In what is somewhat shocking news, and something that has flown completely under-the-radar, Japanese veteran Masanori Kanehara (27-14-5) has announced his retirement from MMA.
At 37-years-old, Masanori Kanehara was given a shot to compete in RIZIN Fighting Federation this past weekend at RIZIN 21. He fought DEEP champion Victor Henry in arguably the people’s main event, though in actuality it took the co-main event billing.
After a fun back-and-forth opening round, Henry was able to secure the finish early in round two with a knockout. This due to the Josh Barnett pupil finding a home for his straight-right, polishing off the gritty veteran with ground-and-pound for the 45-second knockout.
Quickly after the loss, Kanehara took to social media. Posting a picture of him with his son, confirming his retirement. On top of this, he confirmed his retirement during the event’s post-fight press conference.
To some, Masanori Kanehara is just yet another guy who found his way into the big leagues of the UFC who was quickly sent packing after a few fights with the promotion. Honestly, that is such a shame.
Kanehara started his career in Tokyo, Japan way back in 2003. It was a rough start to the sport for Kanehara, as from 2003 to 2005 he had only won two of eight pro fights. This included three losses, three draws, and two wins. Thankfully, from April of 2006 to December of 2006, Kanehara competed on five-straight ZST: SWAT! shows, cranking out four victories and fighting to a draw one time. In his four victories, he showcased killer knee strikes, finishing two opponents by knocking them out with sickening knees. Aside from knees, Kanehara showed he was skilled on the ground from an early stage, as his other two ’06 wins came via armbar.
Heading into 2007, Kanehara had fought almost exclusively for ZST outside of having his first pro fight under the DEEP banner. As he went into the next calendar year, he began to somewhat branch out from ZST. In ’07 he competed seven times, with two fights taking place outside of the promotion. Despite another successful year for Kanehara, this was when he suffered the first knockout loss of his career. He closed out 2007 with a competitive draw against Naoyuki Kotani. Aside from the devastating loss and contentious draw, Masanori Kanehara was able to win four times in 2007, three by submission. Two of these five victories came outside of ZST. One of which at HERO’s 8, and the other coming one month later at K-1 Gladiators 2007 in Estonia. This was the first time Kanehara competed outside of Japan – and he would do it once more next year.
Fresh off the draw against a UFC and PRIDE veteran in Kotani, people were beginning to pay a bit more attention to Masanori Kanehara in 2008. Funnily enough, this would also be his last active year since 2004, though he still competed four times which is plenty. To kick off ’08, Kanehara returned to ZST and took out Shunichi Shimizu with an armbar. Three weeks later, he traveled to Lithuania to compete for Shooto Lithuania, unfortunately losing to a relative unknown. Taking some much-needed time off, Masanori Kanehara would return to ZST in August to pick up a 47-second knockout before heading back to DEEP for the first time since 2003, losing to future champion Takafumi Otsuka.
With a record of 2-2, the year of 2008 wound up being Kanehara’s least successful since 2005. Naturally, this meant Masanori Kanehara would come back with a vengeance in 2009. Competing six times and losing once in that twelve month span, that’s exactly what he did.
In February, Kanehara made his Pancrase debut by knocking out Kenji Arai at Pancrase: Charging Tour 1. The next month, Masanori Kanehara would be given the biggest opportunity of his career. World Victory Road’s Sengoku was looking to crown an inaugural featherweight champion, and they decided to host a 16-man grand-prix to do so.
The field of sixteen featured fighters from all over the world. Nick Denis, Marlon Sandro, Nam Phan, LC Davis, Michihiro Omigawa, Chan Sung Jung, Shintaro Ishiwatari, Ronnie Mann, Hatsu Hioki, and, of course, Masanori Kanehara were among those chosen to compete in the grand-prix.
Masanori Kanehara defeated South Korea’s Jong Man Kim in the opening round of the tournament. Less than two months later, it was onto the quarter-finals where Kanehara would face “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung who defeated Shintaro Ishiwatari in the opening round. Kanehara was able to outlast Jung for the win, securing his spot in the semi-finals.
This is where things got interesting.
August 2, 2009, Sengoku 9 went down at the Saitama Super Arena and would feature the semi-finals and final in the same night. Meaning the grand-prix winner would have to fight twice in one night. In the semi-finals, Kanehara dropped a decision to Hatsu Hioki. However, their battle was intense enough to give Hioki a pretty rough concussion, ruling him out of the final round. Due to tournament rules, this mean that, despite a loss in the semis, Masanori Kanehara was moving onto the finals to compete for the Sengoku Featherweight Championship.
Opposite Kanehara in the tournament final was Michihiro Omigawa whose road to the final included wins over LC Davis, Nam Phan, and Marlon Sandro. It was a tense battle with high-stakes, but ultimately Masanori Kanehara was able to secure another unanimous decision win, thus becoming the Sengoku featherweight champion.
With the first, and what wound up be his only, championship added to his collection, Kanehara would then compete at Dynamite!! 2009. Here he was able to pick up one of the biggest wins of his career against Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto in a non-title Sengoku vs. DREAM fight. In the eyes of many, this was a massive upset.
As 2010 began, Kanehara sat on the sidelines for five months before looking to defend his Sengoku title for the first time against semi-final loser Marlo Sandro. The Brazilian had put in work since losing to Omigawa, though. As two-straight knockouts earned him a shot at the gold, it was a 9-second knockout against Tomonari Kanomata that made his #1 contender spot irrefutable.
Unfortunately for Kanehara, he did not taste the glory of being king very long, as Sandro took him out in similar fashion just 38-seconds into the contest. Coincidentally, Sandro lost the belt just one fight later to Hatsu Hioki, the man who Kanehara replaced in the finals of the previous championship tournament.
Competing only one more time in 2010, Kanehara would lose to Yoshiro Maeda in December to close out the year with two-straight knockout losses. Proving to be his least successful year as a pro fighter, Kanehara yet again made up for it in the following years.
From the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2013, Kanehara competed eight times, losing just once. This time also saw him compete outside of Japan for the first time since 2008. In 2011, Kanehara traveled to Moscow, Russia, only to lose to then-unbeaten Rasul Mirzaev. Just one fight later, he competed in the United States for the first time, submitting Brady Harrison. This was the first of six-straight wins and six-straight finishes, spanning from that submission win in November 2011 to a 21-second knockout win over Joe Pearson under the Pancrase banner in December 2013.
In 2014, one more fight in DEEP earned Masanori Kanehara a long-awaited shot in the UFC. He was successful in his promotional debut, beating Alex Caceres in Japan. The rest of Kanehara’s short-lived UFC run is quite unfortunate. Following a debut win, Kanehara competed against seasoned veteran Rani Yahya and dropped a split decision that many people heavily debated. Next time out, he faced a returning former title-holder in Michael McDonald and, despite dominating “Mayday” early, got submitted halfway through the fifteen minute contest. Kanehara was promptly released from the company.
Eleven months later in December of 2016, Kanehara returned to DEEP and defeated Charlie Alaniz before taking a two year hiatus from MMA. In 2017, we shockingly saw him try his hand at muay thai under the KNOCK OUT banner in Japan. Under these striking-only rules, Kanehara was able to secure a fifth-round knockout before dropping a decision to Fukashi.
Now tested under muay thai, the Japanese veteran returned to DEEP to quickly submit a Thai newcomer in the form Jomhod Chuwattana in 2018 before taking another two year break from MMA. Though this time he took the opposite route taken previously. In June of 2018, competed three times at one QUINTET event, going 1-1-1 while doing so. This included a loss to Daisuke Nakamura, a draw against Tomoshige Sera, and submission victory over Victor Henry.
Ironically enough, this past weekend, Masanori Kanehara returned to MMA yet again and was retired by Victor Henry.
We wish him well on his retirement after nearly two decades competing and entertaining the masses in MMA. At 37-years-old, it’s time to focus on training and family.