Shoko Sato has always renowned for his karate. Over the course of 46 fights he has showcased that style very effectively and is on the cusp of securing a shot at ONE Championship’s bantamweight title.

Standing in his way is Fabricio Andrade. The Brazilian burst onto the scene with two impressive wins last year and they will face off at ONE: ‘Unbreakable’ Part III which is broadcast this Friday.

With so much experience you would think Sato was already confident in his skillset. Particularly given that he has won his last six fights but the 33 year old says he has made some improvements recently,

“I think my grappling has improved. I think I am more inclined towards grappling than striking, contrary to the past. I used to use striking a lot but now, when somebody tries to grapple with me, I grapple back and aim for takedowns.”

Common opponent

They have an opponent in common. Sato stopped Mark Abelardo in the second round at ONE: ‘Warriors of Light’ in 2019 while Andrade submitted him in the same timeframe at ONE: ‘No Surrender’ last year.

Sato watched that fight and was broadly impressed by the young Brazilian,

“I watched his ONE debut (and) I fought against Abelardo in my ONE debut so I was interested in it. I felt that he won by eliminating Abelardo’s strong points and showing only his own.”

There are some similarities between Sato’s style and that of Andrade. The Japanese fighter thinks his opponent is particularly good at controlling the range and remaining evasive,

“He didn’t allow Abelardo to get into range, which gave him the advantage. Andrade was the only one hitting, dodging, and hitting again, dealing with takedowns. Then he took his opponent’s back and ended the fight with a choke.”

Hard to guess

The Brazilian has won two of his last three fights by rear naked choke but Sato sounds more concerned about his opponent’s striking,

“I think his strong point is his striking. His movements are so small but, when he swings, he does it relentlessly so it makes his strikes kind of unpredictable. It’s hard to guess how he is going to attack.”

However the Japanese veteran believes his experience will be an advantage in at least one aspect,

“In mixed martial arts it takes more time to develop ground skills. So, when it comes to the general scrambles, like taking opponents down, standing up and getting into ground battles, I wonder how he can handle those situations?”

One by one

Having won six fights in a row for ONE Championship he was expected to challenge bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes in 2020. But then Covid-19 struck and putting together a bout between a fighter based in Canada and a fighter based in Japan became much more complicated.

Conversely Andrade’s opportunity to compete for ONE Championship only came about because he was already in Phuket, training at Tiger Muay Thai, and the promotion was looking for local fighters for a series of events in Bangkok. So both men’s careers have been affected by the pandemic, albeit in dramatically different ways.

But despite being on the best run of results since he began his MMA career in 2018 Sato does not sound in a hurry. He hopes to fight for the belt eventually but is content to face as many contenders as he needs to in order to secure a shot at the champion,

“This (a title shot) is something I cannot decide. It is no use thinking about what I cannot choose, so I just focus on what I can do right now. If I defeat all my opponents one by one, I think the opportunity will come someday. “