Following his win at DEEP 62 Impact on Saturday 27th April 2013, Satoru ‘the Catchwrestling Koala’ Kitaoka sat down with MMA-in-ASIA’s John Merva to discuss becoming the new DEEP Lightweight Champion, the state of MMA in Japan, and his career as a veteran of Japan’s MMA scene.
Congratulations on becoming the champion. What are your feelings on taking the belt and what did the fight mean to you?
Thanks! Well, This was my first fight back since I lost to Will Brooks at DREAM on New Year’s Eve last year so it obviously was a fight that was really very important for me. In fact, I was supposed to get the titleshot if I won that fight so my initial feeling on losing was disappointment, not just for me, but for the DEEP fans and Mr. Saeki, the DEEP owner, and of course Daisuke Nakamura (former DEEP Lightweight Champion). However, I was lucky enough to still receive the offer and I was really fired up and felt I had to build myself up to be the strongest I’d ever been. They really paid me a lot of respect in giving me the shot and I feel very grateful.
So now that you are champion, what do you see in the future? Is there anyone in particular you see challenging you for the belt?
Well, I’ve picked up an injury so my first task is to properly heal and rehabilitate it. Once that’s cleared up then I want to keep active. Also, it’s just one win so I need to make sure I stay in the win column from now on. I am the DEEP champion, but my contract with Mr. Saeki is pretty flexible so I’m thinking about a lot of possibilities. There’s a chance I could get to fight the winner of the current DEEP Lightweight Grand Prix.
Very exciting! It sounds like there could be a lot in store for you. You’ve never fought outside Japan so far, is there a chance you will be competing in other countries?
It’s true I haven’t yet had the chance to fight in a cage or under a ruleset that allows elbows so that’s definitely something that would be really challenging – it’s something that I would really be open to trying. I think I would prefer to get some experience in a DEEP card featuring a cage first. It’s really all going to come down to timing I guess.
There’s obviously a big difference between fighting in a cage and a ring. Are you doing any training in a cage to prepare for possible bouts in the future?
There aren’t many cages in Japan so I don’t really get to put in a lot of time in with them. I try to incorporate as much cage-centric training as I can, using the wall when I have to but I’ve fought for so long in the ring that I feel much more confident in there.
There have been rumours that Pancrase is going to change to a cage rather than a ring, what do you think of that? Is JMMA starting to become more Westernized?
Yes, I’ve heard that too. It seems they’ve been talking to the manufacturer that made the Vale Tudo Japan cages. As for the Westernization of MMA in Japan, well, I think there’s not much to be done about it! If that’s the way it goes then all we can do is adapt to the styles.
MMA in Japan doesn’t seem to have the popularity it used to. What do you think this means for younger fighters and fighters that are just starting out in the sport?
We don’t seem to have as many fighters that are aiming for the top level of the sport anymore. However, there are still plenty of fighters coming up. In fact, those that want to take up the sport will do it for real love so they will work even harder, which is probably not such a bad thing! With that, we’ll definitely find some fighters that will shine!
Just to change the topic, could you just talk briefly about why you started in martial arts and MMA?
I was bullied at middle school so I thought I had to get stronger. I had seen Judo in the Olympics and in manga and really thought it was a great sport. Once I started Judo I got interested in MMA and watched Pancrase on late-night TV. i really liked the Pancrase style so I looked around for a Pancrase team. When I was 18 and got to Tokyo, I really wanted to improve my skills so I joined Paraestra Tokyo and took up jiu jitsu.
And then in 2000 you made your debut?
Yes, when I was 20. In April 2000 I passed the Pancrase audition and joined them in May. In October I made my debut.
What are some of the high and low points of your career?
Well, obviously with wins and losses come high points and low points but I’ve kept growing stronger as I’ve continued my career.
Which fighters particularly inspired you when you were starting out?
Well, at Paraestra Lotus there is Kohei Yasumi, at Nexusense there is Naoya Uematsu and of course at Paraestra Osaka there is Takumi, the current Featherweight King of Pancrase. These three have really helped me in my MMA career and have helped push me along the way.
Where did you get the nickname ‘Koala’?
Honestly, I don’t know! For some reason the people at Evolve started calling me that!
What did you think of Evolve MMA when you visited?
It was a really large and nice gym. The trainers were all of a very high level and very helpful. It’s a great place!
MMA is seeing a real boom in Asia. Are you watching it at all, what are your thoughts on the growth of the sport in the continent?
I have seen ONE FC live once and on the internet, as well as watching ROAD FC. Each country is really starting to develop its talent, with Korea leading the way. In Japan, we still have as many shows and events, but with the momentum behind the Asian promotions, the environment is getting more difficult.
Could you say a bit about your usual training routines?
Well, I win a lot of fights by submission, so grappling sparring is key for me.
What are your hobbies or interests outside of MMA?
Outside of MMA I don’t really do much, I just hang out with friends and watch anime really! I watch things like Gundam, Evangelion and some of the other stuff I used to like when I was a kid like Dragonball.
Thank you for sharing, we can’t wait to see you fight again. Is there any last message you would like to give?
I am very pleased and proud to be champion in the showcase division of Japan’s top promotion, DEEP. I really feel like part of the team here at DEEP and I really hope to play a role in spreading recognition of the promotion as its champion.