FIGHT! – An Interview with Caol Uno

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For people with multiple roles, the situation of having to juggle varying responsibilities and relating different roles to other are always conundrums. How do I prioritize? What do I want? These are questions many face on a daily basis. For Caol Uno, the role-playing dilemma is not as simple as a father/son or son/friend/employee divide. The mixed martial artist who had been practicing the brutal sport gaining fast following in the U.S. since he was 18 is more than just an athlete. In fact, as Caol Uno is the director of four different labels, USC, 10AC, Team Caol Uno, unobambino and a select shop—and behold, a doting father of three, it would be wrong to pigeon hole him as just man of the Octagon.

This year Caol Uno doesn’t just segue from one role to another, but fuses his experiences together in different contexts to create something entirely new that envelopes Caol Uno as a person. Uno’s collaboration with Nike on a line of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) inspired gear focuses just as much on design as performance. The 10AC line (coming from spelling “Caol” backwards) incorporates some of Nike’s most innovative and hi-tech performance enhancing materials to create training gear that looks as good as they work.

The Fall/Winter Collection from the 10AC line is a solid and comprehensive line that carries everything one would need for training. Ranging from your basic t-shirts to more technical Nike Sphere tops to ponchos, gym bags and a new Nike Zoom Vomero+4 sneaker, the collection is practical and easy so the wearer can focus his undivided attention on physical betterment. In terms of aesthetics color palette is fall relevant and calming in deeper shades of maroon, navy, black and grey. As the 10AC Fall/Winter Collection is now available online for preview and the items are dropping throughout the next two months for all, Freshness got a word in with the man of many trades about his labels, collaboration with Nike and brief round with Freddie Roach.


Tell us a little bit about who Caol Uno is?

First and foremost, a MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, the director of my apparel labels: UCS, 10AC, unobambino, and Team Caol Uno. I’m also a father of 3.

As a MMA fighter, my life revolves around training and the mastery of techniques, more specifically Shooto, a form of martial art that continues to evolve since its founding in 1984.  I’m currently in preparation for my return to the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), which many consider to be the major league of MMA.

As a director, it is about balancing between 4 labels and a select shop. Though it isn’t easy, thanks large part of the support and encouragement from my family and friends, I’m able to continue to this day.

You mentioned MMA was one of the key aspects of your life. So are there links in both MMA and fashion/trends?

Since I started competing Shooto in high school, fashion was always an integral part of the sport. My role model, Shooto veteran Rumina Sato was not only skillful and strong, but fashionable too. Because of his larger than life persona, not to mention being the first Japanese to tap-out a Brazilian jujitsu black-belt fighter, Sato-san broadens the notoriety of a little known sport back then.

So when I got promoted to participate in “Class A”, the highest division in Shooto (Japanese MMA organization) in 1997, I decided to silk-screen some t-shirts for myself and fellow team members. Haphazardly, I stepped into the realm of fashion and my label UCS was established.

UCS was established so-what by chance…

Exactly!  In the beginning I could only afford printing t-shirts with 2 colorways.  However, as I won more fights and prize money, the more varieties of t-shirts I could design and produce.  The process of apparel merchandising was extremely interesting and it in a way motivated me also.

It was a step-by-step process. I didn’t have a website back then.  Because of it, all my t-shirts were sold at my kiosk in the arena or done through telephone orders. No matter the obstacles I faced at the start, one thing came through my first store.  It opened in 2001 at the Sakuragicho neighborhood of Yokohama.  I couldn’t have done it without Koiichiro Yamamoto.  He is a stylist by trade but aw well as my mentor in this business.  We first met at a photo shoot for United Arrows back in 1997. In fact, he selected me to be the model for the photo shoot.  I was asking myself, “What am I suppose to do in a photo shoot for United Arrows?”.  He was nice enough to guide me through the process.  We became great friends since then.  Not forget to mention 2 others assisted me greatly during the opening of my first store: Hiroshi Fujiwara (Fragment Design) and Shuzo Kita (Gallery 1950).

As an athlete and now the director of UCS, what styles you would say influenced you the most during those earlier periods?

I was totally a “Ura-Harajuku” generation, following Fujiwara-san through fashion magazines, trend reports and etc… Vintage clothing played a big part and still does today. Yamamoto-san also played a big part as well.

Could you briefly describe the concepts behind 2 of your labels: UCS and 10AC with Nike Japan?

UCS started as a method to support my MMA career.  It geared more towards graphic tees in the beginning with motifs like the Caol Uno silhouette, UCS Star, and Major League.   As time change, so has the label’s focus.  Though it is more oriented to details and functionalities now, UCS will still produce the graphic tees that it has come to be known for. 10AC is more of a “wish list” towards my MMA training. Training wears with some flairs of urban fashion, which allows me to have a mental transition between fights and my time off. Not to mention the difficulty in finding functional and fashionable training wear designed solely for MMA training.  Added aspects include better ventilation, leg span for both shorts and pants, and the elimination of ridged/pointed elements to prevent minor injuries during contact. Plus they are selling points whether you are in MMA training or not.

It seems like Nike is the only major athletic label to tap into the MMA market.

To tell you the truth; I still don’t believe it myself. Nike has been my favorite sportswear label since high school. Now I get to input my ideas and experience into 10AC with the folks at Nike, it is just unbelievable. But this also implies that if you pursue what you desired, eventually the right opportunity will fall right in.

At the MMA tournament HERO’S, you wore something unexpected a kilt designed by Jun Takahashi…

I call him “Jonio”, but yes, both the t-shirt and the kilt were created by Jun Takahashi of Undercover. Before Jonio, I use to wear Jiujitsu Gi. Kilts are the traditional wear of Scotland so I thought it was nice to change it up a bit. Plus, my outfit is a boost to my pre-fight preparation. It is difficult to explain but the costume helps me gear up psychologically for the main event.

Then it is safe to say you will be wearing another kilt at your first UFC match this year?

Yes, I will be wearing another kilt at UFC 99 in Germany. I can’t reveal too much details except it will be made by “Jonio” (aka Jun Tahakashi) and in a patchwork-like form, using different fabric and materials.


Back to the topic of your labels, UCS and 10AC, could you tell us a bit on the key items for the Fall/Winter 2009 seasons?

Well, it is about fabric for UCS, but a particular fabric called Modal. None of us knew about it till we went to Paris last December for the Paris Fashion Week. Once again, thanks to Koiichiro Yamamoto, I was invited to see the Mihara Yasuhiro presentation, where Yamamoto-san was the chief stylist. During a brief visit to a Parisian boutique, a sale staff recommended a shawl made from Modal I didn’t find the shawl interesting. However the fabric was extraordinary soft and unlike any other. In the end, I brought the shawl and discussed with Takeshi Tokuno (UCS Creative Director) in applying the fabric for this upcoming collection.

As for 10AC, it’s exciting to see new samples here and there. For this 3rd season, we brought back the “Mt. Fuji” emblem. As for core concept, we elaborated on “Scholarship”. I mentioned before on the importance of learning. We wanted to reflect those ideals in this collection. The colorways and designs are inspired by Ivy League universities, classic shades of navy, cherry wood/maroon, ash grey and more…

One of the key items and my personal favorite is the Nike 10AC Vomero running sneaker. I wore these for the Honolulu marathon 2 years ago. Another interesting story behind this too. I actually had a pair of running sneaker already. But for the sake of it being in Honolulu, I went to a sporting goods store where a gentleman recommended the Nike Vomero. It performed flawlessly. Provided me with the right support, comfort, throughout the race. Then I found out it wasn’t on sale in Japan. The reason was its heavy-duty cushioning system was meant for the US & European markets only. So for this season, I asked Nike Japan to consider the Vomero for the Japanese market. In turn, they are not only launching a general release version, but also created 2 special editions for 10AC in metallic silver and gold.

Plus the one you’re wearing now…

Oh these are Nike ID Lunaracer. I just designed them through my home PC. It is made of my favorite color of white with a 10AC tag. They are really comfortable too.

About your involvement in MMA, it has been a while since you last competed in UFC fight circuit. What led you to return into the “Octagon”?

Since my last match up at UFC, I always had plans to return someday. The last match with Hermes Franca ended up with me knocked out in the 2nd round. I never forgot that embarrassment since I had full control of the match till that moment. The circuit has changed quite a bit. The UFC I knew is now more professional and rooted in true athleticism. To be certain about my decision, I flew to Las Vegas early January. I wanted to get a feel of what the “new” UFC is like. The decision is also about dealing with my own doubt. I asked myself “Why am I going to fight in UFC again, when it is much more competitive than before…”

Still I just couldn’t avoid the desire to fight in a great circuit. Challenges before have kept me going no matter what. This is no different. I realized from my latest fight with Shinya Aoki, I had lost the drive that has pushed me so far. However, since I made my decision to return to the Octagon, my doubts have disappeared. Because no matter which opponent I will face, I will be ready since I have nothing to loose.

Which weight class will you be compete in?

My weight division will be Lightweight, the lightest weight class in UFC. Many non-Japanese fighters tend to drop 1 or 2 weight division upon fighting. Very uncommon for Japanese fighters, as we don’t usually partake weight lose management. Instead, we try keep our weight as current as possible.

MMA have grown very popular very quickly since its introduction in Japan. The U.S. however, never truly accepted MMA, even made it illegal at some part of the country, till recently. Having been participant in both, are the 2 different in terms of training and styles?

For what I have seen in the current U.S. MMA matches, the fighters are emerging as true athletes. Very different compared to a few years ago, when fighters were in the matches for the fame and money. The fighters and trainers in the U.S. circuit are more tactical and strategic in their approaches. The Japanese style concentrate on psychological aspects, like anticipating your opponent’s next move. For the UFC, however, I’m training as much as I could. I know the results will not show drastically, however the difference to me is obvious and I can feel it day by day.

Which weight class will you be compete in?

My weight division will be Lightweight, the lightest weight class in UFC. Many non-Japanese fighters tend to drop 1 or 2 weight division upon fighting. Very uncommon for Japanese fighters, as we don’t usually partake weight lose management. Instead, we try keep our weight as current as possible.

MMA have grown very popular very quickly since its introduction in Japan. The U.S. however, never truly accepted MMA, even made it illegal at some part of the country, till recently. Having been participant in both, are the 2 different in terms of training and styles?

For what I have seen in the current U.S. MMA matches, the fighters are emerging as true athletes. Very different compared to a few years ago, when fighters were in the matches for the fame and money. The fighters and trainers in the U.S. circuit are more tactical and strategic in their approaches. The Japanese style concentrate on psychological aspects, like anticipating your opponent’s next move. For the UFC, however, I’m training as much as I could. I know the results will not show drastically, however the difference to me is obvious and I can feel it day by day.

You had mentioned a while back that B.J. Penn is someone you want a rematch with when you return to the UFC?

Well at this point, I’m not in the position to say such thing since I’m still new. I hope eventually to have that opportunity in the near future. But don’t forget my current focus is Spencer Fisher. It’s a step-by-step process.

Earlier this year, you flew to Los Angeles for some training and doing some research along the way.

Yes, I visited numerous dojos during my trip to L.A and San Diego. Saulo Rebeiro’s dojo was extreme helpful in my preparation for UFC. I stopped by Wild Card, the L.A. boxing gym where Manny Pacquiao trains under the legendary Freddy Roach. He was very inspirational and I had the honor to have a short training session with him.

Manny Pacquiao and you have a lot in common now. Both of you have sparing sessions with Freddy Roach and have Nike sneakers designed specifically for you both.

Yes! That’s true! How funny is that…

From the looks of it, you will be the first MMA fighter to be officially endorsed by Nike in a U.S. MMA circuit. How will the audience react to this?

Good question, I’m also curious in how people will react to this because Nike is a sporting goods giant… Also there are many MMA apparel brand that has been supporting the sport since day one like TAP-OUT, etc… But I might not be the only one for long. Another Nike sponsored fighter, Yoshihiro Akiyama, will fight in the UFC soon at the UFC 100.

And one more thing that I must point out is that you will be the first offical MMA fighter to be endorsed/ sponsored by NIKE, who will step into the U.S MMA circuit, even before any American. The new audience will also be attracted to your appearance. How do you feel about that?

Yeah, I’m also curious in how people would react on this, since NIKE is a U.S. sporting brand… There are many MMA apparel brand that has been supporting this sports since day one like TAP-OUT, etc… Also Yoshihiro Akiyama is also endorsed by NIKE, whomfought in UFC 100!

Its just strange or should I say questioning that 2 new Japanese fighters are endorsed by NIKE, whom debuted in UFC.. a new branding that NIKE has acknowledged that MMA is a SPORT.

Since I’m wearing “NIKE” , As a professional, I also have responsibility being endorsed. I will do my best!

How do you feel about fighting along with UFC fighters like, Kenny Florian, Joe Stevenson, Shawn Sherk, etc…?

They are all great opponents and I respect each one of them. Shawn is a monster; I’ve seen his training video and nobody can do what he does. Ken-Flo is tall and fights in his natural weight class but I never saw him lose a fight. Joe is built and has a good grappling technique. I heard that Diego Sanchez  dropped his weight to join the Lightweight division, so you can see already its extremely competitive. It could be even more competitive than the Japanese circuit!