Hayato Suzuki has some lofty goals. The undefeated grappler has tore through the Japanese martial arts scene, accumulating an impeccable 16-0-2 professional record and picking up the Grachan Flyweight Title along the way.
Now, the 31-year-old veteran is looking to realize his full potential in ONE Championship and conquer a pair of weight classes.
On Saturday, 5 August, Suzuki will take the first step in stating his case. He will make his highly-anticipated promotional debut against Team Lakay’s Joshua Pacio in a strawweight battle at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS, live from the Cotai Arena in Macao.
“Joshua (Pacio) has good ground control, but I will be dominant everywhere. I will definitely win with my submission techniques,” he says confidently, before listing his grand post-fight plans. “After winning the upcoming match, I want to challenge for a title. I want the belt in both the strawweight and flyweight divisions of ONE Championship.”
That could be considered a surprising development, because at one point, the Japanese grappler was not a fan of martial arts.
Born and raised in Takahagi City, Ibaraki, a young Suzuki became interested in wrestling during high school. He attended practices, but did not compete until he reached the collegiate level. Once he attended Nippon Sport Science University in Tokyo, he officially joined the school’s wrestling squad.
“I started to do wrestling in university,” he says, with his crowning achievement being a fifth place finish at the All-Japan College Championship. “I think destiny made me start wrestling. To take down an opponent is a thrill for me.”
Destiny eventually led him from wrestling to mixed martial arts. Initially, Suzuki did not connect with the sport. But one of his good friends provided him with a fresh outlook that would completely change his perspective.
“I got fascinated by it,” he continues. “I was introduced to Brave Gym by one of my senior wrestlers. My focus was on wrestling rather than mixed martial arts at first.”
That was the mentality he carried into his professional debut back in October 2012. He was successful, too, submitting his opponent via rear-naked choke three minutes and six seconds into the contest. However, despite getting the victory, he learnt a valuable lesson.
“I underestimated mixed martial arts at first,” he says, realizing the importance to build upon his wrestling base. “I then learned I had to incorporate different styles after my first match.”
Suzuki rededicated himself to training, and studied different elements of the martial arts at Brave Gym.
“I improved my techniques and speed, and learned how to finish in different ways effectively,” he explains. “I never set out to maintain a winning mindset. I just wanted to try my best to win every match.”
The Japanese combatant accomplished that task. He racked up a professional record of 16-0-2, with six wins coming by submission and another five by TKO. One of those TKO victories earned him the Grachan Flyweight Championship in April 2014, and he never let the belt leave his waist.
Amidst all of his success, he nearly stepped away from the sport and mulled retirement following his most recent victory this past February.
“I injured my neck and shoulder,” he reveals. “I thought I would not be able to fight anymore”
Suzuki is a determined individual, however. He has that infamously-tough wrestler’s grit, and a burning desire to prove he is the best combat sports athlete in the world. That motivated him to overcome his injuries and to test his skills in ONE Championship
“I really want to challenge at ONE. That made me revive,” he states. “I wanted to fight on the big stage. For me, the big stage is ONE, and ONE is the place where I could shine the most.”
The Ibaraki native’s next shining moment could happen at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS, when he takes on a former strawweight title challenger in Pacio.
To prepare for the contest, Suzuki is getting into tip-top shape at Brave Gym. He begins his day at noon with an hour and a half session, followed by thirty minutes of strength and conditioning, and has a long break before returning to the gym at 7 PM for a three-hour practice.
All of that training will be needed if he wants to defeat Pacio and achieve his lofty goals of becoming both the ONE Strawweight World Champion, and eventually, the flyweight title as well.
It is quite the undertaking, but Suzuki is up to the task. As he says, mixed martial arts “is my life.”