Japan’s BJJ Standout Wins Pro MMA Debut

By Jordan Breen Feb 15, 2010
It didn't exactly come with the sound and fury expected when an elite grappler makes the transition to MMA. However, Sunday in Sapporo, Japan's most accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor made a successful pro MMA debut.

Yusuke Honma is not a familiar name to MMA fans. Even to grappling fans, he may lack the cachet of Shinya Aoki, Satoru Kitaoka or Masakazu Imanari. However, no Japanese competitor has had a higher level of success in strict BJJ than the 28-year-old Hokkaido native.

After winning the All-Japan amateur Shooto championships at 123 pounds in September, Honma made his first pro outing quick and easy at "Gig North 5" on Sunday. It took him only 67 seconds to tap opponent Isao Yoshida with a guillotine choke to advance to the next round of this year's 123-pound Shooto rookie tournament.

In 2007, Honma became the first Japanese competitor to reach a final in the black belt division at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships, where he was submitted in the rooster class (127 pounds) final by Bruno Malfacine. A year later, he again reached the finals at the Mundials, but was defeated by Caio Terra 6-4 on points after a late sweep. Honma's pair of silver medals at the Mundials represent the greatest level of achievement in BJJ competition any Japanese competitor has reached to this point.

Each September, after the All-Japan amateur Shooto championships are over, I e-mail Toshiharu Suzuki, the secretary general of the International Shooto Commission, who has patrolled the ring as Shooto's lead referee for eons. Though I know he can never be completely forthright, I'm always interested in his appraisal of the fighters about to head into Shooto's pro ranks.

"We promoted 37 people to professional Shooto this year, but the fighter to pay most attention to is Yusuke Honma," he told me. "His victory in the championship was without danger at all."

With headgear, no ground-and-pound and a position-based points system on the ground, the rules of amateur Shooto profoundly favor strong grapplers. Resultantly, many amateur Shooto champions have failed to find great success in the much rougher pro ranks. For instance, Ayumu Shioda dominated the amateur Shooto circuit in 2004 with his BJJ black belt, but has largely struggled to put his grappling to good use in the pro ranks.

A 67-second pro debut won't tell us whether or not Honma can become an elite flyweight, but we should get an answer as he continues on in the Shooto rookie tournament this year.
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