Over the course of Kazunori Yokota’s 12-year, 33-fight career, the Japanese veteran has consistently found a way to win. He’s faced different opponents in various divisions for multiple promotions, but more often than not the reigning Deep featherweight champion has emerged victorious.
In fact, winning fights is something the 38-year-old seems to have really got the hang of relatively late in life. He’s on a 13-fight winning streak dating all the way back to 2010 and has been rewarded with a featherweight title shot at ONE: Kingdom of Champions on Friday.
Yokota, who will be facing Marat Gafurov at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, feels he has finally perfected the art of not losing.
“It’s extremely important for me not to lose. I even chose a fighting style that won’t lose. Even if it’s an opponent that I can knockout or submit, I won’t take the chance because I’m worried about being caught on the counter. The important thing is to win.”
MMA is a results business, but it’s rare to hear a fighter being so honest about his intentions. In 2010, he was knocked out by former ONE featherweight champion Jadambaa Naruntungalag. Yokota clearly learned a valuable lesson from this devastating defeat.
In the wake of that loss, Yokota dropped down to featherweight, where he has been absolutely unstoppable. He captured the Deep 145-pound title in 2012 and has gone on to beat some of the best Japanese fighters in the division including Isao Kobayashi, Hideki Kadowaki and Shoji Maruyama.
Yokota has been the distance 22 times in his career and is something of an expert at winning the judges’ favor. He’s never had to fight for more than three rounds, but feels that the longer this featherweight title fight lasts, the more it will favor him.
“If it comes to five rounds of five minutes then, yes, I have an advantage. What I have experienced through my career is something totally different. I’m pretty sure he has never fought someone like me.”
Gafurov has submitted all four of the opponents he has faced in the ONE Championship cage and has never lost an MMA fight. It’s an intimidating assignment for Yokota, but the Japanese veteran feels he has nothing to worry about.
“I’m a fighter with zero weaknesses, (so) whatever he does won’t matter. I’ll show him that his grappling is nothing against me.”
This won’t be Yokota’s first time fighting an elite grappler. In 2009, he won a split decision against Leonardo Santos, who is currently a third degree BJJ black belt and undefeated after five UFC fights. The Japanese fighter feels this experience will serve him in good stead against Gafuov.
“There is no way he can submit me. I am very confident with my escapes and there is no way he is stronger than Leandro Santos.”
Yokota has never been submitted, so this is not an idle boast. He might not come into the fight with Gafurov as the favorite, but the 38-year-old has a lot of momentum and is confident he will be returning to Japan with the ONE Championship featherweight title.
“I’m just going to fight like always and win like always.”
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter)