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Tatsuro Taira hopes for a memorable debut at UFC on ESPN 35

Undefeated flyweight enters UFC debut with high expectations for his own performance and its impact on Okinawa.
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The 22-year-old Tatsuro Taira describes himself as a "super lucky boy" when asked how he feels about his upcoming UFC debut at "UFC on ESPN 35: Font vs. Vera." Taira is the roster's third-youngest member at present, and through 10 professional fights, he is undefeated with seven first-round finishes to boot. Luck is always involved when it comes to fighting but, so far, Taira has shown several flashes of UFC-quality skill, as well.

He takes pride not only in representing Japan, and specifically Okinawa, where he was born and still trains, but he hopes he can pave the way for a brighter light on not only MMA there, but athletics, in general.

"There's lots of athletes in Tokyo, but in Okinawa, there's not many," Taira said through a translator. "Even so, I made it this far, and I want to show the Okinawans that we can do it."

Taira got his start in mixed martial arts when he tagged along with his older brother to the gym at 15 years old. The everyday grind of leveling up each area of his game is something that caught his attention immediately, and that competitive curiosity drives him in training.

In terms of what he hopes to reveal to the UFC audience in his first foray to the octagon, Taira expresses general excitement about his unknown status at present and the clean slate that provides him.

"I have a lot of (skills) to show," he said. "I am good at kicking, striking and also grappling. I want everybody to enjoy which fighting style I can show because I have a lot of drawers to pull from."

For his introductory bout, Taira (10-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) draws fellow UFC debutant Carlos Candelario (8-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who does hold a slight edge in experience, considering he competed twice on Dana White's Contender Series. After defeating Ronaldo Candido in 2017 but not getting a contract, he received one in 2021, despite losing a close decision to Victor Altamirano. The defeat was Candelario's first of his pro career, and so he's certainly keen to take Taira's "0" when the two square off on Saturday.

Amidst all the general excitement of making his debut, Taira is also eager to make the walk. He expects some nerves, naturally, but once he steps into the cage, he'll feel nothing but happiness. Taira anticipates a fast start from his foe, and by the sound of it, he wants to meet him headfirst in the middle of the octagon.

"He's a very aggressive fighter in the first round," Taira said. "I want to take it to him and push him back."

Despite Taira's track record of quick finishes, he said he would like to "enjoy three rounds" of action and octagon time before ending the fight in the final frame. This is just the first step on his UFC journey, which he compared to a "big mountain." He hopes to make the climb and "see the scenery from the top," and the first item on that agenda is making a memorable impression on Saturday.

"I want everybody to say, 'Wow, look at this Japanese guy,'" he said. "I want to impress them even a little bit. I want everybody to say, 'Wow, this Japanese guy is so great.'"

This story first published at UFC.com.