Route to professional MMA in Japan

It was 2001 when I first came to Japan and decided I wanted to try competitive MMA with a view to turning professional. My initial interest was a combination of a natural competitiveness coupled with the urge to see if the martial arts I’d begun practicing in Scotland at Rick Young’s Black Belt Academy would work. I was told that if I didn’t have previous fight experience abroad then I would have to win an amateur tournament in order to be considered for a professional bout.

In 2002, JTC (Japan Total Fight Championship) was one of the ways to go. I travelled to Osaka and competed in the heavyweight division of the West Japan event. JTC is an amateur tournament with standing rules not too dissimilar to Kyokushin Karate, in other words, punch strikes to the body only with head kicks allowed, and as soon as the fight goes to the ground only submission rules apply (no strikes). There was no headgear but shin guards, open finger gloves, foul cup and mouth piece mandatory. Each fight was two 4-minute rounds. I was fighting for Team GGG (founded by Genki Sudo) at the time, and I won the final bout by front choke; my opponent passing out on me.

Genki Sudo
Genki Sudo

This title got my name into the GCM circle and in March, 2003, I fought my first professional MMA fight in Demolition, held at Mediage in Odaiba, Tokyo. My opponent was Yukiyasu Ozawa of Team Kaze, a fighter with a Judo and Sambo background and a few MMA fights to his experience.

Stewart Fulton vs. Yukiyasu Ozawa
Stewart Fulton vs. Yukiyasu Ozawa

The fight lasted two 5-minute rounds with Ozawa constantly looking for the takedown. The first round saw a failed takedown attempt from Ozawa and me taking mount from where he quickly gave me his back. I went for the rear choke but he escaped and the rest of the round was mostly him in my guard or taking side position. The second round saw me go straight out for the Muay Thai clinch and land a series of successive knees to the body, the last one landing in his face, opening up his lip and dropping him. Instead of following with a ground and pound punch rush I went for position with the idea of working for a submission. He was very tough and managed to reverse me, looking for the guard pass (see above photo). The referee stopped the fight for a doctor check and as I was waiting in the corner I thought they were going to stop the fight as is common with bloody cuts in Japanese MMA fights. The fight went on with Ozawa looking for a submission and me not managing to get up or sweep him. The fight was ruled by the judges in his favour and I lost my debut match. I was not completely disheartened by the result because the experience of fighting in front of a crowd, with all the lights and loud music plus a wee bit of money in my pocket, was priceless.

Training and fighting in the ring turned out to be two different things and the learning experience, win or lose, can work very positively in your favour, making you that bit smarter and prepared the next time you step in there. The amateur level is fierce, especially amongst the grapplers in Japan so plenty of amateur fights is a great step on your way to a pro fight out here.

9 thoughts on “Route to professional MMA in Japan

  1. That’s pretty awesome man, I have wanted to fight in Japan for years now, do you know of any amateur mma tournaments coming up?

  2. Is there any gyms near Fussa, Tokyo? Preferably one that isn’t an hour from where I live. I am hoping to compete but I need to find a place to train first

  3. I wanna try out some amateur tournaments, how do I go about it? do I need to join a club or anything before hand?

  4. What a great site, we’ve been here just a couple of years and despite all there is to Japan, the history, the people, the sites, it’s the MMA that really keeps us here. That and the fact that the fighters are very approachable and easy to get to know. I find it difficult to understand the politics of fighting here. Japan is rich with talented fighters and Japanese fighters in general fight with a drive and spirit that I don’t see a lot of in athletes in other countries. Not saying its not there you just don’t see it as much, as often as you do here in Japan. Despite all that talent and all that heart, foreign fighters seem to find it difficult to find fights. If you have had some success elsewhere a lot of the promotions seem to protect their talent rather than risk a loss. A perfect example is Po’ai Suganuma can’t find anyone to fight him. A brilliant fighter who can’t find anyone to fight him. Of course it could be that 185+lb fighters are hard to find here. Anyway, great site tons of info.

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