Before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in Shooto bantamweight champion Ryo Okada took his training halfway around the world. The 31-year-old flew out to Florida to train at American Top Team.

Founded by Dan Lambert in 2001, the gym is home to many of the sport’s top-tier athletes such as Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Kyoji Horiguchi, Adriano Moraes, John Lineker, Dustin Poirier, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal.

Okada conducted technical drills and sparring under the watchful eyes of coaches Mike Brown and Steve Mocco. He lauded the facility’s outstanding program and says it was a far cry from what he used to do back home,

“There are expert coaches in all fields, and the coaches will give you the answers clearly. It’s a lot of fun everyday because I learned something new every session,” he said through a translator.

Different level

Okada says he had wanted to train at American Top Team for a long time. His dream turned into a reality when Japanese cutman Nagasue ‘Nick’ Takayuki helped him touch base with the stable and also helped to sort out his accommodation,

“I’ve always wanted to go. There were a lot of candidates. I heard someone from Team Lakay was also planning to go. But through Mr. Nick, I got the invitation. From talking to the team, to the place where I would stay, to the boarding pass of my flight, he did it. It was really helpful,” he shared.

Okada spent some of his time on the mats with the camp’s notable names including Muhammed Lawal, Michael Page, Jussier Formiga, Jamie Alvarez and Charles Rosa.

“The athletes there are at a different level. Even their female athletes are strong. It challenged me so much,” he stated.

Close confidant

Meanwhile, he found a close confidant in compatriot Horiguchi who has voluntarily acted as Okada’s English interpreter since his first day at American Top Team,

“I can hardly speak English but I understood the training schedule because of him. When I have questions and concerns, Horiguchi translated it for me. I’m glad he was there,” Okada affirmed.

While he had to endure separation from his family and friends for a month Okada says he would have liked to stay longer,

“One of the things that surprised me was that I had a lot of time to devote myself into training. It took only a month. If I could have extended my stay a bit longer, there’s no doubt that I would grow exponentially. I understand why everyone says ‘America is amazing’ and I had a great time,” he stated.

Next assignment

Okada went back to Japan just in time before the national government imposed stringent measures to contain the rapid spread of the virus in the country. He will be facing Kazuma Kuramoto at Shooto 0531 on Sunday night with a title on the line.

Okada is the reigning champion and has held the belt for over a year. But an interim version of the title will be up for grabs with Shooto using slightly different weight classes during the coronavirus, or Covid-19, crisis.

According to Okada, he had heard rumors that Kuramoto would be his next opponent two days before his trip to American Top Team. Although nothing was set in stone at that time the Japanese fighter started making some specific preparation and plans,

“There were mumblings that I would face him next. So when I was in America, I showed Mike Brown videos of his past fights and asked him a lot about what to do. He did come up with different approaches,” he disclosed.

Kuramoto is a former amateur wrestler who now holds an immaculate 7-0 record in mixed martial arts. Moreover, he won his last four matches by way of stoppage,

“He is a great wrestler. Kuramoto likes to execute a German suplex in his fights. He also has good stamina. It’s an exciting match-up,” Okada assessed.

Three belts

Okada is not overawed by his opponent’s record and believes he is the more versatile of the two fighters,

“I can fight anywhere. Whether it’s a stand-up or on the ground, I can fight. He’s a wrestler, a dangerous one, but I am prepared for fighters like him. I have no problem with that,” he declared.

He doesn’t understand the rationale behind introducing an interim title. But having already won two Shooto belts Okada is looking forward to adding a third,

“I am already the Pacific Rim champion. I am also the official bantamweight champion. I don’t get it why they need to have an interim title (but) if that’s the case I will just get my third title. Isn’t it funny to have three belts in one weight class?”