‘Naruto’ recognition and broken cultural barriers: Tatsuro Taira embraces newfound UFC attention

Tatsuro Taira since Day 1 has dreamt of carrying the Japanese flag into uncharted territory.

A little over 18 months into his UFC tenure, Taira (14-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) reflects fondly on his short but impactful time with the promotion. There’s still a far way to go, but even getting this far boosts his confidence he’s doing the right things.

“I’m very happy to see the number of fans increasing, especially fans outside of Japan, though there is a language barrier because I don’t speak English,” Taira told MMA Junkie through an interpreter. “I’m happy that they like me after seeing me fight, and that gives me motivation to put on more exciting performances. I love my fans and want to give them my best. It’s been easy so far, and I hope to connect with more fans in the future.”

Taira, 23, is one of Asia’s brightest young stars. Despite its rich martial arts history, Japan has been a unique market for the UFC, in that a lot of the homegrown talent gravitates toward RIZIN.

While many of his counterparts decided to stay local, Taira went the path less traveled and signed with the UFC in early 2022. The idea of making history excites him.

“I was an elementary/junior high student, I remember saying I want to be a professional baseball player in the future,” Taira said. “But this is completely different. That was just a small dream, but being UFC champion is my goal. I want it with all my heart, and even though it’s my biggest dream, I’m confident that I can achieve it.

“… I set my sights on the UFC out of simple aspiration – it’s what I’ve wanted from the beginning. I have no regrets about that choice, and I’m proud of my decision. I’m a fan of the Japanese promotions and respect that path as well, but the UFC was always my goal.”

The specialness of newfound international attention is not lost on Taira, but his favorite moment stemming from his UFC success came from inside the borders of his own country.

A massive fan of the Japanese comic “Naruto”, Taira was stunned when the team behind it reached out to him for an internet piece on how certain moves from the series would work in real life.

“What surprised me most may be that I was able to work with ‘Naruto’, my favorite manga,” Taira said. “It was a great honor that they noticed I am a big fan of ‘Naruto’ through my fights.”

Whether or not “Naruto” moves will be on display, Taira returns to action Saturday vs. Carlos Hernandez (9-2 MMA, 2-1 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 233 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

“I had time so I went to the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado and had a great training camp there. I’m excited to show my growth from my previous fight,” Taira said. “… (Viewers) should expect an exciting fight and another victory. I’ve been working very hard. As for specifics, I want to surprise both my opponent and fans.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 233.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie