"I'll fight like I always do. Every fight is bound to be my best fight." - Masanori Kanehara
TOKYO, September 18 – It’s always interesting to travel to different places and hear unique perspectives on things you thought you had a handle on. And you did, but it was just your handle on it, your way of thinking, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it was right.
Take the career of UFC newcomer Masanori Kanehara for example. When the Tokyo native started off as a professional in 2003, his record was a less than attractive 1-3-3. In the United States, if that didn’t bury a young fighter’s dreams, other people would help bury them for him. But in a Japanese fight culture where it’s more about the fight and less about the end result in a lot of cases, Kanehara was far from discouraged.
“I really didn't give much thought about what would happen in my career,” he said through translator / manager Kei Maeda. “I just love the sport, so I kept training hard and fighting hard.”
Eventually, the wins came - more and more of them against better and better levels of competition. In 2009, he went on a 3-1 streak where he defeated Chan Sung Jung, Michihiro Omigawa, and Kid Yamamoto, with the only loss coming against Hatsu Hioki. The dedication paid off, and Kanehara was a contender.
Five years after that stirring introduction to the international fight scene, he is preparing for his UFC debut this Saturday against Alex Caceres.
“It's been my dream,” Kanehara said, “and I always believe that my dreams will come true.”
Describing himself as “a scrapper and an all-rounder,” Kanehara was initially linked to a bout at Saitama Super Arena against Urijah Faber. But when “The California Kid” was injured, in stepped Caceres. It’s not as high-profile as a Faber bout would have been, but Kanehara knows that if you can get into the UFC, you take whatever victories you can get against whoever is put in front of you.
“I was disappointed at first,” he said of the opponent switch, “but Alex is no joke and a very game opponent as he’s ranked number 10, so I keep preparing for a tough fight. I have adjusted my training to fighting a lefty, so that's a big difference. He's good at playing his game, so that's what I need to avoid. I have seen his fights since TUF.”
Caceres has been on a stellar run as of late, going unbeaten in five of his last six, with the only loss coming against Faber in July. It just shows the level of competition in the UFC’s bantamweight division, but Kanehara isn’t walking in here blind.
“They (the UFC’s 135-pounders) are all monsters, but I know I belong there, so I will keep proving myself and I am looking forward to taking a shot at the UFC gold someday.”
He’s got the talent; all that needs to follow are the wins, much like that 2009 run. If Kanehara does make it to the top in the UFC, he will be the first Japanese fighter to do so, and when asked if this is a new era for the sport in The Land of the Rising Sun right now, he said he believes it hasn’t started yet…but it’s coming.
“There are many great up and coming fighters in Japan now, so someday, these fighters will make it into the Octagon to join us and one day, one of them will become the UFC champion. That's when the Japanese MMA scene will explode.”
And if the 31-year-old Kanehara could be that guy, he wouldn’t mind, but his mind is on Saturday, not anything past that.
“I'll fight like I always do,” he said. “Every fight is bound to be my best fight.”
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