Kleber Koike is one of the most prolific submission artists in the sport. The Brazilian has choked his previous six opponents out and has looked imperious since signing with Rizin in 2020.
He is convinced that he’ll continue his blistering form when he challenges Juntaro Ushiku for the featherweight strap at Rizin 39 on Sunday,
“I’ve came all this way with five finishes and will do the same in my next fight. I will submit Ushiku,” he told Rizin Confessions.
The Brazilian acknowledges that his opponent poses a threat,
“He’s physically strong. His head kick and flying knees are dangerous. But I’m not worried and won’t be surprised. Nothing he has are a major threat.”
Koike doesn’t even see Ushiku as his main rival in the featherweight division and says that honour goes to another man,
“I think (Mikuru) Asakura has the most dangerous weapons.”
Ushiku is riding a four-fight winning streak and is the reigning featherweight champion in both Rizin and Deep. The 27-year-old beat Yutaka Saito to win the belt and then successfully defended it against the same opponent.
This didn’t impress Koike mich,
“I’ve fought five times in Rizin. All my opponents were top guys. And who has Ushiku fought? Just Saito. He’s only fought Saito in Rizin. He’s the current champion because he beat the champion. Good for him, but I will take that belt from him. Ushiku.”
It’s no secret that Koike will be looking to score another choke to win the title on Sunday but he warns that there is much more to his game than his trademark submission,
“There’s always a risk of getting hit but that isn’t a problem for me (because) I’m always loose and I can get back in the fight. You all probably think my weapon is just the triangle but I have so much more to show. I’ve chosen only to show you the triangle and the rear naked choke. I still haven’t shown my 100% in Rizin yet. Maybe 60%. I think I can show 100% in my next fight,” he said.
Koike is based long term in Japan and is part of the Bonsai team that has been so successful with Rizin. His team mate Roberto de Souza is the reigning lightweight champion and is one of three Brazilians from that camp on the roster.
But while he has been in Japan for nearly 20 years Koike was born in Brazil and used a football analogy to explain why he has been so dominant in the featherweight division,
“I’m facing this sport with confidence. If a football player passes, Neymar will score the goal. I feel the same way. If somebody comes into my guard I will submit him.”
During his early days competing in jiu jitsu tournaments Kleber would clean beaches or do part time construction work to make ends meet. He hasn’t been able to fight more than twice in a calendar year since signing for Rizin but says that financially speaking winning the belt would be a game changer,
“No doubt becoming a champion will be a game changer. I will be able to support my family much more. I will be able to support everybody around me. I know I can do it. Starting now, it’s the new Kleber era.”