Yosuke Saruta does not have to look far for motivation.
Saruta will complete his trilogy with Joshua Pacio when he challenges the Filipino star for the undisputed strawweight title in the One Championship “Revolution” co-feature on Friday at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. The rivals have gone to battle twice previously: Saruta defeated the Lakay MMA rep by split decision at “Eternal Glory” on Jan. 19, 2019, then lost their rematch when he was felled by a fourth-round head kick at “Roots of Honor” three months later. The 34-year-old challenger has rattled off three straight victories since, including a unanimous decision over Yoshitaka Naito at a Shooto event in September 2020.
As Saruta moves toward his third encounter with Pacio, here are five things you might not know about the Kawaguchi, Japan native:
1. An icon brought about his transition to MMA.
Saruta once dreamt of competing in the Olympics as a gymnast. However, as a teenager, he saw a fight featuring the legendary Norifumi Yamamoto and was inspired to pursue mixed martial arts. Yamamoto won the 2005 K-1 Hero’s middleweight grand prix and went on to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He died of stomach cancer in 2018 at the age of 41.
2. He has walked among the elite.
“Tobizaru No. 2” remains one of only eight men who have held the Shooto flyweight championship. Naito, Rambaa Somdet, Junji Ikoma, Mikihito Yamagami, Shinya Murofushi, Ryohei Kurosawa and Hiroshi Minowa are the others. Saruta captured the 114-pound crown with a fourth-round knockout of Ryuto Sawada on Oct. 15, 2017, made one successful title defense and then vacated the belt to sign with One Championship.
3. Accomplished contemporaries surround him.
Saruta operates out of the Wajutsu Keishukai HEARTS studio in Tokyo, where he trains under World Extreme Cagefighting veteran Kenji Osawa, onetime Deep champion Hiroto Uesako, former Shooto headliner Tateo Iino and fellow One Championship alum Kimihiro Eto. He boasts a 14-5-1 record since he joined the camp in 2014.
4. He weaponized his cardio.
The onetime Shooto champion has gone the distance 19 times in his 33-fight career and owns a 13-3-3 mark in those bouts. Saruta has six other wins by knockout or technical knockout and two more by submission. Hiromasa Ougikubo, Hayato Suzuki and Ryuichi Miki are the only opponents to beat him on the scorecards.
5. Uncharted territory does not spook him.
The trilogy with Pacio will be Saruta’s first. He went 0-1-1 against Miki and 0-1-1 against Nozomi Otsuka but did not face either man for a third time.
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