Michinori Tanaka makes his debut in the UFC on June 14, 2014 against Roland Delorme. The PXC Champ has shot to the top in record time.
In just under four short years in the sport, 23-year old Tanaka already claims high accolades. He was the Shooto Rookie King of 2011, then won and defended the PXC Bantamweight title, and now gets his first shot on the big stage. At this age, one would almost have to think he’s born to it. His PXC title bout and his defense were both five-rounders, and the emotion he put into every second proved he has it in his blood. Now Tanaka enters the Octagon with a 9-0 record.
MMA-in-ASIA first interviewed Tanaka a little over a year ago, before his PXC title shot. You can read that interview here. He was and still is a hard-worker, so the questions at the top of my list were how recent events have changed and motivated his training.
MMA-in-ASIA: How is your condition?
Tanaka: I’m in the best condition of my life.
MMA-in-ASIA: How are you feeling mentally?
Tanaka: I believe I’m calm.
MMA-in-ASIA: Is that surprising to you?
Tanaka: Actually, it’s the same as usual, nothing really special.
MMA-in-ASIA: How is it to be in Canada for this UFC?
Tanaka: UFC runs a tight operation so it’s easy for fighters to get ready. That makes me feel like I’m really in the big leagues so I’ve got to get ready for the fight.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think about your opponent?
Tanaka: My impression is that he’s got a long reach. He’s very aggressive and comes forward.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you plan to do against it?
Tanaka: He tends to move on the straight line, so I’m going to move side to side and use different levels like that.
MMA-in-ASIA: In your last few fights you went the distance. Do you feel you’re at this international level now, or does it feel like a step up?
Tanaka: First of all, I believe I’m at this level. And since I had a little bit of a delay in getting a fight, I had the time to go back to fundamentals, to look at myself in training, so I’m very, very comfortable at this point.
MMA-in-ASIA: You’re looked at as the next Japanese sensation to come up. Do you feel that way?
Tanaka: [laughs] Well, I appreciate that people have high expectations. When people have high expectations of me, that gets me highly motivated. I think I’m ready now.
MMA-in-ASIA: Is it exciting?
Tanaka: [laughs] Yes, I’m really excited!
MMA-in-ASIA: When I first met you, what impressed me the most was your work ethic. You were training with BJ Kojima, Caol Uno, Omigawa, but you were doing so much more physical work than anyone in the room. That was before your PXC championship. Has your training, or you approach to training changed since then?
Tanaka: Actually, it’s totally changed now. The volume I do is so much more, and the quality of each skill is much deeper.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who have been your training partners for this fight?
Tanaka: Takeya Mizugaki, Takafumi Otsuka, Kanagawa.
MMA-in-ASIA: How has your training changed technically?
Tanaka: I started BJJ more seriously, so I think my grappling technique has improved tremendously.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are some fighters you look up to in the UFC?
Tanaka: In terms of movement, I like Frankie Edgar, and I do kind of use him as an example.
MMA-in-ASIA: What’s your goal now, championship or one fight at a time?
Tanaka: Of course my goal is to get that belt!
MMA-in-ASIA: Is being early on the card a good thing?
Tanaka: I don’t really care so much.
MMA-in-ASIA: You ran into the Korean Top Team guys over there, and you saw them often in PXC. Does that make this experience feel more relaxed, seeing old friends?
Tanaka: No, it didn’t relax me, but I was happy to see them.
MMA-in-ASIA: How did PXC help you get to this level?
Tanaka: I was able to get tremendous experience at PXC because I was able to fight a variety of fighters.
MMA-in-ASIA: You also went five rounds, does that give you an edge?
Tanaka: Yes, that was a good experience for me. It gave me the confidence that I can fight five rounds.