Naoyuki Kotani will face hometown fighter Norman Parke in Dublin, Ireland on July 19, 2014 at UFC Fight Night 46. It will mark an historical second UFC chance for the heralded Japanese.
When Kotani enters the Octagon for his second signing, he will do so almost 14 years after starting his career in MMA. The first time he fought in the UFC, on April 5, 2007, it was a volatile time for MMA in Japan. Just three days after his debut, PRIDE would hold its final event in Saitama Super Arena before being absorbed into the UFC.
Kotani’s career has been full of firsts. He started in RINGS then appeared on the very first GCM Demolition and ZST cards. In ZST he beat Hideo Tokoro, Kenichi Serizawa, and Jiro Wakabayashi and would remain a mainstay of the promotion for much of his career.
Not only Kotani’s excellent record in Japan catapulted him into USA-based fights where he faced Yves Edwards and Roger Huerta, and eventually into the UFC, his finish rate and the guts he put into his fights also contributed. Kotani had just six decisions at that time and four of those were contentious draws.
Post-UFC first run, Kotani entered a pool of Japanese lightweights that exist as some of the top in the field today, such as Masanori Kanehara, Koji Oishi, and Daisuke Nakamura. He then began a run in ZST that would see him back into a superior win racking of 11 in a row catching the ZST Lightweight Championship as well. Kotani got the recognition he needed when he finished Daisuke Hoshino and outpointed Yoshihiro Koyama in VTJ’s cage.
Kotani launched a new wave of his career and will again stand in the international spotlight at UFC FN in Dublin. He faces Norman Parke on the Irishman’s home turf. Parke is on a run of his own with 9 wins including his TUF Finale success, and his submission rate is nearly as high as Kotani’s. Both fighters know to press the action so this should be a brutal fight.
As Kotani prepared his weight cut in Ireland for his UFC return, MMA-in-ASIA spoke with him about his lengthy career and what he feels will make the difference in his Octagon return.
MMA-in-ASIA: What was it that got you into MMA and what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Kotani: I followed my brother into the sport and so far, the highlight has definitely been my first UFC run.
MMA-in-ASIA: Tell us a little about your style and how you intend to win come Saturday night.
Kotani: I’m definitely a submission specialist and, even though Parke is a tough fighter, I think I will get him to tap.
MMA-in-ASIA: Even though he’s Northern Irish, Parke is basically the hometown fighter, how do you think this will affect you?
Kotani: Well, he’ll definitely have the crowd on his side so that is obviously going to be a challenge mentally!
MMA-in-ASIA: Is there a big difference between fighting at home and abroad?
Kotani: Yes, there are a lot of things that are very different overseas compared to Japan so it’s always tough to travel.
MMA-in-ASIA: Japanese fighters sometimes seem to struggle when they travel to fight, why do you think this is and what do you think has made the difference in your preparations?
Kotani: We’re used to Japan and everything is pretty easy and convenient there. I think this is really a mental issue because we don’t have what we’re used to when we travel overseas. I’ve actually brought food with me from Japan, amongst other things, so I am keeping routine and not really changing much.
MMA-in-ASIA: How have you been preparing for your return to the Octagon?
Kotani: I have been training hard for the UFC and I think I’ll put on a good, tough fight.
MMA-in-ASIA: The UFC Lightweight division is stacked! Is there anyone you particularly want to fight?
Kotani: It’s a tough division for sure but I’m happy to fight anyone!
MMA-in-ASIA: Is there any message you’d like to send out to your fans that are reading MMA-in-ASIA?
Kotani: I really want to represent Asia well in the UFC – thanks for your support!