There aren’t too many undefeated fighters on the UFC roster because it’s one thing to get picked up by the organization on the back of a perfect professional record, but quite another to maintain it once you are competing inside the Octagon.
Fighters like Chris Weidman, Daniel Cormier, and Khabib Nurmagomedov have managed it and it is these footsteps that Michinori Tanaka is looking to follow after a win at UFC 174 saw him move up to 10-0.
His record is arguably the best in the bantamweight division, but the 23-year-old feels that despite the unanimous decision win over Roland Delorme, he still has plenty to prove.
“I don’t know if my record is the best, that is the first time I have heard of that. But I think it is the record in the UFC that is the most important and I am not feeling in a rush to get a title shot. I would like to take it one step at a time,” he said.
His performance at UFC 174 was described as “grinding,” as Tanaka wore Delorme down by spending the majority of the fight in dominant positions and maintaining an incessant output of ground-and-pound strikes.
Tanaka was unable to secure what would have been a sixth career submission win and says that, even though he walked away with the all important UFC victory, there is still room for improvement.
“If 100 is the perfect score, I would have to give myself 20 for that performance, but it’s just like what everyone around me was telling me; winning my UFC debut fight was the most important thing.”
Although Tanaka’s perfect professional record ensured his name was a perennial presence on lists of “potential UFC prospects,” he is not as well known in Japan as some of his contemporaries because he hasn’t fought there since 2012.
Prior to signing for the UFC, he was competing in either Guam or the Philippines for PXC. As a result, Tanaka feels like he doesn’t have too much of a fanbase in his homeland.
“I am not well known in Japan at all. Maybe it’s because I have been fighting outside Japan, so I think those fighters that are doing well in Japan are more known than myself. If I keep winning in the UFC, then I am sure my popularity will go up.”
The UFC is returning to the Saitama Super Arena on Sept. 20 and Tanaka has been heavily linked with a spot on that card. He’s not averse to the idea, but after three years fighting away from Japan, he says he has no problem with competing on the road.
“It doesn’t really matter for me, but all of my friends can come and see my fight, so in that sense I guess fighting in the Japan show would be better.”
His stint in PXC served him well in terms of preparation for life inside the Octagon because he fought a variety of opponents from different backgrounds; one of whom, Russell Doane, has already signed with the UFC.
With a win over an existing UFC fighter under his belt before he even made his promotional debut, Tanaka does not necessarily subscribe to the theory that he is taking a step up in terms of competition.
“Maybe it is because I am improving too, but I don’t feel I have stepped up in competition. In PXC, I have faced many tough fighters.”
While the is not convinced that the caliber of opposition he is starting out against in the UFC is necessarily higher than anything he has previously faced, the level of scrutiny on Tanaka is definitely higher and he says this is an aspect which he relished in the build-up to his bout with Delorme.
“I did feel that so many more people in Japan were aware of this fight when compared to my previous fights, but that didn’t give me any pressure. I was actually pumped up more because of this.”
The amount of attention around Tanaka ahead of his bout at UFC 174 in Vancouver will have been nothing compared to the reception he would likely receive in Japan if he could secure a spot on the Sept. 20fight card and the undefeated bantamweight will be hoping he gets the call.
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