At UFC Fight Night 34, which takes place this morning (Sat., Jan. 4, 2014) at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, a high-level mixed martial arts (MMA) Japanese talent, Tatsuya Kawajiri, will stepping into the Octagon for the first time.
To say it's been a long time coming would be an understatement, as at the age of 35, Kawajiri has amassed an impressive 32-7 professional record, including wins over notable fighters as Yves Edwards, Gesias Cavalcante and Josh Thomson, as well as a very dubious decision loss to Gilbert Melendez when the pair battle for the first time under the Pride FC banner.
Kawajiri is the type of fighter who doesn't disguise his approach -- his main focus is to get on top and rain down punishment. That's the primary reason he carries the nickname, "Crusher." In terms of MMA wrestling, Kawajiri may be one of his nation's best practitioners, showing a well adapted game that includes very good trips, as well as traditional single- and double-leg takedowns.
His striking is solid, albeit very unremarkable, but it suits his style very well. He mixes quick, focused punching combinations, and quickly lowers his level, leaving opponents flustered before getting put on the mat. Kawajiri has made his name off this style, proving to be relentless from top position with ground-and-pound and the occasional submission attempt.
For a fighter with such a rich history to finally enter UFC poses several questions. Kawajiri proved that he can compete with top-shelf opposition before, but can he do that as he nears 36 years of age? He has been fighting professionally for almost 14 years, and while he is still in great shape, the amount of training and fighting he has gone through has definitely taken a toll on him.
That experience could prove to be very beneficial for him, but at this point, his athletic prime is long gone.
Expect Kawajiri to make an impression on UFC fans, but don't expect him to break into the Featherweight Top 10 anytime soon. Indeed, he could be impressive against some fighters, but this division is filled with opponents more well rounded and more athletic than he is.
Later today, Kawajiri is fighting another man who may also be worth keeping an eye on, Sean Soriano. Soriano -- a Blackzilians-trained product -- is a young, hungry fighter with a quickly developing skill set. Still undefeated (8-0), Soriano has demonstrated solid Muay Thai skills and a strong ground game. Despite that, he will almost definitely be held back in this fight by his questionable takedown defense, which will cost him dearly against a fighter like Kawajiri.
Kawajiri's fight at UFC Fight Night 34 appearance its a winnable match for him; however, Soriano is no walk in the park. Kawajiri will have an advantage in wrestling as well as being closer to home, but this fight is definitely not one he can take lightly. If Kawajiri comes out victorious, he'll have to prove himself against increasingly tough opposition to see if he can still be a relevant fighter ... especially in one of UFC's most talent-rich divisions.