Raised in the dojo, Kanako Murata was always destined to be a fighter.
After excelling first in judo and then wrestling, the 27-year-old Japanese strawweight turned her attention to MMA and surged through the ranks at home and abroad, and along the way captured the attention of UFC Hall of Famer Kazushi Sakuraba.
A national champion in judo during her high school years, Murata transitioned to freestyle wrestling with ease and worked her way up to Junior World Championships gold in 2011 at the expense of Helen Maroulis (USA), who went on to the win a gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
“My mind was focused on trying to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics and I did have the idea of trying to make it for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but my goal changed. But I still plan to be the best at what I do, and that’s MMA.
“My favourite fighter is Sakuraba san, he gave me his mask a while back, but once he approved of me as a fighter after a few fights, I started wearing the mask for my walkouts.”
Murata, a native of Matsuyama in Shikoku, the smallest of the four main islands of Japan, has indeed come a long way.
“I started judo at the age of 3 but I didn’t like to compete and I have been told that they would put me on the tatami and I would crawl back down from the platform,” said the former Invicta FC champion, who is riding a seven-fight winning-streak.
“My grandfather was the master of a judo dojo so I was in the gym as far back as I can remember.”
The ever-improving submission specialist knows exactly the areas she needs to develop as she embarks on the next chapter of her career in the UFC, and offers modesty and clarity in her words.
“My wrestling isn’t near perfect, but I am able to feel that it’s getting better through my practice every day. But then once you get to that point, you see more obstacles and more things that you need to work on. It’s an endless loop on getting better. I have a purple belt in BJJ and now spend most of my time on wrestling, striking and BJJ.”
A lifetime on the mats and a house full of medals has naturally instilled confidence in Murata, who believes cross-training multiple sports during her teenage years has been the foundation for her early success in the sport.
“I think training in judo and wrestling has helped me significantly; that combination cannot get any better for a mixed martial artist.
“Since signing with the UFC I feel like I am on the start line. I will focus on every fight that is put in front of me and continue to climb the ladder. That is something that will not change during my career.”
Murata has completed her pre-fight camp at the Combat Sport Academy in America, keeping the same routine that saw her register two wins in Invicta in 2019.
“I am nothing but grateful for my teammates in Japan and in the U.S., who helped me to prepare for this fight in these difficult times. Due to this pandemic, I was able to become humble and appreciate my everyday environment and I learned not to take things for granted.”
Now, in a new environment, and with a newly-found appreciation for what she does for a living, Murata is ready to face the vastly-experienced Randa Markos, who replaced Brazil’s Livinha Souza, who pulled out of the bout due to injury.
You get one chance to make a good first impression, and in the Octagon, the most formidable battleground in the sport, with the world watching, the judgement starts from the walkout.
“I plan to walk out with a new mask and put on a performance that will surprise everybody, so please look forward to my performance.”
Murata is aiming to remain in the W column and to claim her 12th career win, but knows that in the aftermath, her post-fight plans may be dictated to her by Sakuraba.
“When I made my Invicta debut, I asked Sakuraba san for permission to use his walkout song. He approved but under two conditions. To win and to take him to a club in Japan. I haven’t fulfilled my second condition yet, but I am sure he hasn’t forgotten.”