Japanese MMA legend Tatsuya Kawajiri made his long-awaited UFC debut at yesterday’s UFC Fight Night 34 from Singapore a success, submitting previously undefeated prospect Sean Soriano in the second round of their co-main event bout.
The win earned “Crusher” an impressive six-fight win streak, including five in a row at his new home of featherweight. Kawajiri made the cut down to 145 pounds shortly after getting destroyed by Gilbert Melendez in a Strikeforce lightweight title bout in April 2011.
The move has paid dividends, and now “Crusher” is looking to move up the ranks, and quickly. Despite now competing in a division populated by a ton of worthy contenders like Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, and Cub Swanson, Kawajiri spoke at the UFC Fight Night 34 post-fight press conference to say he’s looking for a title shot right away:
"I'm looking at this fight as just the beginning. I'm looking to go into the main land of America, and fighting in bigger pay-per-view shows. ... If it's possible I'd love to fight the champion Jose Aldo immediately, but I'm sure there's orders I have to follow. So I want to fight some top-ten fighters."
He’s correct in assuming that he’ll have to wait to fight Aldo, who may or may not be the champ after his UFC 169 bout with Lamas on February 1. There are elite fighters fighting in the UFC 145-pound arena right now, and Kawajiri will undoubtedly have to prove himself against a few of them before getting a chance at UFC gold.
Kawajiri is one of the few successful Japanese fighters still fighting in a major organization and he should be a big hit in the UFC. However, he’s in the wrong division to get a huge fight on his name and experience alone. There’s a logjam at featherweight and Kawajiri just jumped right in it. Perhaps a fight against an opponent like Nik Lentz, who most recently lost a decision to Mendes at UFC on Fox 9, would make sense for Kawajiri to prove he can hang with the UFC’s top-ten featherweights. Mendes’ previous victim Clay Guida also comes to mind.
Kawajiri’s grappling looks top flight right now, but he appeared to get tired quickly after Soriano shut down much of his takedown offense in the first round in Singapore. He’ll need to shore up that part of his game if he ever wants to be a legitimate contender for the belt. At 35-years-old, this may be his last true run at championship glory.
Who would you like to see Kawajiri fight next? Will he sink or swim in the dangerous waters of the UFC featherweight division?