Hisaki Kato is set to make his U.S. debut this Friday night when he faces Muay Thai veteran Joe Schilling at Bellator 139. The Japanese middleweight brings a 4-1 record into the cage, as well as a fascinating and unusual life history.
Kato would follow in his Father’s footsteps by becoming a successful martial artist, but unfortunately the two were tragically denied the opportunity to pursue this shared interest together.
“My father was a really strong judo guy and he moved from Japan to France to become a teacher. He was one of the top instructors in France at the time, but he died when I was really young, about 2 or 3, and I really don’t remember him.”
His father’s influence survived in the form of photos, which Kato would see around the house and they inspired him to follow a similar path.
“Seeing pictures of my dad in his judo gi throwing people when I was younger had a big impact on me. I wanted to be just like him. He was smaller than most of the guys and I saw articles in the paper where he was throwing these really big guys.”
Kato’s resolve to become adept at fighting was only strengthened when he found himself on the receiving end of some rough treatment from his stepfather.
“My stepdad was a really hard man. He beat us up a lot. I think that’s when I really started wanting to become stronger and tougher, so I could stick up for myself and my mother. I think that’s where the seed was planted for me to become the fighter I am today.”
One day, the young Kato decided that he was no longer going to tolerate this situation and the time had come to stand up to his stepfather.
“It’s not a part of my life that I’m really proud of, but I did eventually stand up to my stepfather. There came a point where I stood up to him and punched him back. It’s definitely not something I like thinking about, but it’s something that had to happen at the time.”
It was during this childhood that the seeds were sown, which would help Kato become one of Japan’s better middleweights. His four wins have all come courtesy of a stoppage and he thinks his style is something of a throwback.
“I’m always looking for the knockout. I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I prefer to finish my opponents with my fists and my feet. All of my fights have ended by knockout, but I’m very confident in my ground game as well. I have some really good coaches in Japan that have been working with me a lot on my grappling. I’m quite confident wherever the fight ends up going.”
In Schilling, he is facing a very experienced stand-up fighter who scored a highlight reel knockout of Melvin Manhoef on his Bellator debut. However, Kato thinks that he has the potential to cause his opponent some problems in the striking exchanges.
“I’m a natural southpaw and I have a different timing to my strikes that Joe Schilling might not be used to dealing with. I think those are going to be big advantages for me in this fight. I know Joe Schilling is a famous kickboxer, but MMA is a totally different sport. I’m definitely not afraid to strike with him. But if we have to go to the ground, I’m ready for that too.”
Historically, Bellator hasn’t used many Japanese fighters and the ones who have signed, like Masakatsu Ueda, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, and Hideo Tokoro have struggled. It’s a trend that Kato is keen to reverse.
“A lot of Japanese fighters aren’t doing as well as they used to in MMA. That’s why I want to show that we can still compete with the best fighters in the world and I think about that a lot while I’m training. I’m coming out there to show that there are still great fighters coming out of Japan and I also want to prove that we have knockout power in Japan as well.”
It’s fighting talk from the 30-year-old, but after fighting five times for the comparatively obscure Japanese promotion Heat, he knows that this is the biggest opportunity of his MMA career and he is determined to make the most of it.
“Fans tuning in for this fight are going to be hoping to see a knockout. I plan on delivering exactly what they want to see. I’m coming out there to put Joe Schilling on the canvas. I’m coming to take him out.”
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