Roberto Satoshi will face his toughest test yet in mixed martial arts on Sunday when he faces Satoru Kitaoka at Rizin 15 in Yokohama, Japan.
A multiple-time champion in the jiu-jitsu circuit, who holds wins over the likes of Davi Ramos, JT Torres, Michael Langhi, Lucas Lepri, AJ Agazarm, and Celso Venicius, Satoshi will attempt to become the first man to ever submit 70-fight veteran Kitaoka in an MMA bout.
In a lengthy chat with MMA Fighting, the 29-year-old lightweight discussed his transition from the jiu-jitsu mats to the MMA cages, racking up a perfect 7-0 record with seven finishes, his longterm goals in the sport, and more.
How excited are you for your Rizin debut?
I’m really nervous, to tell you the truth. It’s a huge promotion, an experienced opponent. What gets me more nervous is not fighting well, not being able to show what I’ve done in training, than the fight itself, the defeat. I have a good mentality about that. I get more nervous about putting on a good fight for the people, or maybe losing badly.
How do you deal with that nervousness going into a MMA fight?
The biggest issue with losing… I don’t care much (about losing), but I’m afraid of losing badly, of having my students there, my daughter, my wife, my brother, my family, and end up losing. I’m not afraid to lose, I’m afraid of disappointing people that cheer for me. I have to control that, think more about myself and not about maybe disappointing people around me. It’s not good to think like that, but I deal okay with losing. It’s two people fighting and someone has to win and someone has to lose.
I imagine that dealing with losses in MMA might be different than losing jiu-jitsu matches, right?
I think it’s tougher in MMA because it’s more difficult to get hurt in jiu-jitsu. There are punches, kicks, knees and elbows in MMA, so it’s easier to get hurt. You train three or four months for a MMA fight, go on a tough diet, and there’s money on the line, right? In jiu-jitsu, you lose a medal. Even with jiu-jitsu tournaments that pay cash now, you get only a medal in most of them, so you end up feeling more in MMA. You train focused on one MMA fight, whereas in jiu-jitsu you have five or six matches in a day. That’s why MMA is more painful. You’ve trained for a long time for one opponent.
You’ve been fighting MMA for more than five years now, but still jump between MMA and jiu-jitsu competition. Why haven’t you been more consistent in MMA, fighting more than once a year?
I’ve aways wanted to fight MMA, but the jiu-jitsu calendar has one tournament after the other so it’s hard to focus even with MMA paying in cash. MMA is about money for me. I love jiu-jitsu, I love training. But we’ll see how this year will play out. [Rizin] has a good schedule, so maybe this year I won’t compete jiu-jitsu that often and focus more on MMA.
What needs to happen for you to turn the switch completely to MMA?
I think it was more about the financial side. There are many jiu-jitsu tournaments and titles that I want to win, but MMA becomes more interesting because of the money. I think that’s what was missing, a big promotion paying good money, knowing when my next fight will be. We’ll see. I’ll probably focus more on MMA this year. That switch is halfway turned already [laughs].
Could a win over someone experienced like Kitaoka could be the final push in that direction?
Yeah. He has many fights, and I’ve always wanted to fight someone like that, a fight that would solidify my name. Some people look at my record and question, ‘Oh, but what if he faces an [opponent at the] top of the division?’ That’s something that would push me forward and show I can fight for a belt in a big promotion.
This is Kitaoka’s 70th professional fight and he has never been submitted before. Is that an extra challenge for you?
I have this thing, ‘Holy sh*t, no one ever caught him? I’m catching this son of a bitch, I’ll do what no one’s ever done.’ [Laughs.] My focus is on winning. I’m going in there to catch him, but I’ll feel the fight first. If I realize it’s complicated to submit him, I’ll have other strategies. I’m not focused only on that, to submit him because no one’s ever done that. What matters the most is winning and moving forward.
Do you like watching your opponents’ previous fights?
Yeah, I always watch it in MMA and even in jiu-jitsu. I look at the brackets to see who’s competing and go online to watch videos.
Have you seen holes in Kitaoka’s ground game in previous fights, situations where you think you would’ve been able to tap him?
I watched many fights and he defends really well, but he makes mistakes when he has someone on his back. I saw his fight with Shinya Aoki… I can’t compare, Shinya Aoki is great, but, I don’t know, Shinya Aoki took his back and literally had his arm under his chin. I was like, ‘Brother, it’s not possible, how couldn’t he submit?’ [Kitaoka] went there and took Aoki’s arm off and escaped. I think that if it were me there, I’m stronger than Shinya Aoki, I think I would’ve submitted him, yes. He has a good defense, but at the same time he makes some mistakes like the one I saw in this fight with Shinya Aoki.
You’ve scored every single one of your wins in MMA in under three minutes. Do you think you can do the same to Kitaoka?
I don’t know, man. I want that, of course, it’s cool to enter a MMA fight and submit your opponent quickly because you’re not paid by the minute [laughs], but I don’t know. My longest fight was against a Brazilian, who’s also a jiu-jitsu black belt, but I think this fight will be more complicated. My goal is to take him down and submit him, but you can’t foresee that.
What are your longterm goals in MMA? Do you want to create your own history fighting in Japan, competing at Rizin, or you plan on also building your name in the United States as well?
I started MMA for the money, but also because I had a student here in Japan, Kleber Koike, and my brother Marcos (Souza) fighting, so I decided to join them to check it out. We have many MMA and jiu-jitsu students here in Japan and I wanted to be able to teach them not only the theory, but also how it really is. Instead of saying, ‘I guess getting a punch feels like this,’ being able to say, ‘it feels like this because I’ve done it.’ I wanted to become a better teacher. Shinya Aoki once said that every jiu-jitsu fighter has to fight MMA at least once. Jiu-jitsu is about self-defense, but if you have to defend yourself in the streets, you can’t complain about the other guy not wearing a gi or kicking you in the face because it’s illegal in jiu-jitsu, so I think it’s interesting to get punched in the face for real.
You fought on the same card Kron Gracie made his MMA debut in Japan in 2014, and he got a few wins in Rizin before making the jump to the UFC. Is that your plan, too?
I don’t have the line of thinking of wanting to go to the United States, fight in the UFC and win a belt. I don’t have this dream that most fighters do. Rizin is good for me. They are paying me good money, I’m getting recognition where I live in Japan, my students are happy to watch me fight in a big promotion in Japan, so I have no interest fighting in the UFC. The UFC pays you too little to fight tough opponents, so I don’t have this desire. Kleber wants that, but I don’t. Fighting in Japan and making good money, this is good for me.