It has been a good year for Yuki Kawana. During 2020 he has won the Shooto lightweight title and earned himself a contract with Rizin.

The 29 year old faces Koji Takeda at Rizin 24 on Sunday. In July he knocked out Shutaro Debana at Shooto 0712 and Kawana says that this was a turning point in his career,

“That fight was my redemption in claiming the title, and my ticket to the next level of competition,” he said.

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Next level

The ‘next level’ for Kawana constituted a contract offer from Rizin and a fight against Deep lightweight champion Takeda.

Takeda brings a more impressive record into Sunday’s contest at the Saitama Super Arena. But Kawana sees some holes in his opponent’s game,

“He’s got extraordinary wrestling skills and tons of stamina. But when his strengths are neutralized, his weaknesses are exposed.”

Several Shooto champions have gone on to sign with ONE Championship including Shoko Sato, Koha Minowa, Yoshitaka Naito and Yosuke Saruta. The two promotions have a partnership but with Japan’s borders closed Kawana says Rizin’s offer was too good to turn down,

“Due to the pandemic, I assumed it would be hard getting fights abroad. I think I needed to focus on getting my name recognized domestically,” he said.

Keisuke Takazawa / MMA Planet

Solid camp

Having already fought once during the pandemic Kawana is confident in his ability to put together a proper fight camp during the current conditions,

“Having been able to get a positive result (against Debana) from the fight camp I now have confidence. I know I can put together a solid fight camp even under the toughest conditions.”

Kawana will go in search of his third straight win on Sunday. But his career has had its ups and downs. He lost three fights out of three for the PFL in 2018 and there was nothing to suggest that two years later he could become a world champion.

The 29 year old is brutally honest when being asked to assess his time competing overseas,

“When you look at just the results, it was three losses in a row and all I can say is that I didn’t have what it takes but there are some positive things that came out of it and boosted my confidence.”

PFL

Elite competition

Kawana says these fights with the PFL made him realize he could compete against elite lightweights,

“When I first saw the PFL line up I thought I was outclassed but once I fought them nobody beat me easily. I had my chances and lost by close decisions. I would always give my opponents a hard time and that gave me confidence that I could hang with the world’s top international fighters.”

He observed the international fighters and says he gained a valuable insight into their methods and routines,

“Observing how other fighters take care of themselves during fight week was something very interesting and I learned much from that. It was very interesting to see how different each fighter would recover from the weight cut. There were clear differences and that was interesting.”

This will be Kawana’s second fight in the pandemic so he is more accustomed to the ‘new normal’ than some of his peers. He says he has emerged stronger from a difficult period and it’s a point he will be looking to prove on Sunday,

“The regular normal has definitely been affected but this new normal has shown me many positives during every day life. I try not to focus on the negatives and stay with the positives. I think the results will show on how strong I have become during these tough times both as a fighter and as a human being.”