Not only was 2016 a good year fighting for Japanese middleweight Hisaki Kato, but he also feels the year was integral to his growth as a fighter.
“Last year I did three fights, including the kickboxing one, and I won the three of them, so it was a good year for me,” Kato told MMAWeekly.com. “I think I learned a lot as a martial artist, because the rules were different, even if two of the fights were MMA.
“The RIZIN rules are different from the American MMA rules, so I every fight I had to adjust to different rules. It was very challenging, but I believe it made me a better martial artist. I believe 2017 is going to be a good year too, because I feel stronger than last year. “
More importantly for Kato, not only did he win all three of his bouts, he managed to pick up finishes in each one.
“I think I performed well, and at least I knocked the people out and I have the win, so that’s the important part for me,” said Kato. “I always try to finish my opponent.
“In Japan when you start to do martial arts in general, what your teacher is telling you is that it’s a matter of life or death – there’s no decision in the street when you are in danger – the only thing you can do to protect yourself is to put your opponent down. I believe in that kind of spirit, so that is why I always try to finish my opponent.”
“He’s a bit bigger than me, and will have the reach on me, but it’s not a problem because I am quicker than him,” Kato said of Gracie. “I’m a better striker than him. Of course he will try to put me on the ground, and I know he’s coming for that, so I’m trying to counter him, pressure him and finish him.”
While Kato is the veteran heading into his bout on Jan. 21, he acknowledges that people put a lot of stock in the Gracie family name, even if he necessarily doesn’t.
“Even in Japan, the Gracie family is a really big name, but for me it’s not different,” said Kato. “He’s just the next opponent. That’s the only thing, he’s the next opponent, and I don’t really care.”
With three wins so far in four bouts with Bellator, and with the potential for another victory against Gracie, Kato feels that 2017 is his year to finally challenge Rafael Carvalho for his middleweight belt.
“For me it will be three wins (in a row), and if I get the knockout again, it will be a good record to have a title shot,” Kato said. “That’s what I’m waiting for.
“It will depend on the next fight. If it’s a good fight, an exciting fight, things can come quickly. If it’s a boring fight, then even if I win, maybe I will have to wait more. It will depend on the quality of the show.”