Ishida Looks to Get Back on Track

By Taro Kotani Dec 24, 2007
As we entered T-BLOOD, one of the top gyms in Japan, 29-year-old Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures) politely welcomed through the door by bowing. He appeared a little shy, but his words signified his determination and professionalism as a fighter.

In February 2006, Ishida was crowned the Shooto welterweight Pacific Rim champion. He then made a sensational debut at PRIDE Bushido, leading to four straight wins.

A knockout loss to Takanori Gomi (Pictures) on New Year's Eve 2006 stopped the ride. Since that loss Ishida has not stepped inside a ring or cage to compete. What seemed to be a bright future suddenly turned dark.

Yet Ishida has not given up.

In this interview, he shares his thoughts on the year that was as well as his upcoming fight against Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) at the Yarennoka! New Year's Eve event that is being supported by M-1 Global.

Sherdog: Against Takanori Gomi (Pictures) it looked like you were trying to land kicks to the body and look for a time to attack with a tackle. Was that your game plan?
Mitsuhiro Ishida (Pictures): Gomi can leap into motion instantaneously, and he has real hard body shots. So I wanted to use my kicks to his body to make him aware of different attacks and look for a good time for takedowns. But I was not planning to kick that many times though.

Sherdog: As you were trying to re-posture following a kick, Gomi countered with a left straight. It got you off balance, and Gomi finished the fight with an array of strikes on the ground. You said you do not have much memory after you got off balance?
Ishida: I did not remember anything as to what happened after he caught me off guard. Even after I was taken to the locker room, I could not quite remember what happened. As time went by, I started to get my memory back bit by bit.

Sherdog: The fight ended in such a short time. Do you regret that you did not try other moves earlier?
Ishida: Well, it does not really mean much to think about what I could have or should have done. What actually happened is what matters. I have to accept the loss.

Sherdog: Has your impression about Gomi changed after fighting him?
Ishida: No, not much. I knew he was a strong fighter and found out that he was a strong fighter.

Sherdog: Last year you won the Shooto Pacific Rim title in February and made your PRIDE Bushido debut in April. Even after that, you fought about every two months. Was it difficult to keep up your conditioning while fighting so often during the year?
Ishida: As far as my conditioning or injuries last year, I do not remember much. I have a tendency to forget what happened in the past. Especially last year -- the year went by so quickly I honestly do not remember much.

Sherdog: When you fought in PRIDE Bushido, you fought at 73 kilograms [161 pounds] instead of 70 kg [154 pounds], which you were used to fighting. You are physically one of the smaller fighters even among 70-kg fighters. Was it difficult to fight at 73 kg?
Ishida: Yes, it was difficult. Like you said, I do have a body smaller than a lot the 70-kg fighters. To go up against guys weighing 73 kg, I really felt that my size was a disadvantage.

Sherdog: Did you do any special training to fight at 73 kg?
Ishida: It is difficult to fight 73-kg fighters at 70 kg. So I always tried to come up with ways to bulk up and at the same time not lose my quickness. Now that I think about it, I did feel my body was heavy at 73 kg. I lost my stamina easily as well.

Sherdog: Following your knockout loss to Gomi, you had to return your Shooto belt because you were unable to defend it, and Shooto rules state that no competitor who has suffered a knockout loss 60 days prior can compete under its sanctioning.
Ishida: I was just so sorry for that. That is all I can say.

Sherdog: The previous Pacific Rim champion Kotestu Boku returned his belt due to injuries, and you returned the belt without defending it. Do you feel that you let down the fans and the Shooto promoter?
Ishida: After I won the title, Shooto promoters gave me the opportunity to fight in PRIDE Bushido. I planned to increase the value for the Pacific Rim championship belt by winning in Bushido and returning to Shooto to fight for my title defense. But the way I lost against Gomi and returning the belt without defending it, it is so disheartening. In a way, it was the worst possible scenario. It is a shame on my part. I still repent for what happened.

Sherdog: In March, PRIDE was bought out by the Fertittas and then before it was restarted, the office closed. What is your impression about what happened to PRIDE?
Ishida: To see PRIDE disappear, it was very tough to swallow.

Sherdog: In your case, you were supposed to fight in the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix. With the Fertittas' buyout of PRIDE, it seemed that you were going to gain more opportunities to fight. But it turned out that those opportunities were taken away. Did you panic in any way?
Ishida: It would be a lie if I said that I was not impatient. It was unsettling not being able to fight. I had my ups and downs mentally. But there was no way I could resolve the problem by myself. I also knew that I was not the only one suffering. Other fighters and staff members were going through difficult times as well. Had it been a problem concerning just myself, I probably would have been completely defeated.

Sherdog: The popularity of MMA seems to be growing at a very high rate in the United States. Have you thought of possibly fighting in the United States?
Ishida: If the Pride staff asked me to fight in the UFC after PRIDE was bought out, I would have fought in the States. I did work on my elbows so that I could fight wherever I was asked to. But once PRIDE was gone, I have not really thought about going to the States.

Sherdog: Is there anybody fighting in the Octagon you would like to fight against?
Ishida: Well, I cannot come up with particular names, but lightweights in the UFC look very tough with excellent wrestling skills. I have a wrestling background myself, so if I can utilize that and push my opponent against the cage, maybe I could have some success.

Sherdog: You probably had a lot of time for training this year. Were there certain aspects of your game that you tried to improve?
Ishida: Mainly my striking skills, but I tried to develop my overall MMA techniques.

Sherdog: You started training with Team Kurofune at the JB Sports boxing gym around September 2006. Top-class fighters such as your gym-mate Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures), Kenji Osawa (Pictures), Hiroyuki Takaya (Pictures) work out at the boxing gym. Do you feel that working out in that kind of environment has helped you enhance your skills?
Ishida: Yes, especially my striking skills. Now I can really think and strike in a strategic way. But I have to be able to do that in fights, not just during training sessions. Until then, I cannot quite say that I have improved.

Sherdog: Along with fine training partners at Team Kurofune, the trainer Takeshi Yamada sounds like he is an excellent coach.
Ishida: Yes. He is an amazing person. He is knowledgeable about every aspect of fighting. He trains with us and he is a strong fighter himself. He comes up with excellent strategies for us. When I used to work out at TOPS, we did not really have a coach. We thought of different ways to train among ourselves. So compared to those times, I am really extravagant and blessed.

Sherdog: Team Kurofune workouts seem very hard. How are your workouts at Kurofune?
Ishida: We do a lot of running, strength and conditioning stuff at the beginning of training. Then we get into boxing and kickboxing. Working with heavy bags, mitts and sparring.

Sherdog: Have you been able to add a lot to your repertoire?
Ishida: I have gained a lot of confidence in my striking. But like I said, the bottom line comes down to whether I can do it in fights. Until then I cannot say that my game has improved.

Sherdog: Your gym-mate Kawajiri was born in the same year, fights in the same weight class and has fought in the same organizations. Similar to your case, he did not have a fight this year. How has his presence impacted you?
Ishida: He has really influenced me in a positive way. This year, even though he did not have any fights, he was training as hard as anybody. He never tells me that I have to train, but he shows by actions that I have to train hard. I have had some times when I could not get my mind into training this year, but his presence allowed me to stay focused.

Sherdog: How long have you been working out with Kawajiri?
Ishida: About seven years.

Sherdog: You have a wrestling background, but how did you get into MMA?
Ishida: I wanted to be a pro wrestler at first and worked out at the Takada Dojo, but I changed my mind and I got into MMA.

Sherdog: You have a fight finally scheduled on New Year's Eve at Yarennoka! What was your reaction when you first heard about the fight?
Ishida: I was like, "Finally." I was happy and relieved.

Sherdog: This event is organized by the old PRIDE staff members. Does this make it special?
Ishida: I am just happy that I waited this long. I do not know much regarding the business side of organizing these events, but I know that it is difficult and requires a lot of time and dedication. I just want to say thank you to those staff members who worked hard for this show.

Sherdog: Did you think about fighting in another organization during the year?
Ishida: Not really. I had the first round of the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix scheduled for May and then it was postponed to July. I had that delay and I had made up my mind to wait, so I did not really think about going elsewhere to fight. I do not have any reasons, but I had a sense that things would work out. That is why I had myself waiting.

Sherdog: What did PRIDE mean to you?
Ishida: It was the best ring in the whole world for me. I admired PRIDE and had always imagined myself fighting in PRIDE. I had guys who I was close with, such as Kawajiri and Ryuta Sakurai (Pictures), have success in PRIDE Bushido. So I wanted to follow them as well.

Sherdog: What do you think of the coalition of former PRIDE staff and the K-1 organization as well as other smaller organizations in Japan?
Ishida: I think it is good. If this relationship continues, there will be lots of interesting fights for the fans.

Sherdog: Were you able to keep up your motivation throughout the year under so much uncertainty?
Ishida: I had times when I could not get my mind into training. But when I am down on myself, I had Yamada work me really hard at the boxing gym. It was hard, but I felt that I needed to respond properly to the challenges that he provided me with. Also I had other professional fighters around me who had fights scheduled. Those guys were training intensely, so I put myself in the same positions as they were, trying to gain momentum from them as well.

Sherdog: Your opponent will be Gilbert Melendez (Pictures). Do you think that you can bring out what you gained from training this year?
Ishida: He is a tough opponent. I want to go at him really hard. Having lost the way I did on last year's New Year's Eve, I was not expecting that I would be able to fight such a fine fighter like Melendez. It was a little surprising. But all in all, I appreciate the opportunity and bring it all out in the fight.

Sherdog: How do you expect the fight to go?
Ishida: The longer the fight gets, the uglier it will be. Whoever loses his concentration will be the one going down.

Sherdog: Melendez defeated Kawajiri a year ago. Have you talked to him for advice?
Ishida: No, not much. I asked him how his fight with Melendez was and that is about it. He did not specifically tell me certain things that I should do. Plus it is not a revenge match for Kawajiri. I do not think that he wants me to feel that way either. He is probably hoping that I would win as a comrade. I do not want to get caught up in that regard.

Sherdog: Final thoughts going into your fight on New Year's Eve?
Ishida: This is my first fight in a while, but I want to fight my heart out.
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