Yuta “Ulka” Sasaki
Pro Record: 20-4-2
Association: Wajutsu Keishukai Suruga
Weight Class: Flyweight/Bantamweight/Featherweight
In this week’s addition of Fighter of the Week we take a look at Japanese fighter, Yuta Sasaki, who was able to fend off early aggression by Justin Scoggins this past weekend at UFC Fight Night 111 and win by finish in the second round. This win evened Sasaki’s record in the UFC at 3-3 after he dropped below .500 after recent close decision loss to title contender Wilson Reis. If Sasaki is nothing else, he is certainly entertaining. The “flashy” Sasaki seems to buck the trend of modest and respectful Japanese fighters, prompting intense stare downs at weigh-ins, over-the-top- theatrics, and showing a sense of cockiness in his fights with tongue wags and other motions to attempt to throw his opponents off their game. Something he said helped in his win versus Scoggins, stating being aggressive at the weigh-in made Scoggins more aggressive early in their fight than he otherwise may have been. Let’s take a closer look at Sasaki’s path to the UFC.
Sasaki had an extremely successful start to his MMA career in his native Japan. He’d use his Shootfighting and Submission Wrestling background to win seven out of eight of his first career fights, mostly in the popular Shooto promotion (which started streaming a few shows on UFC Fight Pass last year), with the one coming in a draw. During this time he would win the 2010 Shooto Rookie Championship at 143 lbs. It wasn’t until he faced American veteran Guy Delumeau in his 9th career fight that he would taste defeat, losing by decision. Sasaki, however, wouldn’t lose again for some time as he went on an absolute tear, never tasting defeat again in the promotion, on his way to winning the Shooto Pacific Rim Championship at 132 lbs. Sasaki defended his belt once, an 11 second victory by KO, which marked the first time in 16 fights the grappling specialist had finished a fight with strikes.
It didn’t take long for the UFC to take notice and reach out to the young star. Sasaki to that point in his career was considered one of the (if not the) best prospect in all of Japan along with Kyoji Horiguchi and Michinori Tanaka. Horiguchi and Tanaka had already been signed and had successful debuts in their UFC careers when Sasaki was signed in July of 2014. Sasaki would make his much-anticipated debut at UFC Fight Night 48 (Bisping vs. Le) in Macau vs. Roland Delorme. Ironically, it was Delorme who would fall to Sasaki’s friend Tanaka in Tanaka’s UFC debut just two months earlier. Sasaki, like his friend Tanaka, would do some training at Team Alpha Male prior to his UFC debut. His opponent Delorme is probably best known for being on TUF 14 and losing to TJ Dillashaw by rear-naked-choke after his successful fight to get ‘into the house’. Sasaki would also defeat Delorme by rear-naked-choke early in the first round by taking his opponents back and taking the fight to the ground for a quick tap giving Delorme his third straight defeat in the promotion and subsequently forcing his release from the UFC. Sasaki, for his part, would earn Performance of the Night bonus and his eighth straight victory in the process.
Sasaki’s next two fights wouldn’t go as well as his debut. In his second UFC fight, favorite Sasaki would lose to 3rd degree BJJ blackbelt and underdog Leandro Issa in a fight that showed high level grappling between the two specialists. After submission attempts by both fighters, Issa would eventually get Sasaki’s back and getting a neck crank forcing Sasaki to tap. Following this fight Sasaki would again lose to an underdog, this time to Taylor Lapilus by TKO. Sasaki clearly didn’t want to stand with Lapilus, attempting multiple takedowns, which were unsuccessful. Lapilus would eventually catch Sasaki after one of those attempts sending him to the floor and landing a couple of more strikes before it was called. In his next fight, Sasaki would move down in weight and have a successful flyweight debut in a submission win over Willie Gates. Sasaki was a replacement for Paddy Holohan, who was forced to retire due to a rare blood disorder. The win would setup a fight with Matheus Nicolau at UFC Fight Night 100, however Sasaki was removed from the card after Nicolau faced a USADA violation. Instead, Sasaki would get a shot at Wilson Reis at UFC 208. Reis had been expected to face champ Demtrious Johnson, but injury forced Johnson to withdraw. Instead of waiting, Reis wanted to “stay fresh” and took the fight with Sasaki. Sasaki made it interesting early, but eventually would lose a decision thanks to Reis’ advance grappling and submission attempts.
Despite the loss, Sasaki had to feel good taking a title-challenger the distance. If he was feeling ill-effects from losing to Reis, you couldn’t tell in his fight with Justin Scoggins this past weekend at UFC Fight Night 111. Scoggins had the better of the exchanges early and was aggressive out of the gate. Sasaki was able to weather the storm and eventually took advantage of Scoggins risk taking style and sunk in a rear-naked-choke in the second round, the same move that has seen all of Sasaki’s UFC victories. The win would earn Sasaki his second career Performance of the Night bonus. So, what’s next for Sasaki? He made no secret about what he wants. First, he wants to fight at the UFC Fight Night expected to take place in Japan in September. Second, he said Scoggins defeated Ray Borg and that’s whom he wants next. I think with his results since moving down to the flyweight division and this fight with Scoggins proves he earned a crack at another ranked opponent.