Tatsuya Kawajiri: CRUSHER. Swarmer, smasher, brutalizer, demolisher. There are lots of words to describe the man who has carved his way through forty opponents to reach MMA immortality, and they all invoke images of punishment and pain.
In his professional career spanning a dozen years, Kawajiri has won and defended a Shooto title in the promotion’s welterweight division, and contested for the DREAM and Strikeforce titles at lightweight. In his first year with PRIDE, he earned the Fight of the Year in the first round of the Lightweight tournament for his bout with Takanori Gomi, who went on to become the champion. It was one of only two submission losses he suffered within an entire decade, both of which were to world-ranked top ten fighters.
|Tracy Lee - Combatlifestyle.com|
With the ownership of a title still eluding him, Crusher reinvented himself at featherweight. Nothing breaks him; in fact adversity only drives him harder. And just as has been his previous experience developing his stellar career in major promotions at their start up, Kawajiri will again get his chance to achieve his goals in Asia’s newest mega-promotion, Singapore’s ONE Fighting Championship. His first appearance – courtesy of a partnership formed between ONE FC and DREAM – came this past weekend at the Singapore Indoor Stadium against King Of The Cage Featherweight Champion Donald Sanchez. In front of around 7,000 new MMA converts who barely applauded his entrance, he ran a methodical step-by-step instructional on how to finish a fight in the first round. He then jumped on top of the cage and earned himself 7,000 new diehard Crusher fans.
|Tracy Lee - Combatlifestyle.com|
Kawajiri’s relentless fighting style along with his relentless pursuit of his career makes him a captivating character. But it’s hard to put a persona to a man who epitomizes a living, modern day ‘Terminator’. Kawajiri’s prolific fight schedule over the last ten years of his life makes it seem as if he’s had no other hobby but to seek and destroy. Yet such intensity, such long-lasting fervor for the physically and often spiritually challenging endeavor of MMA must have its root and fertilizer based in something completely human.
To discover this humanity, over the course of the final weeks leading up to ONE FC and during the event itself, I was able to correspond with Kawajiri. I found him to be very approachable, sincere, and deeply committed. He also possesses a sly wit that contrasts and enhances his tough guy demeanor; I found out that the Crusher actually does smile! Many thanks to Yugo Kitamura and Taro Kotani who helped with translation.
Congratulations on your win at ONE FC 3 in Singapore. In the last two years you've had some incredibly momentous events: a Dream championship contest, your first fight overseas, and a weight class change. How have these challenges affected you personally?
Everything you have said makes me motivated to dedicate myself to MMA.
What else motivates you?
Friends, fans, experience, money, but what’s more is that I love MMA.
You are such a prolific fighter; how do you do it? Can you give advice for maintaining a long career in MMA?
It’s true [laughs]. Keep training hard. But understand your body, and your brain – be careful and watch out for brain damage. You must eat right, train right, all the time. All the time, every day. And you have to love it.
How long is your fight camp before a fight?
Generally eight weeks.
We have even more power in our training.
More? Who are your training partners that have to suffer that right now?
Shigetoshi Iwase, my teammate fighting in DEEP, Yoshihiro Koyama, a Shooto fighter. I can’t list all the fighters but I’ve been training with lots of great fighters. We all spar very strong, harder than the fight so that we are ready.
Have you been working with any different camps or people recently?
I go to Paraestra Matsudo for grappling and to a boxing gym.
How do you train to keep speed and power in your hands?
Hitting punching bags and doing boxing style circuit training. For power, hit sandbags as hard as possible.
What is your most important training to keep your wrestling strength?
So how much grappling sparring do you do, or how much does a person need for MMA?
We train two times a week and I do eight rounds of five minutes each.
After Strikeforce, you said you didn’t train in the cage because there aren’t any. Are you working in a cage yet?
No I didn’t train in a cage.
Elements of your style - clinch, takedowns and defense, top position dominance - are ideal for the cage. Are you modifying your training at all?
I train to win every fight no matter what the rule is or where the fight takes place. My training method is changing and evolving all the time. The important thing is to keep training hard and develop.
Your fight style is aggressive and you take shots to get inside. Is there any striker you are afraid of?
I don’t like to be hit by anyone because it hurts. [laughs]
Okay, let me rephrase that, is there any boxer you admire?
Manny Pacquiao’s last opponent, (Juan Manuel) Marquez.
Do you have a favorite MMA fighter?
Hayato Sakurai, he is my mentor and taught me the basics of MMA when I started this sport.
Who would you rematch and why?
I would like to avenge every loss but it’s not realistic as I’m in a different weight division now.
Do you feel a difference fighting at this lighter weight?
I’m on a roll! I feel really good. I will keep on going. Weight cutting is hard but I have learned how now so it’s not so hard as before. I usually cut for six weeks, eating balanced foods and doing aerobic exercise.
When you are not cutting, what’s your favorite food?
Do you drink alcohol?
I quit. I used to love it, but I love MMA more.
I want to win every fight I fight and be the best in the world
Is there anyone you would like to fight - any weight class, any promotion?
The best in my division.
Who are the best in your division right now, in the whole world?
The best fighters are in the UFC. I think Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes are the top.
You now have three back-to-back (arm and leg) triangle choke submissions as a featherweight. Will technical submissions and a return to more grappling be a larger part of your style now?
I want to be a complete fighter. So I train to win in any way.
What do you do when you take a day off?
Go shopping, play with my daughter.
It is great to see MMA grow not only in Asia but also in all the world. If you have more MMA events in Asia, Japanese fighters can fight overseas, and it would also help Japanese MMA grow.
Several years ago you said you said that Dream had the potential to be greater than Pride and K-1 Heroes. Since many things have changed in Japan since that time, do you feel it can still dominate MMA in Asia?
I don’t remember if I actually said that. Currently Japanese MMA is having hard times. UFC is the only dominant promotion in the world. What we can do is to create great events by cooperating with other MMA promotions in Japan, Asia and the world.
That’s starting to happen, thankfully. How do you feel about Dream's new cooperation with other promotions (One FC in Singapore and ProElite in the US)?
It is good for MMA’s activation.
Since Dream has a partnership agreement with ProElite, would you like the opportunity to fight in the US again?
Yes, I’d like to fight in the US again.
How does this fight in One FC fit into your career plans?
It is very important for me to experience new things such as fighting overseas, the cage, and using elbows. I really looked forward to it as Singapore has heat both in economics and MMA.
What is your impression of One Fc? Does it remind you of the early days of Pride, or something different?
I watched Ole’s opponent’s (Eduard Folayang) last fight. I thought this was going to be another big event. Once I heard that they were going to be working with DREAM, I wanted in!
What did you know about your opponent, Donald Sanchez? Did you work on anything specifically for him?
I saw that he fought Hatsu Hioki last year in Shooto and that he’s a KOTC champion. I trained elbow techniques.
In the lead up to the fight, you talked about those elbows and you said you wanted to win by armbar, which didn’t happen but it was still a submission. What did you think about the cage?
I trained hard so that I can win in any way under any circumstance. I have wanted to experience fighting in a cage, so I enjoyed it.
What do you think about the Shooto rookie events?
The Shooto rookie tournament gives young fighters chances to fight regularly. It is a great system that can develop fighters’ motivation, experience, and their future.
Who are some good rookies to look out for, from Shooto or otherwise?
Kyoji Horiguchi could be the future MMA star that can lead Japanese MMA scene. Definitely Kyoji.
Do you watch MMA for fun?
Yes, but it’s also my job.
Any recent fights you’ve watched that you like?
I was at UFC Japan. I liked the main event. As a fan and as a professional it was very exciting.
It is difficult to manage family life with training and fighting?
My family helps me to focus on MMA. I feel more responsible and carry more weight on my shoulders now, but it also motivates me.
If you were offered a career gain like training outside of Japan, would you move your family?
No, I have no plans right now. But I do want to fight outside of Japan.
What is your gym T-Blood like?
T-Blood is in Ibaraki, the countryside of Tokyo. We have four professional fighters: Shigetoshi Iwase, Mitsuhiro Ishida, Hiroyuki Kobayashi and myself. We also have many other strong fighters and members who enjoy MMA. They are all unique and can evolve themselves with joy and laughter.
Do you have any advice for new MMA players?
You must have love! You have to love it [laughs]. If you love it, then you can do all the hard training, and do everything that comes with it.
Why did you start MMA?
Because I love it. More than I love my wife. [laughs]
Can I quote you?
Is there anyone you wish to thank?
I’d like to thank my parents, family, friends, fans and staffs who support me. And I am happy to see everyone smile by winning this fight in Singapore!
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