Shooto Watanabe comes from a family of fighters. Both his parents fought for Shooto and his girlfriend is on the Deep-Jewels roster.

His father was the first ever Shooto lightweight champion. Yuichi Watanabe, who retired in 1992 with a 6-3 record, will be ringside to see his son face Kai Asakura in the opening round of the Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix next month.

The fight is set for Rizin 27 at the Tokyo Dome on June 13th and Watanabe acknowledges that his son has been handed a tough fight against the tournament favourite,

“He faced (Naoki) Inoue, (Takumi) Tamaru and now Asakura. They are not giving this kid a break. They are all super tough opponents.”

Shooto Watanabe kicks Takumi Tamaru

Work ethic

Watanabe made his pro debut on a Pancrase card in 2012. But it was a moment he had been preparing for nearly his entire life,

“They (my parents) had me doing judo and wrestling, I was forced to practise. Every day I would think about how I could skip practice. I just wanted to play with my friends.”

He has put together a formidable 22-5-6 record. The achievement is more impressive when you take into consideration that, according to his father at least, Watanabe is not a natural fighter,

“Parents know their child’s abilities. He’s not naturally gifted but he practised things that anybody could do over and over again to the point that no-one else would. That’s all.”

Shooto Watanabe punches Takumi Tamaru

Opportunity of a lifetime

Asakura is expected to win the tournament and Watanabe is aware of his opponent’s reputation. Being picked to face the former champion was tough break but he prefers to see it as an opportunity,

“I’ve been watching him on TV since before I fought in Rizin. I feel blessed to be standing side by side with him. It’s going to be a tough fight but it’s also the opportunity of a lifetime (and) I want to use this opportunity to express myself.”

His girlfriend Hikaru Aono is competing at Deep-Jewels 33, she is in the semi finals of the promotion’s atomweight Grand Prix. The pair have been training together and Watanabe says,

“Life is boring without her.”

The two live together and train together so Aono has a real insight into Watanabe’s state of mind and she thinks he is in a good place ahead of Rizin 27,

“I think he’s truly focused for this fight.”

Shooto Watanabe 3

Deeper meaning

Given his name you might think Watanabe was destined from day one to be a mixed martial artist. But his father is adamant that this was not his intent,

“I didn’t name him Shooto so he would compete in Shooto, I never really thought of him becoming a fighter. The character means ‘to fight’ but fighting isn’t just physical fighting. You are constantly fighting something as long as you live, fighting yourself, fighting society, fighting many things. So the meaning behind it is to become a person who can continue to fight and grow as a human being.”

While he might have been reluctant at first Watanabe has well and truly embraced mixed martial arts. As a child he was pushed by his parents to train and compete but the 32 year old needs no encouragement now,

“Fighting is the only think I really enjoy. I’ve never felt motivated to do anything else.”