As a young boy, Ryuto “Dragon Boy” Sawada longed to compete in a leading mixed martial arts organization. This is no longer the case for the Japanese athlete.
The bright lights and big stage are but a small part of Sawada’s big martial arts goals.
“I’ve been training hard for 10 months in preparation for this match,” Sawada said. “I’m a little nervous, but I’m focused and ready.”
Sawada’s journey to reach the global stage of martial arts is no fantasy, but rather a tale of hard work and sacrifice.
Back in Japan, “Dragon Boy” had to support himself financially by working at a beef bowl store during the day, while he tenderized limbs at night teaching youth wrestling and martial arts at Tokyo’s famed Abe Ani Combat Club (AACC).
His appetite for success on the Japanese Shooto circuit led to a scouting call on Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series (OWS), where Sawada racked up back-to-back submission wins.
Sawada took things a step further by enrolling in the Evolve Fight Team’s global tryouts last November. He impressed and earned a spot on the squad, being just one of six competitors selected out of the thousands of applicants.
Moving to Singapore and Evolve meant coming under the gaze of the gym’s world champion instructors – an invaluable opportunity to further improve his skills.
For “Dragon Boy” though, it also meant leaving behind the lair he had built in Japan, where he played young apprentice to AACC coach and longtime mentor Hiroyuki Abe.
Sharing the gym mats with teammate and martial arts legend Megumi Fuji are some of his cherished memories.
But whether Sawada left Japan or not, his focus remains on winning. And despite giving up the luxuries of being home, he is still training hard and preparing with his new coaches in Singapore.
“I am constantly discussing with the coaches and my teammates at Evolve MMA on finding tactics we can use to overcome my opponent as he’s bigger than me,” the 23-year-old said.
Lacking the height and length of the taller Calim, Sawada compensates with his phenomenal takedowns and grappling ability, setting up his opponents for the finish.
“We’re working on my strikes and takedowns, and ways to control the fight,” Sawada explained. “I’ve been training and focusing on how to get out of his range. I will definitely take him down and I want to finish him off quickly.”
His predictions could play out exactly that way. Nine of Sawada’s eleven wins have come via stoppages and his six submissions wins make the Japanese strawweight a force to be reckoned with inside the Circle.
Or it could be baptism by fire for Sawada. Either way, the Tokyo native has come too far to leave anything to chance. The better prepared he is, the more he knows victory is on his side.
To that end, Sawada has paired up with veteran and teammate Alex “Little Rock” Silva in training.
Having a partner in Silva, who is one of the foremost BJJ experts in martial arts and who is competing on the same card, adds another layer of confidence for the young Japanese.
“He is a great training partner and we’ve been spurring each other on in preparation for our respective fights,” Sawada said.
If “Dragon Boy” scores the win here, it will be a roaring start to his ONE journey as he sets a flight path towards greater things.
“I’m focused on making a mark and winning my first match,” Sawada said. “After which, I will work towards getting a title shot.”
Want to catch the latest action from ONE Championship? Watch ONE: DREAMS OF GOLD on Friday, 16 August on Toggle at 9:30pm Singapore Standard Time.
At 10:00pm SGT, Channel 5 will cut into the live broadcast, just in time for the co-main event and main event.
To see the prelims, download the ONE Super App and tune in 6:00pm SGT.
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