The second fight scheduled to air on UFC Fight Pass on Saturday features TUF 14 contestant Roland Delorme battling UFC newcomer Michinori Tanaka in a bantamweight match. After watching Tanaka’s fights on tape, I’m pretty enthusiastic about his potential, but I’m a little nervous about this particular matchup. Tanaka is definitely the more talented overall fighter than Delorme, but he has some flaws in his game that Delorme is uniquely suited to potentially take advantage of.
Tanaka’s game is fairly well-rounded, but his tendency is to take his opponents to the ground, advance position, and look to finish by first softening his opponent with ground and pound and then following up with a submission hold. Tanaka enters the UFC undefeated at 9-0 with five career wins by submission, including a rear naked choke victory against current UFC bantamweight Russell Doane.
Tanaka has a very quick double-leg shot from distance and has shown a variety of trip takedowns from the clinch as well. On the ground, Tanaka is pretty consistently able to pass his opponent’s guard and unleash a series of punishing strikes. He’s also creative with his submissions as he likes to attempt triangle chokes from mounted position, defeating both Takuya Ogura and Caleb Volotton by that method.
Unlike most grapplers who enter the UFC, Tanaka is a very capable striker as well. He has a good sense of maintaining distance and is proficient at throwing punching combinations and leg kicks. Tanaka’s head movement and overall effective strike defense are not spectacular, but with his tendency to take his opponents to the ground, that aspect of his game is rarely a major factor.
So Tanaka can land strikes, he can land takedowns, and he can finish by submission. What’s not to like? Well, the problem is that Tanaka is prone to wildness, both standing and on the ground. The wildness standing is not a huge problem because Tanaka usually goes for a takedown the moment his opponent tries to capitalize on his wildness by winging haymakers. The problem comes on the ground, where Tanaka has given up a number of compromising positions in transitions. Tanaka may be entering the UFC undefeated, but not before having to escape a number of submissions from his opponents, including a fully locked rear naked choke by Crisanto Pitpitunge, from which Tanaka was saved by the bell.
(For more on Tanaka, check out Patrick Wyman’s breakdown of his game in his Searching for Future Champions series at Bloody Elbow.)
That’s a problem in a match against Roland Delorme. Delorme is a one-dimensional fighter, but the one dimension he’s very good at is submissions. Six of Delorme’s nine professional wins have come by that method, including UFC finishes by rear naked choke against Josh Ferguson and Nick Denis. If Tanaka gets too wild going for a takedown or submission and gives up his back, Delorme is the kind of fighter who could make Tanaka pay by locking in a submission hold.
That would be a shame, because Tanaka really is the better overall MMA fighter. He’s the far better striker – Delorme enters with a significant strike count of 147 to 258 – and he’s the better wrestler as well. Tanaka absolutely should be able to win this fight, and as long as he stays disciplined, he will win. I just can’t help but be a bit nervous about Tanaka’s history of getting in trouble on the ground.
Pick: Michinori Tanaka by decision