Michihiro Omigawa is one of the best and most recognizable Japanese MMA fighters today. Originally a judoka, he made his MMA debut in 2005’s PRIDE Bushido. He remained at the pinnacle of of the sport with stints in the UFC, DEEP, and Sengoku. This weekend sees Omigawa make his debut in South Korea’s ROAD FC Featherweight Tournament. Before his bout, MMA-in-ASIA spoke with him – and his corner, Shinichi “BJ” Kojima – about judo, fighting overseas, and what today’s young fighters should prepare for.
Have you been to Korea before?
Omigawa: Many times. I came here a lot for judo competitions, for myself and for friends.
You’ve recently started teaching judo but without the gi, calling it Neo-Judo. Why did you start this?
Omigawa: I did judo for many years, and then MMA for many years, so I thought something like this was going to be a lot of fun.
So it’s a combination of both? Is it good for MMA fighters?
Omigawa: Of course!
After your last fight with Tatsuya Kawajiri, you remarked that he was much stronger that what you’d expected. Has it caused you to change how you train?
Omigawa: Yes, I’m doing more physical training. Crossfit at Haleo Gym, it’s a really great gym!
The trend in Japan and in somewhat the rest of Asia for young fighters is that they want to amass a quick record and immediately set their sights on entering the UFC. Some of the prospects talked about in this manner are Michinori Tanaka, Kyoji Horiguchi, Choi DooHo. But if a fighter doesn’t perform well in the UFC, these days he’s cut quickly, like Tezuka was, after just 2 fights. What is your thinking on this?
Omigawa: As for Choi, I think he has enough of a record to go to the UFC. For young fighters, I would tell them that it’s important and better to get experience first. Don’t only hope for the UFC, target championships, check your ability against former UFC fighters, strong fighters.
There seem to be many wrestlers in MMA but not as many judo players crossing over, why is that?
Omigawa: Ronda Rousey!
Shinichi Kojima: There are many takedowns in judo and wrestling, actually there are many wrestlers in MMA who studied judo first.
What’s the difference in feeling from the US crowds and the Japanese audience?
Omigawa: They are totally different. The US sees MMA as more like entertainment, people get excited and they drink beer. In Japan, they only watch.
Kojima: The Japanese try to be specialists when they watch, they analyze the game, they want to feel like “I know the fighters”.
If you weren’t doing MMA, what would you be doing?
Omigawa: A judo teacher.
I mean something other than combat sports.
Kojima: Fighters get asked that question a lot. It’s really difficult to come up with something. My dream as a kid was to be a gold medalist, so how can I think of anything else?
Omigawa: I wanted to be an idol.
You mean like a singer?
Omigawa: No, I just wanted to get attention. [laughs] Once I went to Shimano and I tried pole dancing. But it was very boring. Oh, and I got kicked out!
Why did you decide on fighting in ROAD FC?
Omigawa: I love the away game! If a fighter can win in an away game, it proves he is very strong.