Longtime MMA veteran Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri has been through many wars, battling some of the best lightweight talent in the world during his nearly 14-year fight career.
The Japanese star fought for both Pride and DREAM, contending for the latter’s lightweight title. This weekend, his career takes a new turn when he makes his UFC debut against young prospect Sean Soriano in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 34 from Marina Bay, Singapore.
Kawajiri made the cut down to featherweight shortly after getting throttled by Gilbert Melendez in a failed 2011 bid for the Strikeforce 155-pound crown. And it appears like he made the right decision, as Kawajiri has reeled off four consecutive victories at 145 pounds.
“Crusher” recently spoke up to MMA Junkie to discuss his excitement at debuting in the UFC, noting that his main goal is obviously to fight for the title in an increasingly stacked UFC 145-pound arena:
“I always thought someday I would fight in the UFC. Finally, I get to step on the world’s best stage. This is going to be my last challenge. I want to make sure I do everything I can. I actually don’t care about who I fight. I only concentrate on making myself better. I’m going to approach this fight as if I’m fighting Jose Aldo. Of course I’m always imagining my fight, but the ultimate goal in my mind is facing a champion.”
He also detailed his plans to keep the streak alive, believing that he needs three wins to earn a coveted title shot against UFC featherweight champion Aldo:
“I think three wins will get me there. My goal is to win three in 2014. I want to break my opponent’s heart, and I want him to say, ‘I don’t ever want to fight this guy again. I want to beat him up. Keep on attacking. Keep on offense. That’s the focus.”
It sounds like Kawajiri has a set plan in place. With 41 professional MMA bouts under his belt, he undoubtedly has the experience to do it. However, he’s coming into a division that is crowded with dangerous and worthy title contenders like Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson, and Dustin Poirier. Lamas will face Aldo for the belt at UFC 169 on February 1.
Kawajiri must first get past Blackzilians team member Soriano, who will also be making his UFC debut. Soriano is largely untested against top-level competition, but he is undefeated and has shown a very well rounded skillset to this point.
At 35-years of age, “Crusher” knows his window of opportunity for UFC gold may be closing. He can’t look past Soriano or any opponent in the Octagon, for that matter. The only knock on the talented Kawajiri has been his tendency to wilt in the face of top competition, evident by his losses to Melendez, Eddie Alvarez, and Shinya Aoki.
However, he did dominate Josh “Punk” Thomson, the UFC lightweight who finished Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 7 and will now face former champion Benson Henderson for a rumored title shot at UFC on Fox 10.
With newfound power at 145 pounds, Kawajiri has the skills to makes waves in the UFC featherweight division. Will he?