For most of the Japanese fighters competing on Saturday’s UFC 144 card at Saitama Super Arena, it’s a welcome change from what is usually a situation of always being on the road, fighting in other countries, and basically missing the feeling that comes along with being the local hero on event night.
Bantamweight Takeya Mizugaki is no different. He’s been competing in the United States for the UFC and WEC since 2009, and while he admits that he likes fighting in the US, for this bout against Chris Cariaso, he’s not only excited to be home, but he’s putting his money where his mouth is, buying plenty of tickets for his return.
“All my friends wanted to attend,” said Mizugaki through translator / manager Shu Hirata. “Usually I don't sell tickets or anything like that but I think this is a clear sign everyone is looking forward to this weekend.”
Now that’s stacking the deck in style when it comes to making sure the fan reaction you’re getting is louder than what the other guy gets, but then again, Mizugaki’s style is always worthy of cheers, whether his buddies are in the crowd or not.
But they haven’t seen him fight live since December of 2008, when he knocked out Masahiro Oishi in the second round in Tokyo to win the Cage Force bantamweight title.
“Well, he is a good fighter and he used to coach me, so I respect him tremendously,” said Mizugaki when asked about the Oishi fight. “But in terms of that fight I only remember beating the crap out of him.”
Following the bout, Mizugaki made an immediate impression Stateside as he engaged in a five round slugfest with WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Angel Torres. The Ibaragi native lost the decision, but he won the crowd and a secure spot on the Zuffa roster. Mizugaki would go 2-2 in his next four WEC bouts, and he’s 2-1 in the UFC thus far, decisioning Reuben Duran, losing a three rounder to Brian Bowles, and, most recently, stopping Cole Escovedo in the second round of a UFC 135 bout last September. It was Mizugaki’s first finish since the Oishi bout, and he couldn’t have been more excited.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” he said. “In fact, that feeling is the reason why I train so hard to do this sport. I want to experience that again.”
His next shot comes against Cariaso, a similarly dangerous striker who matches up nicely with the free swinging Mizugaki.
“He (Cariaso) is not only a good striker, but also very dangerous because his BJJ is very good too,” he said. “But I think we are both aggressive so this will be a good match.”
And with a win, the 28-year old Mizugaki will break the loss-win-loss-win etc. pattern he has had since his WEC debut, as he will earn the first two fight winning streak of his Zuffa career.
“This is the major league and I fought best fighters, but yes it would be nice to win two in a row, so that is my goal for this weekend,” said Mizugaki, who also has another thing to aim for in Saitama: an addition to his collection of action-packed fights.
“I always want to win and I’m always looking to finish the opponent,” he said. “Oh also, I am always hoping to win that bonus check.”
If he does, it could help him break even for all those tickets he bought for his friends. But then again, a little investment can go a long way in terms of building the sport, especially when it comes to Japanese MMA, a segment of the sport that could get a boost this weekend.
“I think the UFC coming back here for the first time in (nearly) 12 years is really good for the entire industry,” said Mizugaki. “Japanese MMA has declined in the last few years so I am hoping this UFC show will somehow leave an impact in a positive manner so all Japanese MMA can be revived again.”
Mizugaki Returns to Japan, and He's Bringing Some Friends
"I always want to win and I’m always looking to finish the opponent. Oh also, I am always hoping to win that bonus check." - Takeya Mizugaki