Yuta Sasaki, best known simply by his ring name “Uruka” or “Ulka” depending upon who is pronouncing it, has been considered one of Japan’s brightest rising MMA stars. He’ll return to DEEP in their Mount Fuji Festival affair on May 25, 2014.
Sasaki became Shooto’s 61 kg Pacific Rim Champion with a win over Kenji Yamamoto. He gave up that title in the hopes to conquest for the Shooto World Championship. But it looks like Sasaki must wait a bit longer for that opportunity. His return to fighting in a DEEP event comes two and a half years after his last performance with them, which set him on a nine win, one draw win streak.
With a recent dominating win over Akihito Ishihara at VTJ 4th by rear naked choked – his third straight win in that manner – the grappling whiz kid got on the prospect list for 2014 as a possible new entrant for the UFC. MMA-in-ASIA was able to interview Ulka with the help of his manager, Shu Hirata, to find out more about this 24-year old sensation.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think your high school wrestling competition experience gives you an edge in MMA? If so, what are some of the advantages you have?
Sasaki: Wrestling is definitely a big plus. The way I have to use my body, and all attacks and defenses on the ground become easier.
MMA-in-ASIA: You grew up watching PRIDE. Did you always want to be an MMA fighter, or did any special event make you start?
Sasaki: At first I wanted to be a pro-wrestler. [laughs] But after I started to watch PRIDE my goal switched to becoming an MMA fighter. I watched Takanori Gomi’s fight on TV and I thought I wanted to be just like him.
MMA-in-ASIA: So why is Gomi your MMA idol?
Sasaki: He has got that overwhelming charisma, and back then, to me, he was a super star.
MMA-in-ASIA: Why did you go to start your career in Cage Force in the beginning?
Sasaki: I wanted to fight in the cage but more than anything, back then, I just wanted to fight as soon as possible.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have any thoughts or opinions about “cage versus ring”?
Sasaki: To me, there is a big difference between the two. From footwork to offense and defense, everything is different. But more than anything, I can concentrate better in the cage.
MMA-in-ASIA: How you you prepare mentally for a fight?
Sasaki: About a week before the fight I always get depressed. But from there, I climb up to the point where I can start looking forward to fight.
MMA-in-ASIA: In your match with Yo Saito, he tried to slam you, and you transitioned to an arm bar before he could do it. You make many transitions from difficult positions. Are these things you train in grappling, or do you have natural ability/quick thinking? A combination?
Sasaki: The feeling in the actual fight, to me, is complete different from this feeling I get from training. During the fight, there are so many things I realize that I would have never thought about in training. So I go through these challenges in the fight, and as a result, that kind of attack was created.
MMA-in-ASIA: Some people have commented your weakness is takedown defense. But you do scramble for better position off your back. Is this your intention in your style?
Sasaki: From experiences from my past fights, I feel I got better at finishing my opponent off my back. However, in the actual state (of my career) I don’t necessary think this is a good way for me to fight.
MMA-in-ASIA: What part of your style do you need to improve the most?
Sasaki: Striking skill and my physical strength.
MMA-in-ASIA: What is your favorite and most fun time in training (grappling/stand up/ physical) and why?
Sasaki: I really like everything about Kakutougi so all trainings are fun for me!
MMA-in-ASIA: What is your favorite thing about Coach Serizawa?
Sasaki: He is a tremendous help for me mentally.
MMA-in-ASIA: What is his coaching style?
Sasaki: Every time I am in a bad situation he would calm me down and guide me into safer position.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think his extensive referee experience gives you an edge (he has watched more fights than many people on earth!)?
Sasaki: I sure think so too. Definitely those experiences are plus.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you expect a Shooto World title challenge soon?
Sasaki: No…… probably way later.
MMA-in-ASIA: You have beat the ZST champ. Any other champs in Japan you would like to fight?
Sasaki: In terms of champions in the other promotions, I would like to beat Shintaro Ishiwatari.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think about Horiguchi and Tanaka going to UFC?
Sasaki: I think that is a very good thing. I wish I can sign with UFC soon! [laughs]
MMA-in-ASIA: How did you get the name and character “Uruka”?
Sasaki: “Ulka” means “Long-nosed goblin” (“tengu” in Japanese) in Sanskrit, which is an ancient Indian language. I always liked “tengu” and I thought it leaves profound impression to the fans so I decided to use this as my nickname.
MMA-in-ASIA: Doing a Google image search for your name in English returns mostly images os a character with the same name from the anime “Cuticle Detective Inaba”. Any similarity between you two? (A little joke – the character is a boy who dresses like a girl) Do you watch anime or read manga? If so, what is your favorite?
Sasaki: I love manga. I like “Vagabond” the best. It relates to Kakutougi too!
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have hobbies outside of MMA?
Sasaki: Drawing, or watching something beautiful. I like doing something to calm myself.
MMA-in-ASIA: You are training in the USA at Alpha Male now. How is the training?
Sasaki: I have been going through the best training ever!
MMA-in-ASIA: Did you get to spar with Urijah Faber?
Sasaki: Yes and he has these mysterious moves. I am really surprised about that!
MMA-in-ASIA: What’s your overall impression of Alpha Male?
Sasaki: The training schedule is great, coaches are fantastic. And, as a team, everyone has this high sense of professionalism. It’s really a good team! And everyone is very, very strong. But I am always challenging and I do have strong sense of wanting keep challenging though.
MMA-in-ASIA: What would you do if UFC calls you for their Japan show in September?
Sasaki: I would be tormented to make a decision on that [laughs] because there is Shooto for me too.