Masakazu Imanari is not the most intimidating personality, if you didn't already know he was a fighter you would never guess it from his quiet demeanour. The clues are there though because he carries himself with a casual confidence and answers questions with an air of absolute authority, beneath this unremarkable exterior beats the heart of a cold blooded competitor who will show no compassion whatsoever once he is inside the cage.
Mike Brown found out the hard way what Imanari is willing to do in order to win a fight, he fought the urge to tap for a fraction of a second too long and his kneecap was dislocated so badly he leg was pulled to the side of the knee. It was six months until he was even able to train again.
You could make an argument for Imanari being the most dangerous man in the entire world of mixed martial arts (MMA). He might not be the pound-for-pound best but he is the best at what he does and there can be no scarier submission than one which puts intense pressure on the knee.
Any submission can finish a fight but Imanari's leg locks have the potential to finish careers. Fighting him constitutes a risk and he does not attempt to sugar coat what happens when he enters the cage,
"I do not set out to injure anyone but if I have to hurt my opponent badly to win I will not hesitate to do that. They have the option to tap and if they do not take that option then they will have to deal with the consequences. It is not my problem."Imanari made his ONE FC debut in March and submitted Kevin Belingon with a reverse heel hook early in the first round. The Japanese veteran set that submission up by falling over after missing with a wild high kick, something which he admits was absolutely deliberate.
"I must admit I did that on purpose and the strategy worked very well. I was happy to win my first fight for ONE FC so quickly."
Even after luring Belingon into trying some ill advised kicks and getting a grasp on his leg Imanari felt the fight was far from over but he was not going to release his grip whatever happened.
"Some people are very stubborn and refuse to let the fight finish so I was relieved when he tapped because I knew I had won. It was good for him that he tapped when he did because otherwise I would have hurt him badly but I don't care how the fight finishes as long as I win."
His next opponent could offer more of a challenge because Leandro Issa has a black belt in BJJ and will have been working tirelessly on his leg lock defence with the team of BJJ world champions at Evolve MMA. He is also significantly bigger than Imanari but 'The Master of Leg Locks' is not concerned.
"He is bigger than me but that does not worry me at all. Even if he is good at the ground game I am still very confident in my skills. It is evident he is very experienced in Muay Thai and I am aware he is going to be a strong opponent but I have not been making any special preparations."
With Dream's future very much in doubt ONE FC has provided Imanari with the perfect platform to demonstrate his unique and somewhat terrifying skill set to a wider audience. This will be only his second fight of the year but he is hoping to fight more regularly now that he has found a promotional home.
"Fighting is my career and I am glad to have the opportunity to fight regularly again. If I have no injury I want to fight every two or three months. I don’t care who I fight against, that is not my decision, but I like to be challenged."
Stylistically Issa could pose a lot of problems because the Brazilian has a size advantage, superior stand up and a high level of BJJ. It is the sort of fight which some fighters would have avoided but Imanari has never been one to turn down a challenge.
"He is a strong opponent but I am very confident in myself. Even if he is a world champion in BJJ I still believe I will be able to submit him, I am confident I can submit every opponent."
What makes the 'Ashikan Judan' so sinister is that he is unselfconsciously understated. Many mixed martial artists make a concerted effort to to strike fear into their opponent's hearts prior to a fight but there is nothing contrived about Imanari, he can dispassionately discuss dislocating limbs as if it were no more than a day job.
"I don't care about anything except winning a fight. I I have to injure someone seriously to so so then I am prepared to do that. Anything can happen in MMA, if you are not prepared for the possibility of an injury then you should not step inside the cage with me."