Yutaka Saito is ready to take on one of the most dangerous opponents of his professional career when he defends his featherweight championship at Shooto 0329 on Sunday.

He will share the cage with Dutch standout Duane van Helvoirt, who took the promotion by storm in 2019, wining two fights in dominant fashion to earn a shot at the belt.

The man from Akita expects to have his hands full with the submission specialist from the Netherlands, but Saito believes that he is tenacious enough to get his hand raised,

“He is a well-rounded martial artist. He can strike, but his main weapon is his grappling. All I can do is go out there and compete with all I’ve got. I have been training hard like I always do. He is a tough opponent, so it will take my best effort to beat him,” he said through his translator.

Training hard

Saito is coming off a busy 2019, winning two of his three matches by way of knockout. In his most recent fight he finished Hiroyuki Takaya in just 77 seconds at Shooto 30th Anniversary Tour 7th Round last September.

He expects to maintain the same winning form at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo on Sunday,

“I was able to win in impressive fashion and make a good impression on the fans. I haven’t really changed anything about my training, but I am training hard for the next bout,” Saito stated.

However, it does not mean Saito expects an easy ride as he will have to be careful versus an opponent who holds a BJJ black belt and has 13 submission wins.

While Saito acknowledges that he cannot underestimate Van Helvoirt’s ground game he promises to be well prepared,

“He’s a powerful grappler, and if he gets top position, his pressure is good. But I think I can cope up with him on the ground. I know I can, and I am not afraid. Even if it goes to the ground, I just have to be aware of my own movements,” he said.

Next challenge

Van Helvoirt may have a ton of grappling tricks up his sleeve, but Saito boasts that he has plenty in his own arsenal that he can use to cause trouble,

“I want to let everyone know that my striking and grappling skills exceed his, and I’m a fighter on a higher level. I’m going to use my striking to stop his attempts to clinch up. I’ll use my scrambles to break the momentum of his techniques,” he explained.

Saito thrives on pressure, and a step up to ONE Championship is the challenge he now craves after an MMA career that has spanned nearly nine years. He would like to follow in the footsteps of Koha Minowa who signed a contract with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion after becoming Shooto strawweight champion.

A win against a contender with Van Helvoirt’s credentials could potentially punch his ticket to ONE Championship and earn Saito the opportunity to compete on the international stage for the first time,

“I have a lot to gain in this fight. It’s a must-win for me. My future as a fighter relies on the victorious outcome of this fight. I really have to win,” Saito said.

Saito is not looking past Van Helvoirt, but he cannot help looking ahead to the opportunities that could be in store for him,

“I need to win first before anything else. I know what awaits me, and it’s enticing. If I win this bout, it’s a huge step towards my goal to compete against the best in the world. I am not giving that privilege to anyone.”