Bonsai Jiu Jitsu has produced two Rizin champions. They are both Brazilian but according to reigning featherweight champion Kleber Koike the similarities between him and current lightweight king Roberto de Souza end there.

Koike holds the featherweight strap and is preparing to defend it for the first time this weekend at Rizin 43. But whereas de Souza is naturally talented the 33 year old thinks his success is all down to hard work,

“Satoshi (de Souza) is a genius but he still works hard. I’m not gifted like him so I need to work harder than him,” he told Rizin Confessions.

He is set to take on Japanese challenger Chihiro Suzuki on Saturday. He has been preparing for the bout at Phuket Fight Club and is is the second time this year he has travelled from his adopted home in order to work with the coaches there.

Bad day

Kleber saw his seven fight winning streak snapped by compatriot Patricio Freire at Bellator x Rizin 1 on New year’s Eve. The title wasn’t on the line so he remains the champion despite losing to the Brazilian.

It was a bad day all round for the Rizin fighters who were all beaten by opponents representing the American promotion. Kleber is already a big name in Japan but a win over Freire would really have put him on the radar of Brazilian fight fans.

That is not something Kleber sounds concerned about at this stage. He has been living in Japan for the best part of 20 years and is not seeking international recognition,

“My goal is not UFC or Bellator. I want to continue representing Japan.”


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Hard work

Being in Phuket means Kleber is unable to teach at Bonsai Jiu Jitsu or spend time with his family but he believes they are sacrifices that he must make if he wants to continue enjoying success as a fighter,

“I can focus 100% on my training in Thailand. I wake up and train, I train all day.”

He hasn’t lost to a Japanese fighter since 2009. Back then Kleber was just starting out and struggling to maintain a winning record, tasting victory in just three of his first seven fights.

He would go on to win 17 in a row against Japanese opponents beating the likes of Mikuru Asakura, Ulka Sasaki and Juntarou Ushiku. Kleber knows what it takes to put in hard work on the mats and improve.

Kleber faces another Japanese fighter on Saturday and acknowledges that Suzuki has earned his title shot,

“He has won his last five fights so he’s the #1 contender. He’s a good kickboxer but his next fight isn’t a kickboxing fight, it’s MMA.”


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International success

Kleber won the KWS featherweight belt in Poland and also won a Rebel FC featherweight tournament in China. He has fought extensively outside of Japan and thinks this gives him an advantage over some of the opponents on the domestic scene.

So while he believes Suzuki deserves the title shot Kleber is convinced the fight will end with the Japanese challenger getting submitted,

“He’s probably one of the top guys in Japan but he’s not world class yet. I know I can submit him.”