The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled sports events, closed schools, and gyms that prevented athletes from training but not for Itsuki “Strong Heart Fighter” Hirata.
Hirata joined ONE Championship undefeated and has added three more victories since then. With Japan encouraging the citizens to stay at home, Hirata found a way to keep herself in shape and competition ready.
“I am training with my older brother. I’m running, hitting mitts, doing core training, and so on,” she explains.
“We have never trained together this much before. My brother was staying in dormitories and he didn’t live with us. He has just graduated from university, and now he is back at our home.
“Although I avoid going out, I actually feel like I am focusing on training more than before!”
His older brother, Naoki Hirata, is a sharp judoka who recently graduated as a junior high at Kokushikan University has been helping her out during the quarantine period.
“He is so strict, like a drill sergeant. He is the type of guy who never cuts corners. He pushes me hard,” the atomweight continues.
“He is so good at the ground game. When I was doing judo, I learned the ground game almost exclusively from my brother. Even now, we practice some moves together.
“He normally coaches me on groundwork about a month before my bouts. He is like my teacher. We didn’t live together except when I had bouts, but now he lives with us.”
Hirata’s daily training regimen has kept her in top shape and ready to face the top-tiered athletes in her division.
“I don’t really care [who I face]. I want to be ready for whoever I get. But I think it is probable to face Stamp Fairtex and Mei ‘V.V.’ Yamaguchi,” she offers.
One of the athletes she has her eye on is Yamaguchi who shares a lot of similarities with the 20-year-old Japanese.
“Now we are in the same weight class and from the same country. I want to face her someday,” Hirata says.
“Mei-san is good at jiu-jitsu and the ground game. Also, she can do striking because she has a karate background, but I don’t have any [game plan] right now.”
Another athlete Hirata is looking forward to sharing the ONE Circle with is ONE Super Series Atomweight Muay Thai World Champion Stamp Fairtex. The K-Clann representative believes that there are still some skills she needs to polish to guarantee her victory.
“I don’t know how much athletes can practice in Thailand now, but I do not think I can win [if I faced Stamp] now. But also, part of me wants to try and see how I can do,” the K-Clann representative adds.
“I am good at groundwork, so I would win by groundwork. Maybe she would want to keep the fight standing, so I need to think about how I can get things to the mat.
“I think I need to improve my striking, but also I need more practice on my ground game. I want to [develop] my technique, and I am focusing on that right now. I want to learn more moves — takedowns, and throws, too.”
Despite having two challenging athletes in her list, Hirata is looking forward to dealing with her unfinished business with Bi Nguyen. Hirata was set to face Nguyen at ONE: WARRIOR’S CODE in February, but the latter had to withdraw due to injuries.
“I wanted to fight with Nguyen. She withdrew from the bout two weeks before, so if the timing allows, I want to try. I was training my striking a lot and since she is a southpaw, I was training with a left-handed athlete. I was confident,” she explains.
It is yet unclear when the quarantine will end. In the meantime, Hirata is making the most of her time at home training for her next bout.
“I want to do the bout which gives the most energy to everyone,” she asserts.