Shooto featherweight champion Yutaka Saito (17-4-2) is happy to be making his RIZIN debut. The 32-year-old fighter has wins over Caol Uno, Hiroyuki Takaya, and “Lion” Takeshi Inoue. He will be taking on Shooto and Pancrase fighter Kazumasa Majima (14-1) at RIZIN 23 in a featherweight match. In an exclusive and first time interview with an English publication, Saito talked about how he got started in MMA, his upcoming fight, and training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martial Arts Beginnings
AB: Thank you for your time. Please tell us about yourself. How did you get started as an MMA fighter? When did you decide this was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
YS: When I was in elementary and junior High school I was doing Karate but when I turned 18 years old I started to learn MMA. I was 17 years old when I realized that I wanted to be a professional fighter.
AB: How have you been preparing for this fight? What are your thoughts on your opponent? Majima is on a 12 fight win streak and has finished all fights except 1.
YS: Of course I took measures for the opponent. And I have made the necessary preparations to win. I don’t think he is a special opponent. My fights and my opponent past fights that we have fought were different and our careers are also different, so I can’t see any comparison. I think that his high finish rate is his strong point but I will surely knock him out so I don’t mind.
AB: How does it feel to get a fight in RIZIN and showcase your skills on a big stage?
YS: I will get more attention than ever because I will fight in RIZIN. So it requires ever better content and results. I’m very happy to fight in RIZIN but on the contrary, I am tightening my feelings.
AB: Can you tell us your contract status with RIZIN? Do you have any more fights besides this one? If you do, who would you like to fight anyone else in RIZIN?
YS: I can’t tell you the details because the contract has a confidentiality obligation, but I have multiple fight contracts with RIZIN. RIZIN featherweight division doesn’t have many fighters yet, so it’s difficult to say a specific one, but most of the people requesting to see me and Mikuru Asakura in a fight, so I want to fight him.
Training During COVID-19
AB: With Japan reopening slowly, were you able to get an effective training camp for this fight?
YS: I was able to train while there were restrictions due to the influence of COVID-19. Among them, we practiced with reliable members. I clarified what to do and focused on it.
Rematch in Shooto
AB: If Majima beats you, would you expect to face him again in Shooto and put your championship on the line?
YS: I’m not thinking of losing, so I don’t have a plan to rematch at Shooto.
How Much Longer
AB: How much longer do you see yourself fighting?
YS: I don’t see myself having a long career in professional fighting but if I feel that I’m contented in what I achieved in my career then that will be the time for my retirement and I will never regret it.
AB: What do you like to do on your off time?
YS: I usually ride on a bike to go to the near sauna and popular sweet cafe.
RIZIN 23 is available live on RIZIN’s new streaming service RIZIN Live Monday, August 10 at 2 AM EST.