Last year, Ren Hiramoto had something to prove in MMA. He had a short yet successful career in kickboxing, but he had yet to win in a set of 4oz gloves. In fact, up until that point, he had only lost. It started with a humiliating defeat against Kyohei Hagiwara which showed his inability to compete on the ground. Reflecting on that loss in an interview last year, Hiramoto claimed, “My opponent said that he’s going to teach me total MMA. And that’s what he did to me.” After an unsuccessful crack at Chihiro Suzuki in his followup bout, many wondered if Hiramoto could find success in his new sport at all.
Eventually, however, Hiramoto started to get act together. It started at RIZIN 36 when he snuck by Hiroaki Suzuki with a split-decision win. Then at a card in November 2022, he used his striking skills to defeat former DEEP Impact Featherweight Champion Satoshi Yamasu. These victories put Hiramoto on the right track and reassured a thought he had been nursing for quite some time.
“Even before I made the transition to MMA, I’ve always thought that any martial artist who has made the top in their respected martial art form can do well in mixed martial arts,” said Hiramoto in an interview with Bloody Elbow through an interpreter. “Right now, for me to get those back-to-back wins, it gives me the confidence that my hunch wasn’t wrong.”
A focus on a RIZIN belt, and perhaps a UFC future
A 50/50 record can obviously only do so much for a fighter in MMA. But Ren Hiramoto looks to take a big step forward this weekend at RIZIN’s next LANDMARK card. On Saturday, Hiramoto will face former RIZIN Featherweight Champion Yutaka Saito in the co-main event of a card from the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan.
Saito is significantly more experienced in MMA than Ren Hiramoto. He has competed nearly 30 times since his 2011 debut, including a long career in regional promotion Shooto. For context, Hiramoto only made his debut in kickboxing, not MMA, in 2015. This experience differential is something that Hiramoto acknowledges but also likes. This is because a win over someone like Saito could propel him into a shot against current promotional champ Kleber Koike.
“I am determined to capture the RIZIN featherweight title. That is a must. That’s what I’m going after for now,” he admitted. “And that’s why I need this fight. That’s why this fight makes so much sense for me. He may have a heck of a lot more experience than I have, but I know that I’m the better fighter. People can say whatever they want. And he may have more fights than I do, but I know that biologically I’m just a better fighter.”
Everything about Hiramoto exudes confidence. While speaking about his career, he sat in a conference room decked out in slick and modern streetwear. Masking his emotions was a pair of matte-black shades, he donned shoes, a hoodie, and a hat from artist Travis Scott’s clothing line. He said he tries to wear as much of Scott’s apparel as he can because he is motivated by the Texas-raised celebrity. “It’s something that you wear on your body. I want to be able to be proud of it,” he said.
Ren Hiramoto’s goals as a fighter do not stop with a RIZIN title fight. Despite currently being a RIZIN talent, Hiramoto wants to someday become a UFC champion. But big goals like that mean to him that he can’t make any more errors. Instead of struggling or even losing to the people he is facing, he has to look like he is much better than the competition he is put against.
“I’m not satisfied to be here,” he said. “I want to make it to the top and I want to be a champion in the UFC. And I’m confident I can do that. I can’t be struggling over here. I can’t be losing to basic fighters like [Saito] over in Japan.”
Ren Hiramoto: ‘I believe I am special’
Ren Hiramoto will be fighting this weekend inside a cage. RIZIN usually uses a ring, but their LANDMARK series has seen them swap the ropes out for steel. Outside of the ring or cage, depending on the situation, Hiramoto has cultivated a prolific and controversial image. He frequently engages in public beefs with other fighters on Twitter, making his following part-fanbase part-those who keep tabs on him but dislike him. He also tries to keep a presence in fashion and music circles, being seen with names like Denzel Curry and Steve Aoki.
Ren Hiramoto says it’s all about getting people to watch his fights. He talked about how names like Floyd Mayweather, the Paul brothers, Gervonta Davis, and Ryan Garcia are able to mix together culture and the fight game and build a following from that.
“They know how to sell a fight. They know how to make people want to watch their fights. I’m absolutely fascinated by that. I think that’s the way to go when it comes to combat sports entertainment. I want to follow that.”
When talking about his goals, the urgency of Hiramoto’s plans make it easy to forget that he’s still only 24-years-old. Even when setting aside his big title fight plans in the future, Hiramoto is going into a pretty challenging match this weekend against an experienced name at featherweight. When asked about his big step-up matchup and his future plans, Hiramoto had a short answer: “I’m Ren Hiramoto. I believe I am special. I am not the ordinary fighter, and that’s what I like about myself.”
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