Following a long and storied career, competing mainly in his home country of Japan, Tatsuya Kawajiri nearly called it quits in 2013.
Fighting professionally since the year 2000, Kawajiri has competed at the highest levels of the sport in Japan, working his way through promotions such as Shooto, Pride, and Dream.
But as the mixed martial arts seen dwindled in his homeland, so did the opportunities to fight, leaving the decorated veteran frustrated. That’s when the UFC came calling, asking Kawajiri to make his Octagon debut at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore.
Kawajiri faced a game opponent in Sean Soriano, who defended several of the Japanese stalwart’s early takedown attempts, but he wouldn’t be denied, eventually securing several takedowns and his first victory in the Octagon. He submitted Soriano via rear naked choke 50 seconds into the second round.
Kawajiri seemed a little out of sorts, and later admitted that he was.
“UFC jitters? Well, that’s what it was today. It was hard fight,” when he was asked about feeling a little shaky in his first trip to the Octagon.
His last fight was in December of 2012 and he had been contemplating retirement, so it’s no surprise that he might have the infamous jitters that strikes many UFC first-timers.
“This was my first fight in almost one year and this past one year, I even thought about quitting MMA a couple of times,” Kawajiri said at the UFC Singapore post-fight press conference. “That’s why I was very nervous.”
His UFC debut out of the way, thoughts of retirement are in the rearview mirror.
“This was the first fight for me in over a year, so when I enter the Octagon, I was so nervous I almost died of a heart attack,” he continued.
“I had a few injuries and my fights didn’t get confirmed for a long time, so I almost lost the motivation, but now I’m in the UFC. So I trained for this fight harder than I ever did before. I’m going to keep doing that and I’d like to show to the fans that this is not the Kawajiri that you know yet. You’re going to see a better Kawajiri.”
Looking forward, Kawajiri knows he can’t jump to the head of the line, but his goals are as lofty as those of any other fighter. He wants to be a UFC champion.
“I’m looking at this fight as just the beginning. So I’m looking to go into the mainland America and fight in bigger pay-per-view shows,” he said, laying out his future plans.
“If it’s possible I would love to fight the champion Jose Aldo immediately, but I’m sure there is orders I have to follow, so I want to fight some Top 10 fighters.”