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Yoshihiro Sato: "No Fight, No Life"

Upon opening the door I’m instantly hit with a wave of sweaty, stifling heat and humidity more suited to that of a sauna than the modest size Japanese house I stand before. I brave it long enough to step inside onto padded mats of the converted first fl

I'll be myself without any of the frills

It is about 2 bicycle-lengths from the front door to an undersized ring. Looking to the left I notice the building is only slightly wider. I understand that “bicycle-length” is not exactly an international standard when it comes to measurements, but the fact there were bicycles parked there the following day left a rather strong impression. No where near as strong an impression as the rest of this place though.

There is a cage welded into place that encloses the area in front of the ring. To it there is what looks like a broom handle tied with ropes. Naturally, this is used for chin-ups. There are two pads tired with ropes and bandages to the steel posts at around waist-height for body-punch practice and knee technique. And there are 3 bags swinging from a combination of chains and ropes, and a little bit of tape for good measure. The full length bag in the middle is split down both sides, and held firmly together with some more of that tape.

In the 20cm between the bags and the ropes of the ring, various pads have been squeezed in. There is also and ancient looking preacher bar with weights covered in so much rust that the Titanic would be jealous. Sweaty bandages, towels and other personal effects of the 8 nighters that are currently working out takes up the tiny bit of room left. In the right-side corner there is a section cut out of the mats for a set of scales. While the scales look to be rusted solid, I am assured they are highly accurate. Gloves and head-gear fill the 15cm gap down each side of the blood- and sweat-stained ring. In the even more cramped space immediately behind that ring is a bench that was once used for weights but is now sporting yet more rust, as well as well used gloves, trunks and other fight related paraphernalia. On one side of it is a toilet, and on the other is a sink. Scattered on top of that sink, in the darkest corner of the room, are some rather impressively sized trophies. With a sprinkling of dust coating them, of course.

The walls of this gym are covered in both mirrors and promotional posters of the events the fighters from here appear on. K-1 MAX has more than its’ far share of real estate. The reason for this? I am standing in the gym where the future of K-1 MAX began his journey back when he was just 16 years of age, and where he still religiously trains to this very day.

This probably doesn’t paint me in the best light, but it took me quite some time to get my head around where I was. Such a humble place to train, for an internationally recognized fighter of this level; yet so hardcore in its minimalism. Just as my brain was coming out of the fog (which I shall blame on the temperature), the door opens. Another fighter makes his way in and side-steps his way to a bottle of water. After taking a slug, Yoshihiro Sato nods his head to those that have arrived since he left to do road work quite some time earlier. Without a word, he then gets on with it.

It seems like nothing is more important to Yoshihiro than his training. In the hours I was there he spoke just twice. The first time was confirming a combination his trainer had called for him to attack the pads with. The latter was to reassure a female fighter (and respective champion) that he wouldn’t step on her while he was shadow boxing and she was on the ground stretching her back. He neither gave, nor received words of encouragement or support from his gym-mates. They all simply did what they were there to do. Train, and train hard.

When I say he spoke just twice, I mean that aside from occasionally taking a drink, he didn’t open his mouth at all. After countless rounds of shadow boxing, bag work, pad work, sparring with 3 fresh opponents, more bag work and yet more shadow boxing, his mouth remained firmly closed. He later said, “Gassing in my fight against Drago was the worst experience of my life.” He prides himself on hard work, guts and determination, and doesn’t forgive himself for the latter rounds of that fight to this day. And, since forcing himself to breathe only through his nose for the duration of training, including between rounds, he says his stamina has improved remarkably. I’m sure the additional road work he did after this marathon of a session probably doesn’t hurt either.

He is a no frills fighter that gets the job done, and he clearly doesn’t want or need a fancy location to train in with pretty machines and shiny leather bags to do so. He knows exactly what he wants, and that is to be number 1. He isn’t the slightest bit interested in the fame or perks that may come with that. “I don’t want fans to love me as a man. I don’t need fans like that. I just want them to love kakutougi (fighting sports) as much as I do. And I want them to love me as a fighter,” is what he later said.

It is a far cry from what people would imagine when they think of the sort of location Masato trains in. When I remember promotional videos of Masato hooked up to cardiovascular machines monitoring everything that can be medically measured to help athletes, it reminds me of watching Rocky IV. Rocky himself was doing things the old school way, while Ivan Drago had all the technology on his side. For Yoshihiro, old school is the only way to train.

For those of you getting into MAX for the first time, and for anyone living under a rock, Masato retired last year. He left a huge pair of shoes to fill, and naturally Japan has looked at Yoshihiro to fill them. In fact, the first fight for him in 2010 is not only against the reining MAX Champion, but it is against the man Masato was set to face for his retirement fight. Due to a broken hand, Masato’s opponent had to be changed.

What that means to us is we have a match-up here that puts the Champion in his first fight as the champion. A fight he naturally cannot afford to lose. And his opponent being the person representing his entire country: that country being the origin for the very sport itself. I believe it is an actual impossibility to put these two warriors in the same ring and not get a fight the level of which neither has even experienced before, and in a handful of days, we will get to witness it.

The Doctor Arrives

I think it would be fair to say that most viewers of MAX first paid attention to Giorgio Petrosyan back when he fought on the 2007 K-1 Scandinavia card. He was a 21-year old that had been choking up wins left and right around Europe, and had a record of 26-1-1 going into the fight. His opponent was the reining K-1 MAX Champion Buakaw Por. Pramuk. I suspect many, including myself, expected this to be a reality check for the Armanian/Italian, but he managed to take the champion to a 5 round draw. As the fight was under modified Mauy Thai rules, there has been some debate over who the fight should have really gone to, but the mere fact there was debate shows Petrosyan was a serious contender for the belt.

He backed that up a little under 2 years later when he faced another MAX Champion, Andy Souwer. They fought to a draw, and the judges again, somewhat controversially, gave the nod to Petrosyan after the extension round.

Despite Petrosyan’s victories over MAX champions and his overall record, it would seem that Event Producer Mr. “Tany” Tanikawa was rather critical of his fighting style and adamant that he wasn’t exactly K-1 MAX material. Indeed in the 2 years prior to his MAX debut 70% of his fights had either gone the distance, or into extension rounds. In fact, even when you factor in the 30% of fights he stopped inside of regulation time, the average length still works out to be 3.5 rounds per fight. That might not sound like much for the boxing enthusiasts reading, however MAX has been built on exciting bouts where both fighters go for the kill from the opening seconds. As everyone knows, stoppages are what almost everyone watching a fight secretly wants to see as well. Most importantly, MAX fights have just 3 regulation rounds.

Possibly somewhat begrudgingly, Tany gave him his chance. In April last year Petrosyan was brought to Fukuoka, Japan to face the Russian slugger, Dzhabar Askerov. Petrosyan demonstrated just why they call him “The Doctor,” with his evasive yet precise footwork and pinpoint perfect counter strikes. I actually feel “The Surgeon” would make a better nickname for him, so accurate are his strikes. Perhaps in an attempt to silence his critics, he managed to stop Dzhabar within the third round as well.

Over the course of two more MAX events Petrosyan managed to add the scalps of the 2002 World MAX Champion, Albert Kraus, the 2009 K-1 World MAX Japan Tournament Runner Up, Yuya Yamamoto and once more for good measure, the 2005 and 2007 MAX Champion and 2006 and 2009 World MAX Runner up, Andy Souwer. Not only did he become the 2009 World MAX Champion in doing so, but he was undefeated in MAX, had stopped 50% of his opponents and dropped one more. Additionally, he managed to bring down his rounds-per-fight average to 2.5 in MAX.

The fans themselves seem somewhat spilt in their opinion about the Champion. On the more heavily populated side of the fence are those that believe Petrosyan is the future of fighting sports, on a level most other fighters can barely see. The boisterous few on the other side admit he has a solid record, but when it comes to the big names he has beaten, there is often controversy floating around. He did slice through the top 16 in MAX to become the champion; however some believe he got overly lucky when slotted against another fighter in his MAX debut to start with, and then in the finals he was placed opposite an undersized fighter that had actually failed to qualify and had an even win to loss ratio going into the MAX 2009 Grand Prix. In the other bracket were 2, 2-time MAX Champions facing each other, ensuring whoever made it to the next round would be hurt and exhausted. And as it played out, these two beat on each other mercilessly for 12 minutes, as opposed to Petrosyan’s 2 minute warm up match.

What is a fact is that he is the Champion. What is also a fact is that he isn’t the only fighter to have come into MAX with a brilliant record behind him. Keeping it that way in MAX is a near impossibility though, as the best have to fight the best over and over again.

Another walk in the park for Petrosyan?

One great example of repeatedly facing the same opponent is Yoshihiro and Buakaw. Yoshihiro’s first and only KO loss is to Buakaw, and he was hospitalized for some time due to the damage sustained from it. They faced each other again afterwards and while it was an exciting bout, it went through to the judges and once again, the Thai warrior was victorious. Never one to give up, Yoshihiro had a third attempt at Buakaw, and this time he became the only man in history to KO the 2-time MAX Champion.

Yoshihiro is not exactly known for his stoppages either. Since entering MAX he has stopped just 21% of his opponents. There is a big difference between the styles of Yoshihiro and Petrosyan though. Sato has no reverse gear. He pressures, pressures, pressures, and when his opponent tries to advance, he pressures some more. He tends to be okay with taking some shots on his guard if it allows him the opportunity to land one of his thunderous low kicks, or knees to the body that I think might even make the odd viewer pee blood after watching. Well, to be honest he doesn’t even seem to mind taking some of those shots on the chin if he feels he can score at the same time.

Petrosyan on the other hand has a virtual allergy to being hit. He has developed incredible footwork to both get on the inside of his opponent, and get out without being hit. It will be interesting to see what; if any affect Yoshihiro’s persistent low kicks will have on that movement. Not to mention the huge reach advantage, or the Mauy thai background Yoshihiro brings to the ring that seems to be what Petrosyan has the most trouble dealing with.

Frankly speaking, most people believe this is Petrosyan’s fight to lose. Even Yoshihiro says most fans probably feel the odds are 8:2 against him. The way Petrosyan has been dealing with his opponents recently, it is easy to see why too. One thing many fans forget is that Yoshihiro is virtually impossible to stop within regulation time though. To that, add his enlarged gas tank and the fact that over their past several fights Yoshihiro has had an 18% higher strikes-per-round rate, and you can see the odds aren’t as far apart as some would have you believe. Constantly advancing and having a higher strike rate are massive advantages in MAX if the fight makes it the distance.

Confidence always plays a huge role as well. Yoshihiro and his coach seem to feel that they have found 2 holes in the Champion’s game that they can exploit. The Japanese fighter explained that when the fight was announced and he said he didn’t want to fight Petrosyan, the meaning came across the wrong way. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to fight him; it was just that he didn’t want to beat him by taking advantage of these weaknesses now. He knows Petrosyan is very smart fighter. And he knows if he capitalizes on them now, Petrosyan will make the necessary changes and be so much more difficult to beat in the 2010 MAX World Gran Prix.

Petrosyan himself is also obviously more than confident he will be able to win. So much so that he has another fight scheduled just 2 weeks before this one. While sitting in his parent’s caf?, drinking a caf? au lait and eating a pudding, the 185cm tall and 74kg pride of Nagoya, Japan laughed off the fact he felt Petrosyan was looking down at him with such scheduling. Such is the focus he is going into this with. As he himself noted, “This is the most important fight of my career.” With the birth of his son in January, motivation to do well has never been less of an issue either.

Buakaw Por. Pramuk, Andy Souwer, Yuya Yamamoto and Albert Kraus all failed to do what Yoshihiro Sato believes he can. With the self-designed logo and a slogan of “Brave Heart. No Fight, No Life. I’m Not Gonna Live like a Dead Soul” it is hard not to believe in, and cheer for him too.


Source: http://www.k-1.co.jp/en/news/2010/0314_max_01.html


P.S: Please fix site I can't leave any comment xD!!


Post new comment
(539 posts)
Posted: 2010-03-15 at: 06:23
I like Sato a lot as he is a very good distance-fighter, but if FEG wants to make another STAR they should develop Kido more. He has the looks and the charisma. Off course he needs to start winning also... But mayby there is room for two japaneese stars in MAX, who knows....
burim (401 posts)
Posted: 2010-03-15 at: 09:41
The Japanese have no TOP 5 fighter, and only ONE (sato) Top 10 Fighter
Rob, Holland reporter (1964 posts)
Posted: 2010-03-16 at: 07:57
I like Sato. He leaves the showmanship to others and just comes to fight. Like it or not, it gets the job done. Very curious to see his strategy against The Doctor!
D-rop, Video editor (2420 posts)
Posted: 2010-03-16 at: 04:37
Thanks for posting, Hera.

I am really looking forward to this fight. It will be fantastic!
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