The flyweight veteran only fought once in Japan before. Back in 2009, when he was a 6-0 rising talent from Natal who had just won the Shooto South American belt, Formiga stepped into the Shooto ring in Japan against Shinichi Kojima.
"It was my first international fight, and I never had the chance to fight there again,” Formiga told MMA Fighting. "I became the No. 1 flyweight in the world in that fight. I took it on days’ notice. I only got in Japan four days before the fight, and it will be great to fight there again. I’m truly excited for this fight.”
Formiga defeated Kojima via unanimous decision in Tokyo, and returned to Brazil to defend his belt against Alexandre Pantoja before going overseas again. The Kimura Nova Uniao talent won six of his next seven bouts before signing with the UFC, but came up short every time he got any closer to Demetrious Johnson’s belt.
With a 5-4 record inside the Octagon, Formiga now hopes to kick off his next run to the title in Japan.
"I asked the UFC to fight in Japan,” he said. "I insisted on this idea, and they made it happen."
Formiga moved his camp to Arizona for the first time ahead of UFC Japan, training with his Kimura coach Jair Lorenco, and the likes of Renan Barao and Ryan Bader. He also completely changed one of the most important aspects of his camp: his diet.
"I stayed around 145 pounds instead of 150 or 155 before the fight,” he said. "The only difference is that I changed my diet and trained lighter than I used to."
Sasaki, one of the best flyweight talents to come from Japan, is 3-3 since signing with the promotion, and Formiga welcomes the challenge he brings to the table.
"I love to fight southpaws, and Sasaki fights in both stances, so it was good to adapt. I’m excited,” he said. "Sasaki is a rising athlete. He was losing his last fight against (Justin) Scoggins but eventually submitted him. Beating him in Japan will be really important for me.
"Sasaki is versatile, strikes a little, but I feel that he’s more of a grappler than a striker. I don’t pick opponents, it doesn’t matter if I’m fighting a striker or a grappler, but I feel like it’s a bigger challenge for me to face a grappler."
Sasaki scored submissions in his three UFC wins, but Formiga believes he will change his gameplan at the Saitama Super Arena.
"I expect him to try to keep it standing, but that won’t be a problem for me,” he said. "We worked hard on every angle of the fight.”
Returning to the country where he became the best flyweight in the world, Formiga makes no secrets about his goal: he wants the UFC title.
He’s not in a position to challenge flyweight kingpin “Mighty Mouse" just yet, but the fact that every fighter who defeated Formiga earned a shot at gold shows the Brazilian that he’s still a big name in the division.
"I believe pretty much everyone already fought for the belt and I haven’t, but I decided to stop thinking about it for a while because it was affecting my performances,” Formiga said. "Every UFC fighter wants to fight for the belt and it’s not different with me, but I want to focus on this fight only. A big win for me over Sasaki will get me a lot of credit in the UFC."