Kai Asakura is one of the biggest stars in Japanese MMA. The 26 year old boasts a 15-2 record and has the sort of image and ability which could make him a genuine superstar in the sport.

He is the reigning Rizin bantamweight champion. After failing in his first attempt at the belt he finally secured the title with a stoppage win over Hiromasa Ogikubo last month.

On Sunday he’s stepping back in the ring to take on Shoji Maruyama in a non-title fight at Rizin 24. After several months of inactivity Asakura is grateful to be competing regularly again,

“It is quite an early turnaround, but I always condition myself where I’m in fight shape at all times so there isn’t too much of a problem with that all. He is an aggressive striker and he has got the punching power to finish fights with one shot so I need to be aware of that, and do my usual thing. Title fight or not, I will go in there to do my thing and that won’t change so that doesn’t bother me at all. If the industry will benefit from me taking a short notice fight, I will happily do that.”

Obvious option

Due to the pandemic, Rizin faced a six-month hiatus. With fans now back in attendance, albeit in limited numbers, the promotion, and indeed the sport is finding its way back.

Accordingly, Asakura is keen to attract as many new viewers as possible.

“This fight will be televised so I’m happy that many people will be watching not only my fights, but MMA. I want more people to be introduced to MMA and I want MMA fans to become even bigger fans.”

The young star’s status as both a Rizin champion and a big name in Asian MMA has fueled talk of some box office clashes on the horizon. The obvious option is a rematch with former champion and arguably Japan’s best fighter, Kyoji Horiguchi.

Rizin

Intriguing proposition

Another intriguing proposition is a fight with newly crowned Bellator bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta. Asakura expressed a concrete interest in both matchups,

“This (fight with Horiguchi) will be the fight to determine the number one bantamweight fighter in Japan. I would want to fight Horiguchi on [New Year’s Eve], and then Archuleta after everybody knows I’m the best Japanese fighter. I want to be the best in the world, so Horiguchi and Archuleta will both be stepping stones for me and Japanese MMA.”

Asakura clearly looks up to Horiguchi. The former Rizin champ won seven of his eight fights in UFC with his only loss coming in a flyweight title fight with Demetrious Johnson.

Asakura famously stopped Horiguchi in the first round at Rizin 18. But he has nothing but respect for the former UFC flyweight title challenger,

“Horiguchi was a Shooto world champion, and then moved on to the UFC and made it to a title fight overseas. He is recognized and respected internationally. Like I’ve said before, my goal is to become a world champion internationally, so until I achieve that goal I am not worthy.”