Japanese sensation Itsuki Hirata suffered the first setback of his career in March with a split decision loss to Jihin Radzuan, but she is set to get back in the win column and rebuild her momentum at ONE on Prime Video 1: Moraes vs. Johnson II on Friday, August 26.
Hirata returns against China’s Lin Heqin on the lead card of ONE Championship’s massive event. It will be a chance for Hirata to show how she responds to the first adversity of her young career.
Initially, the loss weighed heavy on her shoulders, but the support of her family and fans lifted her up. Now Hirata is refocused on climbing to the top of the atomweight division.
“When I came back to Japan [after the loss], my family told me, ‘It’s not the end,’ even though I had thought it would be the end of the world if I lost. But this loss lifted me up to the view that I must push myself more by going to train in the USA,” admitted Hirata.
“I thought I didn’t want to fight anymore right after the loss, but the words from my fans cheered me up and piqued my energy to hustle.”
The matchup should be a traditional striker vs. grappler contest. Hirata will be tested against Lin’s striking and will have to get inside her long reach to take the action to the mat.
The Japanese star sees the holes she needs to exploit and is excited about the matchup.
“She is an all-around fighter who knows her best distance, techniques, and combinations, and I think she is confident in her striking because she has competed in kickboxing bouts at ONE. However, if you look at her match with Ritu, she was dominated on the ground and lost by points,” said Hirata.
“I know her weakness is the ground skills, and she is confident enough to start her game plan with striking. Also, I think she’s trying to finish the game without wrestling because every striker without ground skills fights that way.”
“I’ve been hyped to share the Circle with her because I know this matchup had been almost set up before. I’m solidifying my striking, so I think I’ll be different from what I’ve been in the past.”
But Hirata is excited about more than just the bout itself.
“Android 18” is thrilled to be showcased on the Prime Video debut event as a way to further her stature in the sport as she steps in front of a U.S. primetime audience.
After training in New York in preparation for this contest, Hirata is ready to welcome a whole new audience of prospective American fans.
“I’m very happy that I can showcase it not only to the fans in Asia but also to the fans worldwide. I felt the impact of cross-border broadcasts, especially when the audience in the US recognized me and talked to me,” said Hirata.
“I know American people love to get excited by combat sports, and I’m very excited to perform for them because ONE has chosen me for the broadcast in the U.S. Of course, I can’t wait to showcase my skills to the fans globally because the broadcast on Prime Video will allow more people around the world to watch.”
With her new striking coach in her corner for her battle against Lin, Hirata is putting all of the pieces to the puzzle in place.
All that is left is executing on August 26.
ONE on Prime Video 1: Moraes vs. Johnson II airs live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Prime Video.
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Black Belt Magazine