PhotoCred: Facebook - Takumi Tamaru

From Shooto to fighting Shooto, lone-wolf Takumi Tamaru ready to shine at RIZIN 27

RIZIN 27 is set to be the promotion’s first event of 2021. While it’s the return for multiple notable faces competing, there are a plethora of exciting newcomers set to be introduced to the RIZIN faithful. One, in particular, that has hardcore fans buzzing is the 25-year-old bantamweight, Takumi Tamaru.

Tamaru was simply put; just very excited to get the opportunity to compete on the platform RIZIN provides. Even more so, it’s a thrilling thought that he’ll get to garner reactions on a large stage when showing off his supremely unique fighting style.

“When I started in MMA, there was no RIZIN,” Tamaru told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “So obviously, my goal was to get to the UFC and aim for the UFC, that was my goal when I started. But the doors for Japanese fighters to become a UFC fighter – to get that contract to the UFC – were all shutting down. It was getting harder and harder for Japanese fighters to make it to the UFC. So as I was in my career kind of without a set goal, that’s kind of when RIZIN began to really shine with their bantamweights. I think at that time is when RIZIN really started to shine in my eyes, and I kind of shifted towards wanting to compete in RIZIN.”

Tamaru’s pro-MMA journey began at age 19 when he made a successful debut in his first and only fight for Deep. Despite his clear ability to flip a switch and get into fight mode, the talented 135-pounder wouldn’t call himself the strongest fighter mentally. Because of that, along with his lack of a specific goal with UFC status currently more difficult to attain, Tamaru tries to work himself “over the limit.”

Hailing from the small countryside city of Gifu, Tamaru has had to deal with rather isolated training parameters for the majority of his career – that’s been even more prominent during the worldwide pandemic.

Thankfully, he finds himself with the ability to visualize the necessary training methods. Noting for an example that when rolling or training with purple belt level partners, whether kids or adults, he can imagine them as black belts in a situational training simulation and still find productivity.

“Before, when I would hear these compliments or receive these compliments, and all this hype, I would get excited,” Tamaru said. “I would be very excited, I’d be happy, grateful, and I would try anything to meet their expectations. That’s what I used to do. But trying to meet other people’s expectations, it kind of throws you off of your rhythm, and it kind of throws you off on who you are and what you want to do. So recently, I’ve been trying to stick with my instinct and keep my pace as a fighter and what I do – try to keep my base. And stick with what I wanna do and who I wanna be.

“Training during these times is very hard for me because I live in Gifu which is totally the countryside. In my town, there’s only one other professional fighter besides me. Everyone else is just kids, women, and amateur fighters. So for me, I couldn’t get any quality sparring time or cross-training. Because I usually go out and cross-train, I go out to the cities and cross-train with other professionals to get prepared for a fight. But with this whole state of emergency and this whole quarantine stuff, it prevented me from going out to the cities and training with other professionals. So the training itself during these times has been really tough.”

Takumi Tamaru
PhotoCred: Tapology

Preparing to head into the biggest fight of his life at RIZIN 27, the situation remains the same for Tamaru after three bouts in 2020.

Three years after Tamaru’s arrival into the sport, he tasted defeat for the first time thanks to America’s Riley Dutro – a self-admitted reality check for the Japanese prospect. Tamaru fought purely off of instinct in his eight bouts up until Dutro and fared without resistance. Therefore, when falling short against international competition, revisiting of training methods and surroundings became required in his mind.

Essentially the thought was if you can’t beat them, join them.

Prior to the world turning upside down, Tamaru managed to explore training possibilities to the fullest. Heading stateside, he landed in San Diego to train with the many top fighters at the Alliance Training Center – most famously known for being run by Eric Del Fierro and producing world champions like Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, and Jessica Penne.

Tamaru spent roughly a month and a half at the gym in preparation for one of his several Shooto fights and left a good impression.

“The reason I chose to go down to Alliance is because, one, Dominick Cruz is totally one of my favorite fighters and I’m very much inspired by him,” Tamaru said. “And two, I’d been hearing really good things about the owner, Eric, he’s been a very good person and tries to take care of their athletes. And they really put strength on sparring with the same weight divisions. So they don’t cross-train with two big of a weight difference. Lastly, they just had a lot of fighters at my weight class so I think it just made the most sense to go there.”

“He is very talented and has a very unique style that works,” Del Fierro told MyMMANews. “He has a lot of potential to be a star, good grappling, and talented striker. He has a very good mindset for training and was very self-motivated didn’t need anyone to get him going for training he should do great.”

“I hope all the best for everybody I train with because I’ve never had ill wills with any of them,” Cruz said at UFC 259 media day. “And I respect all the fighters out there because this is a tough sport. So every one of these fighters, I respect. I hope the best for him.”

In all but two of Tamaru’s 15 professional MMA bouts to this point, he’s done so as a fighter for Shooto – one of MMA’s best promotions in Japan. Thus making it all the more fitting that for his big RIZIN debut he’ll be taking on the son of Shooto icon, Yuichi “Super Rider” Watanabe. Yuichi named his son after the organization, so on March 21 it’s Takumi Tamaru vs. Shooto Watanabe.

In the case of the Gifu native himself, Tamaru always felt that Japanese fighters seeking out MMA careers would naturally work their ways to and through Shooto. Acknowledging that they always produce the best talent, it just felt normal and like home for him to go through that process as well.

He now hopes to represent them proudly going forward.

Takumi Tamaru
PhotoCred: AsianMMA

“Watanabe, he’s a fighter that likes to take the back, he’s a ground fighter,” Tamaru said. “But stylistically, I think it’s a very good matchup for me. He doesn’t like to strike, his striking doesn’t look good. He always wants to take it to the ground but I’m comfortable on the ground as well. So I think he’s an opponent where I can beat him wherever I want. I can strike with him then even if he takes me down, I’m pretty confident I can hold my own against him. It’ll be a fun fight.

“I know that this is my first fight in RIZIN and I know I have to impress people. I have to show a good showing. So obviously, the result, winning and losing, that’s definitely important, but I want to show people how I fight. And I think it’s one of my obligations to be able to perform in a way to ‘wow’ people. That’s what I’m gonna be looking for.”

“Wowing” people hasn’t been a problem for Tamaru throughout his six-year career as nine of his 12 victories have come by way of finish – six submissions, three knockout/TKOs. A win over the vastly experienced Watanabe who is 21-5-6 would be impressive no matter the outcome, but Tamaru has even higher hopes.

As 2021 has begun, RIZIN has planned to put together a huge 16-man bantamweight tournament that will consist of Japan’s best. With hopes to slide his way into a spot among the 16, Tamaru knows that there isn’t a better way to get his name out there for the world to see.

“Not to look past my opponent, but I think getting the call for the 16-man grand prix would be ideal,” he said. “It would be the quickest way for me to make a name and build myself up in this promotion. I’m not here for easy fights. I want to take on the best, I’m here for tough fights and I think RIZIN does definitely have that roster where everybody is tough so hopefully I get the toughest opponent for the opening round.”

author avatar
Drake Riggs
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.