Itsuki Hirata’s Return Comes On A Smaller Stage Than Usual

Itsuki Hirata does a pose in the ring, gesturing towards her opponent. Itsuki Hirata will make her return to action on Monday Photo Credit: ONE Championship

Itsuki Hirata (3-0) has spent her three-fight pro career with a big spotlight on her. Competing under the big lights and crowds that ONE Championship brings, she has had more eyes on her than most fighters that only have a trio of pro wins to her name.

Her upcoming bout won’t be that, as Hirata’s return on Monday will see her compete in a much smaller setting. The strawweight prospect is set to headline a “Road To ONE” card in Tokyo, Japan, fighting Miku Nakamura (3-3) at the small and intimate Tsutaya O-East venue.

The fight is Hirata’s return to action after a year outside of the cage. The start to her pro career showcased everything a promotion could want from a fighter: She has an exciting style, finished fights and even showcased her charisma during bouts. Hirata had a fairly busy rookie year as a pro, competing three times and stopping all opponents.

Hirata is now returning after a year outside of the cage.

Her last fight was in February of 2020, where she showcased control on the ground and leveraged that skill to put together brutal ground and pound on Nyrene Crowley. After a high volume of shots landed throughout the fight, the referee made the call to stop the fight in the 14th minute. The bout was the first time Hirata had fought into the third round, although she avoided going the complete distance.

Hirata showed her submission skills in her previous fights, stopping both of her past opponents with submissions. Targeting the arms, Hirata was able to submit Rika Ishige with an armbar and Angelie Sabanal with an Americana. The submissions made sense when looking at her short career before she went pro that includes armbars, kimuras and armlocks.

What do we know about Nakamura?

Nakamura’s last win tested her, as she had to overcome the wrestling skills that AACC gym’s Otoha Nagao brought to the cage. While she was able to connect with striking that did damage, she often found herself kept against the cage or taken down. She was able to adapt to this at points, securing a guillotine choke late in the first round as Nagao shot for a takedown. Nakamura has lost since then, dropping a majority decision bout to Miyuki Furusawa in December. 

If there’s two things that Nakamura has over Hirata, it would be pro fight experience and recent activity. The majority of Nakamura’s pro-fight career has taken place since Hirata last competed. Nakamura fought four times in 2020, earning two wins and two losses. While she has a rockier record than Hirata, she has put down 43 minutes of cage time as a pro, which is more than Hirata’s 26-minute career so far. Of course this statistic can only go so far, if any distance, as it does not measure the amount of training and improvements that either fighter has made.

If there’s something to look out for Monday, it would be what has changed about Hirata. With a year outside of the cage this early into her career, Hirata could bring large changes to her style on Monday.

Like Hirata, Nakamura has yet to fight a complete three rounds in MMA. With most of her previous fights being booked for only two rounds, her sole fight that was scheduled for three rounds only lasted two. Should the fight go into relatively deep waters for either fighter, it should be an interesting test.

Other things to look out for at ‘Road to ONE’

Monday’s card is not solely the Hirata show. Sure, the poster for the event is only her and she is the largest name on the card, but undefeated talent like Koyuru Tanoue or kickboxer Shoa Arii are also names to look out for in the nine-fight lineup.