Yutaka Saito is set to face Vugar Karamov at Rizin 28 this week. His featherweight title won’t be on the line but the champion has bigger fights on his mind.

He knows a win would set up the rematch with Mikuru Asakura who faces Kleber Koike Erbst on the came card. But in Saito’s mind the opponent that he beat by decision at Rizin 25 is not the favourite,

“I think Kleber is going to win, I’m expecting to face the winner and I’m prepared to fight Kleber.”

Dodging debate

Saito is returning from injury and is well aware of the whispers that he has been ducking a rematch with Asakura,

“I don’t know where this whole ‘dodging’ debate came from but I’m sure it will continue until the rematch happens.
The good thing about fights is that no matter what they say you can settle everything in the ring.”

The Asakura brothers are YouTube stars and Saito says he has encountered some hostility since winning the title,

“Asakura fans wont admit that he lost. I’m their enemy.”

Tough opponent

While Rizin hasn’t officially announced a four man featherweight tournament the winners of these two fights are almost certain to face off. In order to do his part in securing the Asakura rematch Saito needs to overcome Karamov at the Tokyo Dome on Sunday,

Asakura called for him to be stripped of his featherweight title if he lost but Saito wouldn’t respond to that,

“I can’t really say because I don’t plan on losing.”

But he does admit this will be an extremely difficult non title bout,

“The guy is tough. This is where I get to show my true abilities.”

Setting the pace

Karamov hails from Azerbaijan and is coming off a decision win over Kyle Aguon at Rizin 21. He will be looking to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Tofiq Musaev by becoming a star in Japan.

Saito is determined to prevent that from happening and thinks his superior stamina will be vital. But he knows a win is essential if his steep upwards career trajectory is to continue,

“Karamov’s explosiveness wont last all three rounds but mine does. I wont be able to take on tough international competition in the future if I lose here.”

Saito will set his stall out to attack right from the start and thinks he can become the first fighter to ever finish the Azerbaijani featherweight,

“Ill be the one setting the pace, I want to be the aggressive one. If there’s an opportunity to finish I’ll take it.”