Only one of the 16 fighters in the Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix can win. But for Kai Asakura coming second would be a complete disaster.

He already holds a win over the current champion Kyoji Horiguchi and has his sights set on a trilogy fight. Asakura knows he will need to win the tournament in order to get it.

The 27 year old is going up against Shooto Watanabe in the opening round. That fight is booked for Rizin 28 on June 13th and Asakura was given the opportunity to pick his opponent.

“I don’t care who I face, I know I can beat all of them. I picked Watanabe because he was available. My job here is to win this tournament and take my career overseas,” he said.

International ambitions

Given Rizin has a partnership with Bellator there will surely be opportunities to fight overseas but Asakura has to earn them. He already has his sights set on a crack at current newly crowned bantamweight champion, Sergio Pettis.

“I would love to get a chance to face him. I think we share similar styles so it would be a great fight,” he said.

Of course Covid-19 regulations would need to be relaxed. But before he can think about challenging champions from other promotions at international events Asakura needs to beat Watanabe this week,

All but three of his 16 professional wins have come by way of KO or TKO but he would love to finish this fight with a submission,

“Watanabe’s creative in the clinch and good on the ground. He knows where he’s good and doesn’t hide it. I’m looking to finish with a submission in this fight if there’s an opportunity.”

Level playing field

Asakura has not truly come to terms with the loss to Kyoji Horiguchi at Rizin 26 that cost him his bantamweight belt,

“I don’t want to think that I used to be the champion, I need to climb back up. It’s a challenge. Four straight wins is the minimum requirement,” he said.

Despite his obvious credentials, Asakura chooses to ignore his ‘favourite’ tag and believes all competitors will arrive at the tournament on a level playing field.

“I consider myself standing on the same start line just like all other 15 participants. I am focused on taking each fight equally and I will not look past any opponent in front of me,” he added.

Thinking ahead

Coming off back to back submission wins Watanabe should present an interesting challenge for Asakura. But the Tri-Force man says that he is already looking ahead to a potential trilogy title match with Horiguchi,

“I’m training to beat Horiguchi. If I prepare for Horiguchi, the tournament shouldn’t be a problem.”

With honours even at one win a piece, it’s natural that there’s buzz surrounding the potential for a Horiguchi trilogy. It would certainly be one of the biggest all-Japanese fights ever, and Asakura believes the fight would capture the imagination of fight fans,

“I think it creates a great story that everybody can get behind. It will be a great opportunity to get the non-fight fans to tune in just because of the story.”