PhotoCred: RIZIN FF

Juntaro Ushiku: ‘Everything came together’ for crowning moment in RIZIN debut

Juntaro Ushiku became the second featherweight champion in RIZIN history when connecting with a picture-perfect knee to Yutaka Saito at RIZIN 31.

The second-round TKO came for the current Deep titlist after the doctors assessed a vertical laceration above former RIZIN champ Saito’s eye. The cut was severe enough that ringside doctors said that had it extended any further it would have opened Saito’s eye socket potentially leading to his eyeball falling out… so you want to be a fighter?

“There wasn’t anything really too different than what I expected,” Ushiku told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “Saito fought exactly as I imagined. I think he worked a lot on his defense [going in].

“At first I thought he had a broken nose [after the knee] and I thought that’s where all the blood was coming from. So while the doctor was checking on him, I was assuming it was going to start again so I was getting myself prepared, I wasn’t getting myself too excited. But after the doctor stopped it and looked at Saito’s cut, I realized it was right by the eye and it made sense that the fight was stopped.”

At just 26 years of age, the Tokyo native in Ushiku (20-8-1) has already accrued plenty of experience in the MMA world. Thus setting the stage for him to find comfort on the big platform that RIZIN presents after years competing in the Pancrase and Deep promotions.

“I believe all that experience helped me a lot for this fight,” Ushiku said. “I believe everything happened for a reason and all that experience led to my performance that night.

“For me, I think this was the opportunity of a lifetime. You don’t get these types of chances many times in your life. So I was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. I went in there with a very strong mentality of making everything out of this chance.

“As far as the fight, I was very nervous before the fight,” he added. “But once I started walking out that nervousness just kind of went away and I was actually enjoying the whole experience.”

Rarely do fighters get to jump right into title fights no matter their debuts in any promotion – especially on a larger scale. For Ushiku, however, he made his arrival already wearing a belt around his waist.

7-1 in his last eight bouts heading into the Saito showdown, Ushiku’s first title defense came in redemptive fashion against Daisuke Nakamura in July. As big of a moment as it was for the new RIZIN 145-pound king, it still wasn’t as big as the feat he most recently achieved.

“The second fight with Nakamura was a big learning experience because for me, overcoming somebody who’s beat you is something that makes you grow mentally,” Ushiku said. “I believe that rematch made me grow significantly.

“I believe capturing the RIZIN belt means more to me [than the Deep belt against Nakamura]. Just because of how everything happened. I do believe that for this fight and my performance, I was able to put luck on my side. So in terms of how this happened, how I was able to capture the RIZIN belt, it feels like everything came together and everything led to this fight.”

The “Fighting Bull” will now continue to do just that as he has two promotional straps to his name.

When it comes to RIZIN and first potential challengers, many assumed submission wizard Kleber Koike Erbst would be the one next in line for Saito rather than Ushiku in RIZIN 31’s headliner. That was until a foot issue kept the Brazilian from competing.

An immediate rematch with Saito is also possible as Ushiku’s first RIZIN defense, or there’s the ever-popular Mikuru Asakura who Saito claimed the inaugural belt against. Regardless, Ushiku understands that only a few names make sense and timing is everything when it comes to matchmaking – it’s just about staying prepared for anyone at any time.



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Drake Riggs
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.