Japan is one of the most notable countries to influence the modern adoption of mixed martial arts, with PRIDE FC being one of the biggest MMA promotions globally in the 90s and early 00s.
It’s no wonder that fans worldwide are often looking for the next Japanese star to emerge and compete at the highest level in the UFC.
In this article, I’ll list out a selection of the best Japanese UFC fighters of all time. First up, a young undefeated prospect wins an early spot…
13. Tatsuro Taira
Tatsuro Taira is an up-and-coming Flyweight currently fighting in the UFC.
He is one of the youngest fighters on the roster at only 22 years of age.
Currently undefeated, he won his second fight in the UFC in October 2022 with a well-executed armbar against CJ Vergara.
As a young prospect, Taira looks good and has excellent potential.
As his career progresses, he may also rise in the ranks on this list of Japanese fighters.
12. Tatsuya Kawajiri
Tatsuya Kawajiri is a kickboxer turned mixed martial artist from Ibaragi, Japan. He improved his arsenal by learning Shooto and earned the rank of A-class.
He had a 3-3 record during his UFC run. His most notable win was against the German featherweight Dennis Siver.
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After his loss to Cub Swanson in 2016, he requested to be released from the company.
11. Keita Nakamura
Keita Nakamura is an MMA fighter from Tokyo, Japan.
He fought in the UFC with a record of 4-7. His first run with the company was not impressive, as he lost 3 straight fights and was cut immediately.
He returned to the UFC in 2015 when he finished the welterweight contender, “The Leech” Li Jingliang, earning him a performance of the night bonus.
At 38 years old, he is still actively fighting for a different promotion, RIZIN.
10. Takanori Gomi
Raised in Kanagawa, Japan, Takanori Gomi is a mixed martial artist who combines his shootfighting, wrestling, and boxing skills.
He rose to fame in his run with Pride FC, where he is the only Pride Lightweight champion in history.
He is regarded as one of the best lightweight fighters during his prime. Known as the Fireball kid, he gained a 10-fight winning streak, the longest in the company’s history.
However, he was unsuccessful in the UFC, with 4 wins and 9 losses. His most notable opponents in the UFC were Clay Guida and Nate Diaz.
9. Hatsu Hioki
As a black belt in BJJ, Hatsu Hioki finished 13 out of his 29 wins via submission.
Hioki has a UFC record of 3-5. He was a title contender, but he turned it down to face Ricardo Lamas on June 2012.
He suffered his first MMA loss via finish when he faced former UFC Lightweight Champion Charles Oliveira, where he was caught in an anaconda choke.
8. Tsuyoshi Kosaka
Tsuyoshi Kosaka is a 4th-degree black belt in Judo and a 1st-degree black belt in BJJ.
He rose into mainstream media when he was the first to defeat one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, Fedor “the Emperor” Emelianenko.
He was a legend in two Japanese promotions: RINGS and Pride FC.
He met moderate success in the UFC during its early years. Winning 3 and losing 3 at the same time.
His most memorable fight was his loss to Bass Rutten, where he dominated the fight until they were forced to stand up after a lengthy ground battle. He then lost via TKO.
7. Teruto Ishihara
Rising out of Kagoshima, Japan, Teruto Ishihara uses his skills in shootfighting and kickboxing.
Spending 4 years in the UFC, he managed to get a record of 3 wins and 5 losses.
He won via 2 straight knockouts in the early rounds; however, he faced adversity as he rose up in the rankings. He lost to notable opponents like Artem Lobov, Petr Yan, and Gray Maynard.
Kyoji Horiguchi stands out the most with a UFC record of 7-1.
Horiguchi is an A-class Shootist and a 2nd-degree black belt in Shotokan Karate.
He is currently fighting in the bantamweight division of Bellator MMA and formerly competed as a flyweight in the UFC.
He spent 3 years in the UFC, where he only lost once. After 4 straight wins, he challenged Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the flyweight belt but fell short after a submission loss.
His loss to Johnson is still in the record books of the UFC for the second latest finish with 4:59 in the 5th round with literally one second left in the clock.
5. Takeya Mizugaki
Takeya Mizugaki is a bantamweight fighter from Ibaragi, Japan. Mizugaki has spent 6 years in the UFC and met moderate success.
He combines his skills in judo and boxing in his fights. He was signed to the UFC as part of the WEC merger.
Takeya Mizugaki has an 8-6 record in the UFC. 3 out of 6 of his losses were from future UFC bantamweight champions: Aljamain Sterling, Cody Garbrandt, and Dominick Cruz.
His longest winning streak in the company is 5 wins which spanned from November 2012 to May 2014.
4. Kazushi Sakuraba
Kazushi Sakuraba is widely regarded as one of the greatest Japanese fighters. He is a submission wrestler, mixed martial artist, and a professional (showbiz) wrestler.
Sakuraba has succeeded in multiple fight organizations, such as K-1 and UFC, but his prime years were spent in Pride FC.
Despite only having one UFC fight, Kazushi Sakuraba deserves this spot high up in this list because of his influence.
He is the first Japanese UFC champion and one of the last UFC tournament champions.
In his career, he was known as “the Gracie Hunter” because he defeated 4 of the Gracie family, Royler, Renzo, Ryan, and Royce.
He also defeated legends like Rampage Jackson, Ken Shamrock, and Vitor Belfort.
3. Caol Uno
Born and raised in Kanagawa, Japan, Caol Uno was one of the best grapplers during his prime. Uno is an A-class Shootist and black belt in both Judo and Jiu-jitsu.
Despite having a 3-3 record in the UFC, his impact on the organization was not overlooked as he served as one of the pioneers of the UFC lightweight division.
Uno has challenged the lightweight title twice in his career. He faced Jens Pulver in the inaugural UFC lightweight championship, losing via decision.
He also had another shot but came short as he fought “The Prodigy” B.J Penn, where he did not get the title via split decision draw.
2. Yushin Okami
Yushin Okami, aka Thunder, is a Japanese Mixed Martial Artist from Kanagawa, Japan, known for his career in the UFC and ONE Championship.
Throughout his career in the UFC, Okami has managed to win 14 and lose 7 fights.
His notable wins are Mark Munoz, Nate Marquardt, and Hector Lombard. He also lost to UFC legends like Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen.
Yushin Okami came close to the belt but lost to prime Anderson Silva in the Brazilian’s 9th title defense. Before this, Okami has a win against Silva via disqualification.
Fun Fact: Yushin Okami was used as an inspiration in designing Eren Jaeger’s titan form in the famous anime Attack on Titan.
1. Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida is a half-Japanese half-Brazilian Mixed Martial Artist. He is a son of a Shotokan Karate Master, Yoshido Machida.
Despite being born in Brazil, Lyoto honors his Japanese blood by practicing Karate at 3 years old and getting his black belt at 13.
Lyoto utilized his karate arsenal, succeeding in his tenure in the UFC. His style granted him flashy knockouts with kicks.
When he beat UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, Machida became the UFC light heavyweight champion. His UFC record is 16 wins and 8 losses.
His most notable wins are Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, Randy Couture, Chael Sonnen, and more. His most memorable highlight was his front kick that knocked out Vitor Belfort in 2018.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.