However, the company severed its ties with him in late 2018 after yielding to Brazil’s Alexandre Pantoja via first-round submission, his fifth loss in nine Octagon outings.
The 29-year-old native of Shizuoka, Japan remembers vividly when he received the news that he got his walking papers from the UFC.
“When I was told that I was let go by the UFC, I was unsure whether to believe it or not. I was expecting it a bit, but I was hoping that they could give me another chance at the same time. I knew I did my best,” Sasaki said through his translator.
All of his victories in the UFC came by way of submission, defeating the likes of Roland Delorme, Willie Gates, Justin Scoggins and Jenel Lausa. He is also a recipient of two ‘Performance Of The Night’ bonuses.
Sasaki may have been impressive against unranked opponents in the UFC, but it was a different story when he shared the cage with top-tier competition such as Wilson Reis and Jussier Formiga.
Although he built his reputation as a formidable and game competitor in every bout that he took part in, it was not enough for Sasaki to at least extend his tenure in the organization.
“I fought for it. It was sad because I already made it to the UFC,” Sasaki admitted.
“But it is part of the sport. It is also a business. I fully understand everything that transpired.”
A new opportunity came knocking on his door soon after as he was offered a fight on Rizin 14 last New Year’s Eve, an offer he did not hesitate to accept.
Sasaki started out on his road to redemption with a unanimous decision win over Angolian standout Manel Kape in a 130lbs catchweight contest.
He feels Rizin has managed to breathe new life into a nearly decade-long mixed martial arts career,
“I have no time to be depressed about my UFC release. I chose to move on. This is the warrior’s way of life. My decision brought me here. It benefited my fighting career,” he stated.
“I am excited to be in this new journey. I hope everything will turn our great for me,” Sasaki added.
Sasaki is scheduled to return to action tomorrow as he squares off with compatriot Shintaro Ishiwatari in the co-headliner of Rizin 17, which takes place at the iconic Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo, Japan.
Fighting as a bantamweight for the first time since June 2015, he believes that a decisive win over Ishiwatari will be sufficient to earn a date with division kingpin Kyoji Horiguchi.
“I think he’s a good yardstick for me. I think if I beat him, I should get a title shot. I feel like I deserve it,” Sasaki explained.
Sasaki made a promise that if the opening to notch either a knockout or submission presents itself, he will not think twice to go for the kill.
“I will look for the finish,” he declared.
“It is the only way that will give me a title shot. I am going for it. I will never hesitate if I have it in front of me.”