On May 31st Masakatsu Ueda will be facing off against Kevin Belingon at ONE FC 9 “Rise to Power” in Manila, Philippines in the Bantamweight Grand Pix Finals. The winner will earn a shot at the ONE FC Bantamweight Championship belt.
A veteran of Bellator and the former Shooto champion, Ueda came into the ONE FC promotion with his eyes on his future in the sport. He has been dominant in the promotion through winning his quarter- and semi-final Grand Prix tournament matches by decisioning Song MinJong and choking Jens Pulver. Prior to that, Ueda was on a win streak with wins over Rumina Sato, Royler Gracie, and Kyoji Horiguchi, but earned a very controversial decision loss to Travis Marx in his first and only Bellator outing.
Ueda’s incredible record of 17-2-2 spanning an 8-year MMA career in Japan’s ultra-competitive 61kg division is proof of his excellence. However, in ONE FC he is definitely not escaping to a division he can cruise through. It’s out of the frying pan and into the fire with a challenge against the URCC Champion Kevin Belingon impending, and should he succeed, a potential match against current ONE FC Champion Kim SooChul, DREAM Champion Bibiano Fernandes, or Shooto Champion Koetsu Okazaki in his future.
MMA-in-ASIA Correspondent John Merva spoke with the very humble and unassuming Ueda about fear, combat wrestling and his feelings on fighting overseas.
MMA-in-Asia: You originally came to MMA through wrestling, in fact combat wrestling, which is something our readers may not know so much about. Could you just briefly explain it to us?
Ueda: Combat wrestling basically grew out of wrestling and added submissions to the rules.
MMA-in-Asia: Is it similar to catch wrestling?
Ueda: It’s similar. Wrestlers who are confident on the feet and used to wearing shoes are definitely at an advantage.
MMA-in-Asia: How did you get your start in combat wrestling?
Ueda: When I graduated from college I wanted to carry on wrestling so I joined Paraestra Tokyo and wrestled there for five years but there were no wrestling matches until the summer and I didn’t want to lose the feeling of competition so I tried combat wrestling, which seemed pretty close to it.
MMA-in-Asia: From combat wrestling you then moved into MMA?
Ueda: Yes, Paraestra is an MMA gym so there were times when I couldn’t wrestle there. There didn’t seem to be much other choice than to start learning submissions and from there I moved into MMA.
MMA-in-Asia: Is it fair to say that at that point you really were a pure grappler? How did you adapt to the addition of striking into your training?
Ueda: It was tough!! I was already 27 when I decided to seriously train in MMA. When I first started, even if I got the takedown I was scared of being punched so I really worried about whether or not MMA was actually for me. I had to work hard to get used to it – I suppose my fear motivated me!!
MMA-in-Asia: Then you made your debut in 2005?
Ueda: Yes, I won my debut in amateur Shooto in May 2005 and then made my pro debut in November 2005.
MMA-in-Asia: You then fought exclusively in Japan with Shooto, what was is like when you first went overseas to fight? What is different from fighting in Japan?
Ueda: The travel and keeping up conditioning and then all the documentation is really hard. There’s so much to do that I really couldn’t do it all myself. The cage was so much bigger than the ring so I couldn’t really get comfortable in it either.
MMA-in-Asia: ONE FC is also a cage, are you training in a cage now?
Ueda: There’s nowhere to practise in a cage here. I use the wall and also learn from fighters who regularly fight overseas.
MMA-in-Asia: You lost an unfortunate decision in your fight in Bellator. Looking back, how do you feel about it?
Ueda: I had broken my collarbone in a fight in January (the Bellator fight was in April) and couldn’t really push myself the way I wanted to in the fight. I also couldn’t really get used to the cage.
MMA-in-Asia: After that fight you went to ONE FC and in your latest outing you notched up a win against Jens Pulver, who is a very big name. How did that victory feel?
Ueda: I’d just suffered a setback in Bellator and was really grateful to Matt Hume for the offer to fight in ONE FC. I was really happy to get the win over Jens.
MMA-in-Asia: On May 31st you’re set to be entering the cage against Kevin Belingon. What strategy do you think you’ll be using in the fight?
Ueda: I haven’t really thought about gameplans as yet. I’m just pushing myself in training and I’m working on my cardio at the moment.
MMA-in-Asia: Who are you training with for the fight?
Ueda: I train a lot with Hiroshi ‘Iron’ Nakamura from Bellator. I think he is stronger than me and he’s a very intelligent fighter so I learn a lot from him.
MMA-in-Asia: Where do you see yourself in the future?
Ueda: I don’t really have big dreams for the future. I just want to go into this fight without any fear and take it to him. Becoming champion is my dream!!
MMA-in-Asia: Do you have any hobbies outside of fighting?
Ueda: Not really! Just becoming a better and stronger fighter I suppose! I like to play with my dogs!
MMA-in-Asia: You have dogs?
Ueda: I have two chihuahuas.
MMA-in-Asia: As a big, bad, MMA fighter, shouldn’t you have big, scary dogs!?
Ueda: Small dogs are cute!!
MMA-in-Asia: Do you have anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Ueda: I am so proud to be representing Japan’s Bantamweights and I really want to say thank you to ONE FC for giving me this chance after Bellator released me. I’m really going to put on a show in Manila!