One of the best, yet most underappreciated Japanese fighters of all time, Mitsuhisa Sunabe (29-9-4) is the first fighter to enter the Pancrase Hall of Fame.
Despite being one of the first-ever mixed martial arts organizations, it was only recently that Pancrase announced they were going to open their own Hall of Fame in their 26th year of existence. Similar to the UFC Hall of Fame, the Pancrase Hall of Fame will honor legends of the promotion. Whether they be semi-active, retired, or, sadly, deceased.
In the near future, it is expected that Minoru Suzuki, Yuki Kondo, Satoru Kitaoka, and Ryo Kawamura will be rightfully placed into the Pancrase Hall of Fame as well.
But for now, the greatest male strawweight of all time, Mitsuhisa Sunabe will enjoy all that Hall of Fame shine by himself.
Mitsuhisa Sunabe has competed a staggering thirty-eight times in a Pancrase ring. This spanning from June of 2001 to just last weekend at Pancrase 307. In June of 2011, Sunabe lost to Kiyotaka Shimizu, and that loss set Sunabe’s career and desire ablaze.
The now 39-year-old followed that loss up with 16-straight wins, with the vast majority of them taking place under the Pancrase banner. This includes a Pancrase Flyweight Championship win and a Pancrase Strawweight Championship win, picking up multiple defenses along the way. Sunabe’s competition at both strawweight and flyweight during this time was nothing to scoff at either. The 16-fight stretch saw the Japanese legend pick up wins over Hiroyuki Abe, Noboru Tahara, Tatsuya So, Takafumi Ito, Ryo Hatta, Daichi Kitakata, and Shinya Murofushi.
In 2017, RIZIN Fighting Federation signed Mitsuhisa Sunabe to a non-exclusive deal and it was exciting times for Sunabe fans. Unfortunately, the promotion signed the grappler to compete in their RIZIN KICK Tournament that was slated to be a showcase for Tenshin Nasukawa.
In the semi-finals, Sunabe fought and lost to Yamato Fujita.
Four months later, the Japanese ace returned to Pancrase and defended his strap with a spectacular knockout win against Shinya Murofushi.
Mitsuhisa Sunabe def. Shinya Murofushi – Slam – Pancrase 295 pic.twitter.com/o2QC9357ch
— caposa (@Grabaka_Hitman) January 12, 2019
Pancrase and fans rejoiced as, the knockout win proved that Sunabe was still very much alive and well in terms of his fighting career. The legend was far from finished!
In 2018, RIZIN was able to book a massive strawweight superfight between Haruo Ochi and Mitsuhisa Sunabe, a fight between Pancrase and DEEP title-holders. In an incredible upset, Ochi stopped Sunabe in vicious fashion late in the fight to hand him his first defeat since 2011.
Four months later, the legend competed in an exhibition bout under the Tenkaichi banner before returning to Pancrase and looking for yet another title defense just last weekend. His win streak may have been snapped by Ochi, but Sunabe had every intention to continue competing for Pancrase and being their posterboy and longtime champion.
In December of 2016, Mitsuhisa Sunabe submitted Daichi Kitakita early to defend his King of Pancrase title. The title-challenge was followed up with four-straight wins to earn him another shot at Sunabe at Pancrase 307.
Daichi Kitakata (@kitakata_daichi) is your new Strawweight King of Pancrase, dethroning the legendary Mitsuhisa Sunabe with a splendid, performance-capping fifth-round knockout! Now 20-8-1 (2 NC), he avenges his loss to the erstwhile three-division champ! #Pancrase307 pic.twitter.com/9AW0W2AHus
— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) July 21, 2019
Kitakata put on a sensational performance, capping it off with a bittersweet fifth-round knockout win against Sunabe. This was Mitsuhisa’s first loss in Pancrase since 2011. The first-ever, and longtime, Pancrase strawweight champion was defeated by Kitakata in a picture-perfect passing of the torch moment.
Mitsuhisa Sunabe’s future is uncertain, as he has not been public with any decisions regarding retirement. But, regardless, him impact on the sport in Japan and Pancrase as a company is undeniable. He deserves the Pancrase Hall of Fame honor as much as anyone, and he is getting it.