by Korey Howard
Fighting a guy with nothing to lose is one of the scariest things for an MMA fighter. Those guys tend to be the hungriest. They throw caution to the wind and fight at 110%. Royce Gracie found himself facing this situation when his opponent on the K-1 New Year’s Eve show was changed from internationally renowned Judo practitioner Yoshihiro Akiyama to a relatively unknown Hideo Tokoro a mere 10 days before the fight.

In the first round of the HERO’S middleweight tournament in July, Tokoro scored a victory over Alexandre Franca Nogueira and came into the fight with some 21 professional MMA fights in all. But other than that, virtually nothing was known about him going in except that he is fast and that he likes submissions. Plus, he got the call to step up and face a legend when Akiyama was injured in training. And he was well aware that a win over Royce would put him on the MMA map worldwide overnight. The motivation factor doesn’t get much higher than that.

That having been said, Tokoro hardly seemed like a lion with his back to the wall at the DYNAMITE!! press conference held in Osaka the day before the event. In fact, he looked timid at best as he avoided all eye contact with his opponent, despite a fierce staredown from the larger Gracie.

But come match time, Tokoro went for broke. His movement was especially frenetic in the first round, where he threw haymakers when they were on their feet and scored multiple slams while in Royce’s guard. At one point, Royce dove backward to avoid a kick to the stomach. Tokoro dove after him and landed a big right fist that bloodied Royce’s nose and appeared to have him in trouble.

The second round was largely played out on the mat. At one point it appeared that Tokoro would sink in an armbar, but Royce avoided it and ended up pounding on the sides of Tokoro’s head for a good portion of the round while holding him in a body triangle.

This match was contested under special rules, which called for two 10-minute rounds and no judges’ decision. That meant an automatic draw since the fight went the distance. Had decisions been possible, it would have been an interesting one, since Tokoro had an edge in the damage department, while Royce maintained ground control, especially in the second round.

Even though he fought to an even draw with one of MMA’s greatest fighters, Tokoro was humble in his post-fight interview. “I knew the rules [called for no judges’ decision], so I can’t complain about that. But I’m not so sure how happy I should be over a draw, either. . . I found out firsthand how good Royce is and I felt I still have a long way to go [to get to his level].”

Royce responded to the press in a mixture of respect for his opponent and machismo that is uniquely Royce. “I was supposed to fight Akiyama, but they changed my opponent at the last minute. I knew it would be tough. There are no easy fights. I wasn’t surprised by his speed, because I trained with Royler, who is very fast too, so I expected it. If I had to score my performance tonight though, I’d give myself a 98 or 99. The only mistake I made was when he got me in the nose.”

Since there was no official decision, no one can definitively say whether Royce’s judgment of his performance was correct or otherwise. What can be said though, is that Tokoro was impressive and that his performance lit up the crowd of 53,215. Let’s hope he stays hungry. If he does, he could make some waves in MMA’s lightweight ranks.