Yutaka Saito is set to be a part of MMA history as he meets Mikuru Asakura for the inaugural RIZIN featherweight title at RIZIN 25 on November 21.
The 18-4-2 Shooto veteran made his debut in RIZIN this past August at RIZIN 23. In doing so, Saito took on a game Kazumasa Majima that ultimately led to him adding to his highlight reel.
Just 24 seconds into the second round of the bout, Saito connected early with a soccer kick in defense of a single leg attempt. From there, several additional kicks followed accompanied by some punches, knees, and elbows that put away the opposing featherweight.
“The event itself, the Pia Arena in Yokohama, that arena was absolutely amazing,” Saito told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN regarding his first experience in RIZIN. “The atmosphere was fantastic and just fighting in such a big venue is something else. The exposure and the promotion that RIZIN does, I do feel that it’s overwhelming. A lot of people that haven’t even seen me fight in Shooto would contact me through social media and give me some nice words. So just fighting in RIZIN itself, the exposure I get for myself is unreal.”
For the Noshiro-shi, Akita native in Saito, his first bout in RIZIN dazzled those in charge enough to earn him a shot at the inaugural title. Something that he expected to come after compiling two or three more wins at the very least.
Having fought all the tough opponents that he has throughout his time in Shooto, Saito feels well prepared for the big opportunity. And he admits that it took some adjusting in his Majima fight to get used to fighting in a ring again. But clearly, things worked out in his favor.
Now he draws one of Japan’s biggest superstars, Mikuru Asakura.
“I understand that the first-ever champion will always be in the books and will always be remembered,” Saito said. “And I do believe that the fight itself is going to be passed on and seen for decades. I understand the stakes, the importance of this fight, but I also do believe that every fight is important for a fighter. So there’s no real fight that’s more important than one another. I do believe that every fight is important. But I do understand the stakes that are on this fight and I do understand that the result will definitely affect my life and career as a fighter and my life itself. So I understand how important it is. But I try not to think about that and I try to head into this fight as just another fight, which it is. So I’m just trying to stay normal as much as possible.”
When it comes to Asakura, he’s been flawless within the RIZIN ring at 7-0 and has only suffered one defeat overall as he holds a 13-1 record. It seemed to be only a matter of time before Asakura received his chance at becoming a champion. It was just dependent on who it would be against.
Being the unique sensation that Asakura is, however, his star shines beyond just the MMA space as he’s one of the most popular fighters on YouTube. Because of all the projects and interests that he has, it leaves many wondering where MMA falls on his list of importance. Saito, on the other hand, is fully focused on becoming a champion to be proud of.
“Personally, yes, I think it would be better if I win,” Saito said with a laugh. “I think just for the fight fans, Japanese fans, in general, it would be better if I won this one. I don’t want to talk bad about my opponent, but I think there are tons of people who want to see Mikuru lose. And I think just me making that happen would just be more interesting and better for the sport.
“My desire as champion will be to take on tougher opponents, international opponents, let’s say exchanging fighters with Bellator. I’d like to take on their tough guys. And me as a fighter, a martial artist, I always want to take on those challenges. So for the legitimacy of the sport, and just for a new story I think it would be much better if I took the title in this one.”