TOKYO (TR) – It is a chilly Friday evening in Tokyo, a time when many office workers are hunkered down at a local pub.
Nobutatsu Suzuki is not among them. A legal clerk by day, the sharp-jawed, spiky-haired 36-year-old trains as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter at the Reversal Tokyo Standout gym in Shibuya at night.
“I wanted to be strong,” says Suzuki, in referring to his motivation for first entering the ring, as he slips from a white dress shirt and tie into his training gear. “I wanted to be stronger than anyone, physically and mentally. In order to be strong, I became a fighter.”
On May 31 of last year, the welterweight put that strength on display in defeating Phil Baroni with a first-round TKO in his debut for ONE FC (Fighting Championship) in Manila.
After forcing the American up against the cage, the Tokyo native landed a right hand that proved to be the finishing blow. Suzuki was surprised to hear later that Baroni had suffered a broken ankle.
Next month, Suzuki will face another American, UFC veteran Brock Larson, in the “War of Nations” main event at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur — a chance for the grappler to dismiss any notion that luck was the reason for his victory in Manila.
“It was unlucky for him,” says Suzuki. “Of course, if he doesn’t suffer an injury to his leg, things could have been different.”
Atop the gym’s green training mat, fighting hopefuls shadow box and hit bags in tune with the thumping rock music pumping through the speaker system at the entrance. Suzuki, his arms noticeably scarred around the elbows, is seated off to the side, preparing to begin his stretching routine.
“I want to prove that I defeated Baroni not by a fluke but through raw power,” he says.
In Manila, the key was landing strikes. “He has greater wrestling and grappling skills than I do,” says Suzuki in referring to Barino. “So striking became the crucial factor, and I landed one blow (at the right time).”
Over 13 bouts, Suzuki has compiled an 11-1-2 record. He realizes that Larson (37-7) will enter the bout on March 14 as a more seasoned fighter. He also feels that from a wrestling and grappling point of view he will once again be at a disadvantage. “But I have battled fighters like that in Japan,” he says.
As before, his hands will be the key. “Landing strikes,” says Suzuki. “I know Larson is strong with his strikes, but I’ll be ready.”
In readying himself, grappling and strength training are important, he says, but so is time management: His office job requires him to travel to multiple locations all throughout the metropolis. “I’ve got to figure out ways to shorten my working time in order to have long practices,” he says.
Suzuki’s roots in fighting go back to the age of 15, when he began training in karate, the martial art he hopes will form his legacy as his twilight years approach.
“I hope everyone in MMA thinks that I was a strong karate fighter,” he says, “and that my karate was amazing.”