Itsuki Hirata is a rising star at ONE Championship. She may only have three professional fights to her name, but having secured emphatic finishes in all of them, she’s certainly caught the eye.

Making her professional debut at ONE: ‘Legendary Quest’ last year’, the 21 year-old made a statement when she finished the Philippines’ Angelie Sabanal with an Americana in the first round. There’s a confident swagger about Hirata and she really relishes the competition,

“I always feel excited at every morning of game days. I really love and enjoy competing. I am proud of all of my bouts. They were important for me. I am also satisfied with my performances at the all of them, because I competed and won in different ways.”

Nicknamed ‘Strong Heart Fighter,’ Hirata’s second pro bout saw her vanquish one of the darlings of Asian MMA. She scored a second round submission win against Rika Ishige, finishing the Thai with an armbar at ONE: ‘Century’.

Exciting prospect

Hirata had already showed ruthlessness in her amateur career, winning all four of her fights via submission. But it is her ability to instantly replicate this form on the international stage that has marked the Japanese starlet out as such an exciting prospect.

She was made to work a little harder for her third win at ONE: ‘Warrior’s Code’ but showed real tenacity to recover from a slow start and finish New Zealand’s Nyrene Crowley in the third round. A clip of her victory dance immediately after getting the finish swiftly went viral on social media.

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Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, February 7, 2020

Fan favourite

Hirata’s habit of dancing at the end of a bout, or even to celebrate a successful round, has helped establish her as a fan favourite. She  feels a certain sense of freedom when she fights but is not short of ambition either,

“Getting into the ring or cage, I always feel that this is the right time to express myself freely. My goal is to become a world champion. I don’t want to lose.”

She hasn’t got as far as formulating a gameplan to beat Angela Lee. But the atomweight champion is already in Hirata’s sights,

Angela Lee is a great athlete and a wonderful woman. I respect her very much. But I want to compete with her someday. She is well rounded both at ground and stand-up. So far, I have no strategy to compete with her.”

Young contenders

Lee is slated to face Denice Zamboanga. Like all sporting events this bout won’t be able to push through until the current coronavirus crisis has started to subside but Hirata is happy to bide her time,

“If it is the end of this year, very happy for me. Or I want to do in the next year. If it will happen in the Japan event, that would be great!”

Talented, charismatic and confident Hirata has all the elements to be a big star. Her ONE Championship career has got off to the perfect start and the Japanese fighter is steadily making a name for herself in a division that is full of young, hungry contenders.