Kai Asakura will have a chance to finally get his hands on the bantamweight belt at Rizin 23 on Monday. He faces Hiromasa Ogikubo in a bout that has the vacant title on the line.

It will be a chance at redemption for the 14-2 star who came short in his first title shot. He was stopped in the second round by Manel Kape at Rizin 20 on New Year’s Eve.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced him to wait for his chance to put things right. Now that the time is finally here Asakura says he is raring to go,

“I’m like ‘finally!’ I’ve been holding in my urge to fight for a while so I will let it all explode at the fight.”

Rizin

Uncrowned king

Before losing to Kape, Askakura already felt like the uncrowned king of the division. And rightly so.

He had already beaten the Angolan the previous year, and boasted iconic first round finishes over Kyoji Horiguchi and Ulka Sasaki, with the latter receiving a broken jaw.

Losing to Kape proved doubly disappointing as the newly crowned champion immediately vacated the title win order to sign for the UFC,

“I wanted an immediate rematch, so it was discouraging but I also blame myself for losing that fight. If I would have won, I would have been able to keep that belt in Japan. But in the long run, we are all looking to be the best in the world, so it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Rizin

New skills

With the belt now guaranteed to stay in Japan, Asakura is determined to be the one taking it home. He said he has been adding new skills to his arsenal during lockdown,

“Winning is everything for this fight. I wasn’t able to train at the gym during the lockdown, but I was creative and figured out ways to train alone, and I spent a lot of time watching fights and studying moves and techniques, so I was able to use the quarantine time to my advantage. I think more positive than negative came out of it.”

In Ogikubo, Asakura faces an opponent who has won his last three fights and is seven years his senior. But he sees some weaknesses that could potentially be exploited,

“His striking isn’t as polished, but his ground skills are better than the other two (Horiguchi and Kape). He’s a very tough grinder and he’s got the heart and skills to pull off the win during a gruelling, exhausting fight. My idea is to finish as the mentally and physically tougher fighter.”

Rizin

Cross promotion

Following last year’s successful co-promotion with Bellator he says he would welcome any opportunities to take on elite challengers. Asakura even floated the unlikely idea of Rizin being able to borrow fighters from the UFC,

“Of course, I would be interested in any kind of collaboration. It would be ideal if I could fight UFC fighters in the Rizin ring.”

Outside of co-promotion, Rizin has a habit of throwing up a few surprises. 2019 saw arguably Japan’s biggest Martial Arts star, Tenshin Nasukawa, taking on Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition boxing match.

The latest rumours have linked Mayweather with a return to Rizin. The name of the opponent being most frequently discussed is Mikuru Asakura.

Mayweather put a serious beating on Tenshin but Asakura sounded keen on the prospect of the boxer facing his older brother,

“I think Japan would experience some serious festivities if it happens.”

Rizin

Dream fight

Tenshin is clearly someone who impresses Asakura, and he suggested that a fight between the kickboxer and Takeru Segawa would be his dream Rizin match.

Asakura is of course a major star in his own right and winning the title would only serve to cement that. Beyond ruling Rizin’s bantamweight division, Asakura believes a ‘dream fight’ would involve testing himself against the best.

“I would like to face the current UFC Champion at the time. I want to know where I stand compared to the world.”