Yosuke Saruta has always been an athlete. As a child the Japanese strawweight saw himself competing in the English Premier League, the World Series or maybe even the Olympics but instead he has forged a very successful career in mixed martial arts.

The 31 year old challenges Joshua Pacio for the strawweight title at ONE: ‘Eternal Glory’ on Saturday. He has the opportunity to reach the pinnacle of the sport and fulfill a lifelong ambition,

“I was very active and loved sports (like) football, baseball and gymnastics. I wanted to be an Olympic athlete, The goal was to be the best in the world at some sport.”

For Saruta the road to a ONE Championship title shot has been rough. He’s won eight of his last nine fights but the sole defeat during that period came when his right eyelid was ripped open by a spinning back kick in a freak accident.

Serious setbacks

He’s no stranger to injury and has suffered more ups and downs than the average footballer, baseballer or gymnast,

“From training and bouts, I have had some major injuries. I have dislocated my elbow, broken my hands, broken my nose and eye, and I had to do a lot of rehabilitation.”

However he is now fully fit and believes these setbacks only served to make him stronger,

“I learned to never quit, and about the importance and support of my coaches, training partners, and family. I strengthened my physical abilities, and this has become my strongest point.”

Opportunity of a lifetime

Saruta benefitted from another fighter’s misfortune with injury recently. He was only offered a shot at reigning strawweight champion Pacio in Jakarta this Saturday after original challenger Hayato Suzuki pulled out.

As the old adage goes ‘you make your own luck’ and, coming off a decision win against former champion Alex Silva, Saruta simply found himself in the right place at the right time.

He has already won the Shooto strawweight title but has never had a fight of this magnitude,

“I do not consider myself a success yet. This is the biggest chance of my life,” he says.

Slow start

Saruta actually lost his first two bouts. He bounced back to win his next two but eight years ago the Kawaguchi City native was the owner of an uninspiring 2-3-1 professional record, the type of tally which would make some fighters question their career choices.

Not Saruta though. Instead he went on to win is next five fights, earning a bantamweight title shot with Shooto,

“I hate to lose, and I believed that if I continued, then I would become a champion,” he said.

He went the full five rounds with Ryuichi Miki twice, drawing one and losing the other. Saruta didn’t capture the Shooto title in either of his first two attempts, but he had well and truly made the transition from journeyman opponent to elite contender.

Championship experience

Saruta believes this experience of going the distance in a five rounder should serve him well ahead of this Saturday’s title shot,

“I have the stamina to go all five rounds, and a strong will,” he said.

The ONE strawweight title has been changing hands frequently. With every fight a new champion is crowned and Saruta’s compatriot Yoshitaka Naito won the belt, then lost it, then won it, then lost it again.

Silva, who Saruta beat last time out, held the title as recently as last year. The Japanese fighter might have earned his shot in an unconventional manner, but he’s absolutely determined to make the most of it,

“I will dominate him in every situation and (win) by KO. I’m going to bring the ONE strawweight title back to Japan.”