The ONE Championship atomweight division has grown significantly in recent years and is packed with emerging stars. Itsuki Hirata certainly falls under that category.
Still just 21 years old, the Japanese fighter has finished all three of her opponents since making her professional debut with the promotion in 2019. Due to the pandemic, Hirata has been out of action for over a year but will make her return to the ring at Road to ONE 7 against Miku Nakamura.
“I’ve been training this entre time and I’ve been working on my striking a lot so I hope to showcase that in my next fight. I’m very happy. I don’t necessarily feel pressure. I’m just happy to be the main event and headlining the card. This is the first time I’ve had a such a long gap in my career, but I’ve been able train the entire time, focus on my weaknesses and just step up my game overall,” she said.
Nakamura comes into this fight on the back of a loss to Miyuki Furusawa at Shooto 1220. This will be Hirata’s first professional main event, and she fully expects to extend her undefeated record.
“From my understanding she’s a striker and has some grappling to her game. But I’ve been focusing on my striking a lot and I understand this is a fight I absolutely cannot lose, and I will definitely win,” Hirata told Asianmma.com.
She is primarily a submission specialist but wants to show another aspect of her game,
“Ideally I would like to showcase my striking as it’s been something I’ve been focusing on a lot but at the same time, during the fight, you don’t really know until you get in there. All I’m thinking about is winning so that’s all I’m focused on,” continued Hirata.
Her career is in its infancy but Hirata has already garnered a reputation as a fighter with significant box office potential. She had four amateur bouts and won all of them via submission while clips of her post-fight victory dances have gone viral,
“It’s been a lot of fun competing abroad and I do feel special in a certain way to be able to compete abroad and I enjoy the attention that I’m getting from fans overseas and to be able to continue to grow in that kind of environment. I want to compete against even stronger opponents and put my name out there and continue to grow. Everything is ahead of me,” said Hirata.
The talented judoka is certainly making her return at an opportune time. With champion, Angela Lee currently taking time off to have a child, the rest of the division is vying for a spot in the Grand Prix, where the winner will be awarded a shot at the title.
Looking ahead to the competition Hirata said,
“I’ve been excited for the past year. That’s all I’ve been looking at and I’ve been training for it and I’m ready whenever.”
With a spot in the atomweight Grand Prix potentially on the line Hirata believes it is important to win impressively,
“I think what’s important is that I have to solidify a good performance. Not just win. Leave an impression on everyone and be able to have an exciting fight. I believe that’s what’s going to get me in the Grand Prix.”
Despite never having faced a ranked opponent, Hirata has a clear idea of who she’d like to fight next, and spoke of her admiration for the current #2 in the division,
“It used to be Stamp (Fairtex) but recently I’ve been increasingly more interested in Meng Bo and her straight right punch and her striking skills in general. I think it would be a good matchup if we were to compete in the Grand Prix, I think it would be a really great fight.” said Hirata.
It’s clear the Tokyo-based fighter is not shy about taking on the best, and believes that she could outlast the current champion, Lee, if the opportunity arose.
“Considering that she became champion at 19, that’s pretty big. She has the strength of a champion. Her grappling is higher. If I were to compete against her I would have to have the edge over her on striking and I’m confident in my stamina being higher than hers. Either way I’d be excited to fight her and to match up with her.”