Takada Dojo's super-rookie, Kazuhiro Hamanaka has made a declaration: Team Japan will win all of their matches. Hamanaka held a press conference at Takada Dojo following a trip he made to the United States. It appears that his three weeks of training with Team Quest has given him a lot of confidence.

"You can't really change technically in 3 weeks but I guess I've changed in a mental way", said Hamanaka following a sparring session with Kazushi Sakuraba.

"I could get top position and hold him down before but he has become more serious," Sakuraba evaluated Hamanaka. "Today he was able to pass my guard and work for submissions."

Hamanaka's improvement in his sparring against Sakuraba was a result of the 10 rounds of sparring he did each day with Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, and Matt Lindland ... a total of 150 rounds during his training trip. Hamanaka was clearly giving Sakuraba problems as he scored takedowns, throws, guard passes and achieving the mount position.




According to Hamanaka, he heard that he would be fighting Ryan Gracie during his trip to America. "I'm not nervous. I just want to fight and do my best." Seemingly without fear of the most violent member of the Gracie family, Hamanaka added, "Ryan is a really aggressive fighter. I'll have to attack from the sides, avoid going straight in and watch out for his joint locks. Sakuraba also warned me to be careful of leg-locks because I wear wrestling shoes."

Hamanaka also gave his opinion on Ryan's weak points. "His tackles are fast for a jiu-jitsu fighter but they are easy to see because he always moves in straight lines. That's where I want to punch him. I'll win by submission or KO." He also added that there was no change in his basic strategy as far as always moving forward. He plans on avoiding Ryan's initial attack and then attacking rapidly with strikes. If Ryan goes for a tackle then, Hamanaka said he might go for a choke.

"I'm going to do my best to destroy him. There are a lot of jiu-jitsu based fighters this time and I want to show how strong wrestling really is." Although Hamanaka was able to concentrate on his training during his trip to Team Quest's Oregon gym, there were moments when the great outdoors seemed to get the best of him. "There's nothing to do there so on Saturday and Sunday, everybody just sits around and watches TV."

Hamanaka's goal for this training trip was to pick up a single technique that he could win with. He declined to comment when reporters asked what the technique is, however, there were clues to be found on the Takada Dojo Official Homepage. "I did a lot of work on mixing striking and wrestling movements this time. Dan Henderson taught me how to punch from the clinch."

Henderson's standing strategy has largely been to lock his opponent's neck with one hand, make them lose their balance and hit them with uppercuts and hooks. This technique, which has given problems to many strong fighters, may be Hamanaka's new move.

There's a big possibility that Hamanaka will be the main match of the Gracie vs. Japan match-ups. He, however, has faith in his countrymen, "I think all of the Japanese fighters are going to win. I believe that the strength of the Japanese will shine at this event."

Kazushi Sakuraba: I think this will be completely different from when I fought Ryan. I doubt Ryan will go after leg-locks but since Hamanaka will wear shoes, he should be careful. There's a good chance that Ryan will just rush in and Hamanaka's chances will improve the longer he can fend him off. Personally, Ralph looks like the strongest one. (Sakuraba, asked about his own condition) I'm at about 80% of where I was before the fight. I'm getting ready to increase my training level and get myself in shape so that I'll always be ready to fight.