Hiroyuki Takaya didn’t earn a nickname like “Streetfight Bancho” for nothing. “Bancho” is a rather cryptic reference to a Japanese ghost tale, where a Samurai is haunted by the unrequited lover he murdered. But what it all means for Takaya is that his hard-nosed style has the lethal edge of a street fight that can haunt his opponents.
The featherweight started his career in Shooto in 2003 like so many outstanding Japanese contemporaries. Get hit with a Takaya strike like Stephen Palling or Hatsu Hioki, and expect to touch down on the mat. The Land of the Rising Sun is a grapple-centric country, but Takaya prefers to steal fights by stealing his opponent’s consciousness.
Great success in his Shooto career saw Takaya move up to 155 pounds to challenge the likes of Genki Sudo in K-1 Hero’s. Fighting a weight class above, Takaya suffered. Gesias Cavalcante had no interest in feeling Takaya’s power and put him out with a flying knee in 30 seconds. Andre “Dida” Amade followed suit and broke his nose, ending the fight suddenly and soundly. Mixed results for the promising upstart forced him back down to featherweight, where he brutalized Jarrod Card in Japanese fenced organization Cage Force before battling Antonio Carvalho in a classic 2007 Shooto bout.
The Canadian nearly finished Takaya. However, Takaya’s eight-point attack answered Carvalho correctly, emphatically, securing a third-round stoppage and a spot near the top of the featherweight world. The win earned him a plane ticket stateside and a rude awakening courtesy of Leonard Garcia’s strikes in less than two minutes at WEC 32 in Albuquerque, NM, in 2008.
Takaya had earned a reputation as a “Top-10” competitor prior to the bout and, like many Japanese North American imports before him, had failed to perform. He made up for it by earning “Fight of the Night” honors with Cub Swanson at WEC 37. However, the decision loss to the Southern Californian put Takaya back on a plane BY DANNY ACOSTA // PHOTOS BY SUSUMU NAGAO to Japan with the WEC in the past and an uncertain future at the elite level.
Takaya seemed to be another stateside bust, but the “Streetfight Bancho” reclaimed his spot among the best in Dream’s 139-pound featherweight tournament. He stopped Jong Won Kim.
Then he faced a major challenge in WEC bantamweight title challenger Yoshiro Maeda. Maeda, also considered one of the best in the world, lost his last two WEC bouts like Takaya and entered the Dream tournament. After eating two of Maeda’s knees to the head while downed — a legal move in Japan — Takaya came back to land a decisive overhand right and advanced to the semifinals.
The wins brought about more of Takaya’s attitude: He’s a motorcycle-riding, tattoosporting — a major taboo in Japan because of its Yakuza connotations — finish-or-befi nished fighter.
An inexperienced but overtly talented Bibiano Fernandes and deceivingly dangerous Hideo Tokoro stand in Takaya’s way en route to recapturing the luster the WEC stole from him. Emerging tournament favorite, Joe Warren, would be Takaya’s sternest style test. The Olympic-level American wrestler out of Team Quest is only 2-0 in his MMA career, both fights coming in the tournament. The quality of his opponents — former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe and Japanese super-soldier, expected tournament king “Kid” Yamamoto — prove Warren’s worth as tournament favorite.
Takaya’s killer instinct and classic bout with Carvalho reveals what he’s capable of doing to elite fighters, though. Winning such a grueling gauntlet would be either a DREAM or a nightmare.