Tournament crown in 2011 as well as the MVP award – and past winners of such accolades such as Tatsuya Kawajiri, Yasuhiro Urushitani and Takeya Mizugaki prove that this is the road to glory.
Michinori’s chance to fight outside Japan came with the recognition of Guam-based Pacific Xtreme Combat. He was matched against Russell Doane at PXC 34 in Manila. Doane had previously trumped Michinori’s Shooto countryman Masato Sannai at PXC 33 by stuffing his shoots and handling him in the cage well, earning a decision. This brought the Gutsman toughman’s 4-fight winning streak to a skidding halt, and left Doane with a remarkable 8-0 record.
However when Michinori met Doane at PXC 34 in Manila, he proved that he is made of tougher cloth. He dominated the Hawaiian top prospect over two rounds with takedowns and ground and pound, while hunting for submissions. He finally locked on at the opening of round three, and engaged a stadium of fans completely blown away by his aggressive and non-stop performance.
In late December, MMA-in-ASIA visited Groundslam in Yokohama and observed Michinori in his element at a morning pro session. With a slew of sparring partners that included superstars BJ Kojima, Michihiro Omigawa, and Caol Uno, Michinori meshed well and his skill level was apparent. In an hour of randori with only 30 seconds between rounds, he never sat out, and pushed the action with every opponent. He wrestled with BJ, grappled with Uno, stood and struck with Omigawa. And when others were putting on their street clothes and the next class was beginning, Michinori was still hard at work on the heavy bag.
When he finally ended his play session, Michinori sat down with us for an interview. Thanks to Steve Brown, Groundslam pro team and coach for translation assistance.
MMA-in-ASIA: Why did you start MMA?
Michinori Tanaka: I started judo in junior high school. Maybe about 4 years ago I decided to start MMA. My father liked kakutogi, so that’s why I got into it.
You’re at the age to be in university, are you going?
Umm, no. All I want to do is MMA. It’s my work. My life.
What is your regular training like?
Well, today it’s only in the morning because I have to go to work. Some days it’s twice a day. Friday it will be in the morning…
So what’s your ‘regular’ job?
How do I say it in English? Salesman.
So you cover your ears then [he has uber-cauliflower]?
You won the 2011 Shooto Rookie tournament; how many fights did it take you to earn that?
Three opponents. They were all rookies, so it wasn’t really too difficult.
What would you say are your strengths, or your style?
[Michihiro Omigawa shouts “Gangnam style” from the back of the gym and everyone laughs]
[Laughs] Mainly grappler. Mainly. [He smiles, because he’s just been through a session that included lots of striking and wrestling.]
Where do you see yourself in two years? What’s your goal in the future?
I want to become a UFC fighter.
Steve Brown: Maybe after 5-6 more fights, maybe in one more year, I think he’ll be there.
In your weight category, who are the fighters you see as a challenge, in Japan or in UFC?
Anyone strong. I don’t really want to say.
[Omigawa shouts “Dominic Cruz, say it!” and again cracks everyone up]
Okay, Dominic Cruz. [laughs]
What fights have you seen this year that have impressed you?
Ben Henderson versus Diaz.
Who are some of the people you look up to?
Katsumura, Tokoro, Rumina Sato.
Do you have any hobbies outside of MMA?
I like watching movies. It’s difficult to say my favorite. I like action and fantasy. I really like Lord of the Rings.
What’s your favorite food?
Thank you Michinori, and best wishes in your career.