After winning three fights out of three on events promoted under the ONE Championship banner Ryoji Kudo thought further international opportunities would follow. But Covid-19 put paid to those hopes and he finds himself fighting for Shooto again.

Later this month Kudo’s title fight with Keisuke Sasu will headline Shooto 0725.  It is the promotion were Kudo started out as a 17 year old amateur exactly four years ago.

Kudo made it clear in recent interviews (part 1 and part 2) with MMA Planet that with his ONE Championship career on hiatus there was only one challenge that interested him,

“I was disappointed (at now being offered a ONE Championship contract) but it can’t be helped and now that I am back in Shooto I am aiming for the belt. Shooto has history and tradition. It is better to win the Shooto belt before going to ONE.”

Unexpected opportunity

The opportunity only came about because former champion Yutaka Saito signed with Rizin, capturing the featherweight title there. For selfish reasons Kudo was happy to see the former Shooto 145lbs champion winning that belt,

“Thanks to that, I have a chance to challenge Shooto’s belt. I am grateful for that.”

He admits that the opportunity to fight for the title came sooner than expected,

“I am seventh in the ranking so I thought a title shot would be a little further ahead. I was wondering if I could challenge after a few more fights but the opportunity arrived sooner than expected.”

Winning streak

Kudo is riding a seven fight winning streak. He was last seen in action at Tribe Tokyo Fight 9 where he avenged the only defeat of his MMA career by knocking out Derricott Yamamoto in the opening round.

Yamamoto had beaten him by decision in 2018 but Kudo believes he has made some serious improvements in the intervening years,

“I think I’ve changed in the time between that loss and now. I am more conscious of how to hit without getting hit because in MMA it can end with just one shot.”

He was happy to finish the fight and has now put away his last three opponents,

“I wasn’t aiming for the KO it just came naturally,” Kudo explains.

Good experience

At OWS 8 he went the distance with Jerry Olsim and he needed the full 15 minutes against Min Hyuk Lee at OWS 10 too. While Kudo would have liked to finish both fights inside the distance the 28 year old thinks they were valuable experiences,

“I was injured two weeks before the fight against Olsim and I couldn’t practise properly. I was worried about my stamina so I was cautious but I was happy with the result given the amount of training.”

He travelled to Singapore to compete at OWS 10 and it remains his only experience of fighting outside of Japan,

“Lee Min Hyuk was really strong. It was a good experience because I was able to fight overseas and experience ONE’s weigh ins.”

Kudo thinks the success that Saito has had with Rizin demonstrates how strong the Shooto roster is. He is proud to be a part of it and thinks he is competing for the best promotion in Japan,

“I want everyone to know about Shooto, I think Shooto is better than Rizin.”