Kai Asakura might not have been crowned champion when he beat bantamweight king Kyoji Horiguchi at Rizin 18. But he well and truly earned a title shot with that quickfire stoppage win.

However, the 25-year-old Achi, Japan native is having a slight detour on the road to a rematch with Horiguchi. He he has been booked to face UFC veteran Ulka Sasaki at Rizin 19 on Saturday.

With Horiguchi and Tenshin Nasakuwa injured Rizin were short of options and Asakura was happy to answer the call,

“I am the kind of fighter who is always ready to fight. It doesn’t matter who is in front of me. I will just run through them to prove that I am the best in what I do,” Asakura said through a translator.

Shock victory

Asakura is fresh from his shock victory over Horiguchi at Rizin 18 this past August, defeating the champion in a non-title contest by way of 68-second technical knockout.

Rizin president Nobuyuki Sakakibara promised him a shot at Horiguchi’s strap on the promotion’s highly-anticipated December 31st card. But the head honcho asked Asakura to make a quick turnaround when he struggled to find enough star power for Sunday’s card,

Asakura had every right in the world to turn down the short-notice offer from Sakakibara and focus on the championship opportunity ahead of him but felt he could reap a bigger reward by taking a greater risk.

“My plan was to focus on the New Year’s Eve event against Horiguchi for the Rizin title, but Sakakibara told me about the situation on the card and asked me to save the event, and I believe with the given situation I am the only one that can save this card,” he stated.

Biggest star

Asakura sees it as a chance to establish himself as one of the promotion’s biggest stars,

“It is actually a great opportunity for me to rise up to the occasion and become the leader of Rizin. I’m always ready and I always put on a great fight, so I will be ready,” he said.

At Rizin 19, Asakura is facing another high-profile opponent in Sasaki, who had a four-year, nine-match stint under the UFC banner. The two were originally penciled to square off against each other last April but the latter pulled out due to an injury.

Sasaki is coming off a second-round submission loss to Shintaro Ishiwatari at Rizin 17 last July, and there is no better way to redeem himself than to defeat a future title contender like Asakura.

As Sasaki poses to be a potential threat to take his place as next in line for Horiguchi’s coveted crown, Asakura is oozing with confidence that he will still walk out with his hand raised in triumph and preserve his number one contender status,

“I’m confident that I can beat him. This is the reason why I took the fight. He’s a great grappler, but that’s it, and he won’t be able to grapple with me,” he warned.

High stakes

However Asakura also needs no reminding that he has a lot to lose,

“I know what’s at stake here, and I know I have to beat him to secure my shot at the title. I have to continue to give fans what they want and to leave nothing to chance. The title is within reach. I will beat Ulka Sasaki and continue my march towards the belt,” Asakura continued.

One single setback will surely send Asakura back to square one, but he vows to do everything in his power to stay on track for that December 31st title shot,

“There is not a day that has passed that I have not thought about Horiguchi. I am ready to fight him again and take my place as champion. I feel I am destined for it. But for now, my goal is to win and defeat my opponent this weekend. I want to keep my dream alive,” he concluded.