Unrealized by many, Takeya Mizugaki has become one of the longest tenured fighters Zuffa’s 145-pound fold.
He’s only been fighting in the UFC for the past couple of years, but has been fighting for Zuffa since he debuted at WEC 40 to challenge then-champion Miguel Torres.
The former Cage Force bantamweight champion missed out on his opportunity to capture WEC gold, losing to Torres, but has fought well enough since to maintain his spot on the roster.
Having an 11-2-2 record upon entering the WEC, Mizugaki has since gone 6-5, keeping his foot wedged in the Octagon door.
That’s no longer good enough Mizugaki. He’s tired of alternating between wins and losses.
At 29 years of age, the Japanese veteran isn’t over the hill, but he is quickly approaching a make-or-break point in his career. Is he going to make a run at the belt or is he going to slowly slip away to being one of the almost-rans?
Entering Wednesday night’s UFC Fight Night 27 bout with Erik Perez in Indianapolis, Mizugaki has won back-to-back bouts for the first time since signing on with Zuffa four and a half years ago.
His recent victories over Jeff Hougland and Bryan Caraway occurred after Mizugaki came to a realization and flipped a switch in his approach.
“When I was fighting in the WEC, I was just concentrating on one fight at a time,” Mizugaki recently told MMAWeekly.com. “It’s still the same now, but the big difference is, I am 29 years old now and ever since, maybe, around the Chris Cariaso fight, I started to think, ‘Hey, I am not going to have another opportunity to fight in the UFC if I get cut, so this is my last chance as a pro MMA fighter.’”
That hint of desperation is a powerful motivator.
“This puts me a pretty good pressure that makes me perform better,” he said.
Things were obviously working for Mizugaki before he joined the Zuffa fold, and he hasn’t really changed a lot in regards to his fight-specific training. He has, however, added more strength and conditioning to his routine.
“Since then, my cardio has improved tremendously,” said Mizugaki. “I don't get tired in the fight at all.”
His cardio is likely something he’ll need to employ against Perez.
“El Goyito” is a 23-year-old youngster out of Monterrey, Mexico. Like the luchadors whose masks he wears as a badge of honor, Perez is an aggressive fighter out of the Jackson/Winkeljohn camp. Roughly translated, that means he’s constantly in motion and he has endless cardio.
Mizugaki may have experience on his side, but his younger opponent is on an eight-fight winning streak, including his first three bouts in the Octagon. That’s not lost on Mizugaki.
“Perez is young and he is on a row,” he assessed. “He has got that momentum, so I have to make sure that I don't get swallowed into his momentum.
“I know he is a good striker, but at the same time, I know he finished many with submissions as well. But more than his skills, I have to be careful with his momentum.”
Mizugaki and Perez recently got bumped up to the Fox Sports 1 televised main card due to the fight between Sarah Kaufman and Sara McMann being canceled. That’s a good thing for Mizugaki and his sponsors – like Alienware, East & West Inc., and Revgear. It’s also a powerful motivator, but not something that Mizugaki says adds any real pressure. He puts enough pressure on himself in anticipating another victory and continuing his winning streak.
So far, that has been a good pressure, earning him back-to-back victories. And now he hopes to parlay that momentum into another run to the title.
But after alternating between wins and losses for so long, Mizugaki knows it is one step at a time.
“I definitely would like to face a Top 10 fighter after this fight,” he said.
Should he win, a bigger name, further up the bantamweight ladder, is surely on tap. But on Wednesday night, he has to make sure not to trip over his next step, Erik Perez.