Yutaka Saito is days out from the biggest fight of his professional MMA career, but the Japanese featherweight is showing remarkable calm under pressure.
Despite the high stakes of his imminent contest the lead-up has felt pretty normal to Saito,
“The fact that the people around me are making such a big deal out of this fight must mean that this is probably the biggest fight of my career. But I feel the same as usual for every fight,” he said.
Asakura has gone 7-0 under the Rizin banner. By contrast Saito is just 1-0 with the promotion, having defeated Kazumasa Majima via TKO at Rizin 23 in August.
He admits that he was a bit surprised to be offered a title shot after just one fight in the Rizin ring, but is grateful for the opportunity,
“I didn’t expect to be fighting for the title at all, so I was surprised with the offer,” he said. “I feel lucky. I feel fortunate for the opportunity to I would like to capitalize on it.”
In Asakura, he will meet a fighter who is not only incredibly dangerous, but very popular. Saito is not intimidated by his rival but concedes that Asakura takes a measured and cerebral approach to his fights.
“I don’t really have too many thoughts (about Asakura) but I think he has a big name in Japan, and he is a very patient fighter. He sees and executes the most logical way to win a fight.”
In terms of his preparation for Asakura, Saito claims he has not tailored his camp to his rival, and has instead trained as he would for any other fight. That being said, he did hint that he has some tricks up his sleeve, which could bode well for his championship aspirations this weekend.
“I haven’t trained specifically for him, but I do have some plans for the fight which I cannot disclose at the moment,” he said. “All I can say is to watch the fight and see the outcome for yourself.”
While this fight will mark Saito’s first bid for Rizin gold, he has completed in multiple title fights previously, as a former two-time Shooto featherweight champion. He believes that championship experience could prove valuable,
“I think every fight has meaning, and that makes a fighter grow stronger every fight. Everything a fighter works for will benefit a him, and I will most likely reconfirm that after I win.”
Saito has a tall task in front of him, but if he successfully topples Asakura to assume the Rizin featherweight throne, it will go down as the biggest accomplishment of his career to date. That being said, the laid back 33-year-old insists that the title win will mean more to his team than it will to him personally.
“I won’t know (how it will feel to be champion) until I actually get the belt, but I think it will please the people around me more than it will please me,” he said.
The real perk of winning the title, he says, will be the ensuing opportunities for big fights with international MMA stars.
“Winning the title will open up more opportunities for me to face tougher international competition,” he said.
Saito is the picture of calm ahead of this crucial challenge but once he in the ring with Asakura at Rizin 25 he pledges to do whatever it takes to win,
“I think it will be a fight where both fighters try to take control of the pace. I think the fight has the potential to go wherever. I hope to finish with a knockout but the most important thing is getting the win.”