Olympic judo heavyweight champion Satoshi Ishii plans to join the U.S.-based Ultimate Fighting Championship next year, bypassing domestic competitions. The 21-year-old university student disappointed Japan's judo circles last month when he announced a switch to the cash-laden world of mixed martial arts three months after his gold-medal feat in his Olympic debut in Beijing.
"I have had UFC on my mind as my ultimate goal," Ishii was quoted as saying by the Nikkan Sports daily Wednesday.
"I had thought about fighting a few matches in Japan at first. But if this were train travel, my credentials would be an express ticket. I wonder why I should bother to go by a slow train," he said.
Ishii said UFC was "what (U.S.) Major Leagues are to baseball."
"There are many strong fighters in the heavyweight rank. I think it's the real thing."
But Ishii, due to graduate from Tokyo's Kokushikan University in March, said he had not yet started talks with UFC.
UFC, packaged as a no-holds-barred sport with matches fought in a octagonal caged ring, is considered the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world with growing popularity worldwide via television.
"I want to go to the United States around next March and make sure I can get used to the environment and go on without accumulating stress," he told the daily. "I'll make my debut next summer or autumn at the earliest."
Ishii, relatively small for a judo heavyweight at 181 centimeters and 110 kilograms, has long expressed his wish to compete in mixed martial arts, which combines techniques from judo, karate, kick-boxing and wrestling.
He had been reportedly lured by DREAM and other Japanese mixed martial arts organizations.
Ishii was one of the only two Japanese who made the podium in men's judo as Japan registered a record-low Olympic medal haul in the sport at the Beijing Games.
Japan's judo establishment fears that Ishii, who has irritated judo purists with his no-holds-barred style, could inspire others to follow him into a sport full of colorful figures, in which his earnings could easily top 100 million yen per match.© Wire reports