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Tatsuro Taira Hopes to Become First Japanese UFC Champion



Heading into the UFC on ESPN 58 main event, Tatsuro Taira had designs on testing himself in the championship rounds.

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That goal ultimately went unrealized when opponent Alex Perez suffered a knee injury, resulting in a technical knockout victory for the Japanese prospect at the 2:59 mark of Round 2. The finishing sequence occurred after Taira executed a standing back take and then dragged Perez to the canvas, a move that resulted in his opponent wrenching his knee on the way down to the floor.

“I came here to fight all five rounds. I haven’t got to fight all five rounds yet,” Taira said through a translator at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “It’s a shame he got injured, but I am happy with the win.”

As the flyweights fell to the canvas, Taira wasn’t initially aware of what had happened to his opponent.

“Actually, I didn’t realize that [he was injured],” Taira said. “I was trying to get his back and trying to finish. Then he [started] screaming out, and I realized he was injured.

Regardless of how the victory was earned, it was the most significant victory to date for Taira, who has won five in a row in UFC competition at 125 pounds and is 16-0 as a professional overall. With that, the Black Belt Japan product enters the top tier of contenders in the division. Taira is already targeting a title shot against reigning champion Alexandre Pantoja, though a UFC 304 matchup between Muhammad Mokaev and Manel Kape also has serious championship implications.

“I want to fight against Pantoja this year, but actually I really want to see who wins between Kape and Mokaev,” Taira said.

In an ideal world, Taira would get that opportunity on home soil.

“I will be very happy if I can fight my title shot against Pantoja in Japan and become the first Japanese [UFC] champion,” he said.
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