Former Welterweight & Middleweight King of Pancrase Kiuma Kunioku

Hip-Hop Pancrase Champion

By Masa Fukui and Stephen Martinez Sep 15, 2004
What if a polite Japanese Samurai dressed like a hip-hop star? (Not interested in yet? Okay…) What if this Japanese Samurai had gold teeth like a gangsta? (Now, you think if he’s just a poser?) What if this Samurai is a King of Pancrase champion who dominated two divisions at the same time?

Thirteen years ago, 15-year-old Kiuma Kunioku said good-bye to his grandma, and moved 500 kilometers away from home, landing in Tokyo to be a professional fighter. It was only three days after his junior high school graduation ceremony. Since that day, he's trained and fought in Pancrase for eight years.'

In 2001, he became a middleweight champion by defeating reigning KOP Nathan Marquardt. He also earned a newly established welterweight title while keeping his shiny gold middleweight belt.

As of August 30 this young man, who still owned his welterweight title, held a press conference to declare a new voyage. Kunioku (30-18-7) -- who sports wins against Genki Sudo, Yuki Kondo, Guy Mezger and Daiju Takase -- announced he'd be leaving the Pancrase organization looking for new battlefields in the mixed martial arts world.

I was very flattered to have a chance to interview Kunioku on such a peaceful Sunday afternoon in Tokyo. He spoke out about what he’s done, is doing, and wants to do in the future.

Masa Fukui: First of all, I want you to introduce yourself. Because, Pancrase show is not shown on TV in America nor Europe. Therefore a lot of people may not know about you, even you are the champion of Pancrase.

Kiuma Kunioku: Sure. Okay, My Name is Kiuma Kunioku. I am originally from Osaka Japan. I moved to Tokyo, right after I graduate junior high, and joined Fujiwara-gumi(submission team). Then Mr. Funaki (Masakatsu Funaki) and Mr. Minoru Suzuki left Fujiwara-gumi. Then I followed my mentors when they started Pancrase. My debut in Pancrase was in 1996 against Osami Shibuya when I was 20. Then I became the middleweight champion in 2001.

Masa : You told us that your debut was 1996.That was four to five years after you started training. ... And I heard that other teammates such as Osami Shibuya and Takafumi Ito debuted before you, even though they joined Pancrase after you. Why did that it happen?

Kunioku: Well, I didn’t feel conformable to perform my skill in front of a lot of audience as a professional. Whatever whoever say about me, I wasn’t satisfied by my technique at the moment. So I just waited and waited … ‘till I feel I’m ready to fight as a pro.

Masa: So while you were just a trainee, did you have a side job? Like paper boy?

Kunioku: No I didn’t, I was training all day long. I was living in Dojo (Gym) and they serve us food. So all we had to do was just train, train, train. At that point, I really appreciated the environment.

Masa: Okay, you belonged to Pancrase for eight years. You train hard there, fought for them, but you are leaving this organization. Can you tell us why you decided to leave Pancrase? Kunioku: First of all, I wanted to do what I really want to do, including find out where I am at in MMA society internationally (How strong I am in the world…). To do so I thought this is the best way to remove the protection called Pancrase organization, which meant I leave Pancrase and try new things -- fight in another ring. I am very appreciative of how they treated me though. Masa: So now you said you’d like to try new thing. But if this new try doesn’t work, are there any chance to go back to Pancrase?

Kunioku: No, I don’t think so. I don’t say 100 percent, but I’m not thinking about it now.

Masa: Did you talk anybody about your thoughts, like ask for advice? Ikuhisa Minowa left Pancrase. Did you get any advice from him?

Kunioku: No I didn’t at all. It’s all by my will. I didn’t get any advice from anybody.

Masa: Okay, Now you have many choices. Where will Kunioku be heading to?

Kunioku: The field I would like to fight the most is UFC. I think UFC is the best. That’s the field I’m looking for fighting in.

Masa: Why? You sound like a desperado wanting to fight in UFC. Is there any special reason?

Kunioku: UFC was and is my Goal. I always wanted fight in America and wanted see how I will be evaluated by American MMA fans. Also, as a martial artist, if there’s a tough guy, I want to fight him. That’s the real martial artist and UFC has several divisions and has a champion. If there’s a champion, I’d like to fight champion and want to see where I am in MMA world. Masa: So if you’re fighting in UFC, you’d like to challenge UFC champion as Pancrase champion? Kunioku: No, I don’t care if I am the champion of Pancrase, or former champion of something. I just want to prove myself by fighting against very strong guy in my weight class. I just trust my power. My skill … nothing title at all.

Masa: Right now in the UFC welterweight division, there’s Matt Hughes. Frank Trigg, Karo Parisyan, Renato Verissimo, Nick Diaz, and many more fighters. Do you want to fight against any specific fighter?

Kunioku: No I don’t choose fighter. If I have a chance, I’ll fight anybody from there.

Masa: So you want to showcase your skill at first time?

Kunioku: Yes, exactly. And if I fight good, earn a good record, then I’d have a bright future. So I want to earn win record one by one. Oh, no, my bad. I’d like to fight BJ [Penn]. BJ is very strong guy. It doesn’t have to be directly BJ fight. I can have several step matches to fight BJ. But eventually I want to fight BJ. I want to challenge him. I don’t say he’s an easy opponent at all. But this is my challenge. Because he’s the best now, I want to challenge him.
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