It took Tatsuro Taira six years and 19 fights to get into the UFC. The 22 year old won all of them, both as an amateur and a professional, and will be making his sophomore octagon appearance this weekend.
Taira faces C.J. Vergara at UFC Vegas 62. He impressed on his UFC debut that many thought he looked like a seasoned veteran but Taira says he was just doing his own thing,
“I never thought I was fighting like a veteran; this is just me. I have a lot of experience, and my parents did a great job of raising me, and I have a great team behind me. I want to continue competing at the highest level, and truly become a veteran of the UFC,” he told UFC.com.
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It is not a golden age for Japanese MMA. Taira is one of just a handful of fighters currently on the UFC roster and not one of them is currently ranked.
By contrast there numerous Chinese fighters have cracked the top 15 which shows how the balance of power has shifted in Asia. But Japan does have a strong domestic scene and Taira believes there are plenty of fighters there who could succeed in the UFC,
“There are many fighters from Japan who could compete and do well on the international stage today. I hope more fighters from Japan continue to get opportunities to represent the country in the octagon,” he said.
Taira won his UFC debut earlier this year. The fight was postponed for two weeks after opponent Carlos Candelario fell sick at the last minute but that didn’t stop the 22 year old from enjoying the whole experience,
“It was my first fight week with the UFC, and it was very refreshing. Everybody is very polite and professional, everything is run well and, of course, I was happy to get the win in my UFC debut. It made me even more excited to return.”
Cashing in on the hype 🤑@TatsuroTaira has arrived to the UFC!
— UFC (@ufc) May 15, 2022
But Taira does admit to feeling pressure as he prepared to fight outside of Japan for the first time in his life,
“I felt a bit of pressure because the stakes are so high and my opponent was very dangerous, but it was a very fun experience nonetheless.”
This Saturday night (local time) in Las Vegas he takes on Vergara. The American earned his contract with an impressive performance on Dana White’s Contender Series but after earning a spot on the UFC roster with five straight stoppage wins both his outings inside the octagin have lasted the full 15 minutes.
It sounds like Taira has studied Vergara closely and he says that,
“He’s a tough opponent. He’s very capable and dangerous, but I’m ready.”
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A Japanese fighter has never held a linear UFC title. Taira wants to be the first,
“My goal is to be a world champion, and I’m more than happy to do whatever it takes to get there.”
He feels personally responsible for developing the sport in his country and says winning the belt would be a ‘dream come true’,
“The state of MMA in Japan is important to me, so I want to take the belt and bring even more hope and excitement to the Japanese MMA world. In that moment, my dreams will come true. “