Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza and Kleber Koike are two of MMA’s best submission artists. By 2022, they could both be world champions as well.
That’s the hope and prediction from the dynamic Brazilian-Japanese duo out of Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu. First, Koike will have to get through the 28-year old RIZIN mainstay, Mikuru Asakura, while Satoshi awaits his title opportunity to be made official. They know that without each other it would have been much more difficult to reach the heights that they have.
“When I came to Japan for the first time, Kleber was still training with my older brother so I met him on the mats and he was the same belt as me,” Satoshi, alongside Koike, told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN. “I was a purple belt, he was a purple belt, too. Sometimes we’d compete together, the age is the same, we’re both 31. Sometimes we’d go to the parties, meet the girls together (laughs), and stuff like that. Just normal friends training together, go out together, enjoying the life together!”
Satoshi boasts a nearly flawless 11-1 record that began back in 2013. It wasn’t until April 2019 when he started his ascent to superstardom in the land of the rising sun.
Currently 4-1 in his five fights with RIZIN, Satoshi has finished the fight in each of his victories. Thus continuing the trend from his run prior where he achieved six of seven submissions. The blackbelt’s evolution as a martial artist has been on display every time out as his most recent RIZIN triumph is his only one that wasn’t from strikes.
“When I fought in MMA before [RIZIN], the guys I fought never put me in hard positions, you know?” Satoshi said. “I tell this to my students, I really started my MMA career three years ago when I debuted in RIZIN. Because when I debuted in RIZIN, I started to fight the tough guys in Japan, tough guys in the world. But I really started to grow up now. My first MMA fight, I think was 10 or eight years ago, but I feel I just started MMA three years ago.”
For Koike, his MMA experience far supersedes his partner in crime’s with a record of 27-5-1 and a KSW crown to his name. However, Satoshi did beat his comrade to the RIZIN ring.
Koike made his promotional debut this past year on the grandest stage in MMA. RIZIN 26 was the big New Year’s Eve show and saw Koike tasked with Kyle Aguon. Showing off some of his striking chops early on, inevitably, Koike became the first man to submit the 22-fight veteran in Aguon when latching on a late first-round D’Arce choke.
Unsurprisingly for many, it was just a sign of what was to come.
“Coming from KSW, when I fought for RIZIN I felt more nervous because it was my first time in a big Japan event,” Koike said. “The students were close, the family was close, everybody is more close to me. When I fought in KSW it was just two or three people that know who I am and living with me. I didn’t have this pressure. I feel in RIZIN I have more pressure because it’s the country I live in.”
“I was happy because I know he’s a great fighter and he has good potential,” Satoshi added. “I said, because he’s always been a good training partner to me, he’s a very good fighter, but after KSW he can fight the other events and I think he didn’t fight for almost a year and a half. I feel like he lost the time when he didn’t fight. When you see him in his debut and the last fight, it’s good for him, it’s good for the event, good for everybody when he fights.”
A few months before Koike’s big RIZIN debut, Satoshi rebounded off his lone loss by getting his hand raised in a main event opposite Yusuke Yachi. It was a flawless performance lasting just under two minutes from the lightweight. A crack at the title was undeniably imminent.
Instead, Satoshi wouldn’t compete again until March 2021 when matched with Kazuki Tokudome in a non-title contest. To boost the excitement factor and add uniqueness for all involved, Koike had his sophomore RIZIN fight booked for the very same event.
It was the first time the pair had MMA fights on the same night and the prospect of it all evidently fueled them greatly.
With one fight in between, Koike stepped into the ring first when taking on Kazumasa Majima. Willfully testing himself on the ground, Majima managed to at least last until the second round – only to fall victim to Koike’s favorite maneuver, the triangle choke.
The pressure from there was on for Satoshi to put on a show and excel. All it took for him to do so was a minute and 44 seconds as he too sunk in a sensational triangle that put Tokudome to sleep.
“I really don’t like it,” Satoshi said of fighting on the same day. “In training, we had to gameplan for the same day. It was hard because the guy that Kleber fought had a different base but the guy I had to fight had a more normal base, punches, kicks, you know. That was hard because sometimes I help him, sometimes he helps me, but when we fight the same day it’s hard. Because we need the training, it’s hard for support.
“This is hard too! He fought first and he submitted the guy then I feel more relaxed, I feel happy because he won. But this puts a little bit of pressure on me because he won but I’m going next. If I don’t win or make a good fight, this is bad for me too. But it’s funny (laughs). I was happy when he won, I felt more relaxed but I felt the pressure too. Next time, I prefer I fight first.”
Whether or not Satoshi and Koike will compete together for their next fights remains to be seen. Koike has his date; June 13 in the Tokyo Dome against the aforementioned Asakura. A win surely guarantees the winner a shot at current featherweight titleholder Yutaka Saito.
“He’s a tough guy, one of the big names in MMA in Japan,” Koike said of Asakura. “I think in the last year, he fought a tough guy from Bellator too. But we train hard, I believe I can submit him and after him, I can get the belt. I need that [after a win].
“The Tokyo Dome is a big place to make an event like this. PRIDE was in the Tokyo Dome before, all the big names were there. So I’m happy. Me and [Satoshi] came to Japan and worked at a factory and now in a matter of days, we’ll fight at the biggest event in the biggest place in Japan. It’s exciting.”
“Mikuru has a good sense for the striking, he can close the distance very fast, defend the takedowns, but I believe in Kleber,” Satoshi said. “I just think if he doesn’t get nervous in the fight, he can submit him for sure.”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan’s Tofiq Musayev ability to fight in Japan is the only hold up for Satoshi – then the bound for gold and glory is on. Even if it’s not against the lightweight Grand Prix winner in Musayev, Satoshi just wants his opportunity.
“Yes! This is the problem because I’m not for sure,” Satoshi said of when the fight could happen. “There have been some problems because of corona, you know? But everyone wants to make this fight but I just wait. I train for that and I hope this happens (laughs). I want this title shot and I feel now I’m ready. When I debuted in RIZIN and I started the tournament, I felt like a young kid in the big event. But now I feel I’m ready for this. I train so hard and change my mind, my training, and for sure I want it. Whether he’s coming, or the other people, or whoever they put in front of me for the belt, I want to fight for it. I think you have to fight the guys at the top.”
As vastly experienced jiu-jitsu wizards and martial artists, Satoshi and Koike are no longer the unknown talents just reaching the big stage. If all falls in the line and they keep doing what they do best, 2021 could conclude as the year that Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu took over.
BROADENED HORIZIN Ep. 8 ENGLISH AUDIO BELOW:
以下の日本語版 (JAPANESE VERSION BELOW):
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.