Brazilian lightweight Roberto Satoshi did not feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic at first, but the prospect of a second wave of the virus still being a reality in Japan, where he has lived for many years now, keeps him on his toes.
“It’s getting worse for us now,” Satoshi said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “The second wave is coming worst than the first. We’ve only had two cases here (in Hamamatsu), and now we’re having many more cases. There was a case in a restaurant and then 60 people got it. It got worse as people relaxed.”
Satoshi was expecting to be part of RIZIN 22 on April 19, but the show was canceled due to the health crisis earlier this year. The company will return its activities with a doubleheader this weekend, with Satoshi facing Yusuke Yachi in the main event on Aug. 9, but the financial effects caused by the coronavirus outbreak almost forced the company to shut its doors.
RIZIN president Nobuyuki Sakakibara announced a crowdfunding campaign earlier this year as an effort to keep the company alive while unable to put on cards and raised almost $500,000.
“Man, I was worried,” Satoshi said. “I really like the company, they help me a lot. It’s a show made for the athletes and for the fans. I was pretty upset because RIZIN is like the ashes of PRIDE. When I finally managed to sign with Japan’s biggest promotion, and fight three times there, it would be very sad if it ended because of a pandemic.”
Satoshi admits he still fears for the promotion’s future despite the pair of shows booked for this week, a nine-bought lineup scheduled for Aug. 9 in Yokohama followed by a nine-bout show the inside the Pia Arena MM on Aug. 10.
“Japan has taken some precautions, but it hasn’t changed much,” Satoshi said. “Since (RIZIN) is a big promotion, when it loses money, it loses a lot of money. I was worried. But I’m happy to see things getting better and going back to normal, some promotions putting on events as well. That’s when I thought, ‘phew, I think there’s hope for RIZIN,’ but I’m still worried about a second wave of corona coming. I can say it’s still not 100 percent safe yet.”
The Brazilian lightweight will make his return to mixed martial arts 10 months after suffering his first professional defeat, a first-round knockout to Johnny Case in the company’s lightweight grand prix. RIZIN couldn’t go for international athletes due to travel restrictions this time, but the grappler likes Yachi as his upcoming foe.
Yachi is way more experienced as a mixed martial artist than the 9-1 Sao Paulo-native, but Satoshi has a different mindset going into this bout compared to his previous one.
“I’m not ashamed to say this, I think I was too apprehensive before my fight with Casey because he had a lot of experience, he was a former UFC fighter, he had a history,” Satoshi admits. “I was apprehensive and made mistakes in the fight, both strategically and psychologically. That’s why I didn’t do a good fight.
“But I’m happy to return. I don’t want to leave my image tainted by that fight. I know it wasn’t a good fight, a beautiful fight, especially the way I lost, but what matters the most now is coming back and showing that was not the real Roberto Satoshi.”
Dealing with such sentiment ahead of a fist fight was a first in Satoshi’s MMA career. Prior to that, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace scored big knockout wins over longtime veterans in Satoru Kitaoka and Mizuto Hirota under the RIZIN banner, but something was off against Casey.
Satoshi didn’t feel anything close to that in February, when he was selected for a unique challenge inside the RIZIN ring, submit five opponents in a row in grappling matches.
“Even when I faced the best in the world I was always confident because I’ve trained jiu-jitsu since I was five years of age, you know?” said Satoshi, who tapped Yuna Kimura, Koji Shigemizu, Edison Kagohara, Hiroshi Shinagawa and Yuki Nakai at RIZIN 21. “But that was MMA and I was like, I’m fighting in Japan’s biggest show, fighting in a grand prix, and there’s a belt on the line. I think it was the first time I had this feeling of not being prepared.
“To tell you the truth, I still feel apprehensive when I’m fighting for RIZIN because it’s a big show with a lot of high-level athletes, but I believe in myself and know what I’m capable of. I think that’s the key now. I know I’m prepared and I know I can do it. I just have to believe it.”
The grappling expert has yet to secure a submission victory in a MMA bout under the bright lights of RIZIN in Japan, and Yachi has only been tapped twice in 30 professional bouts, including a fourth-round loss to future UFC champion Alexander Volkanovski in 2015.
Satoshi expects to pull it off this time.
“I’m a cocky blue belt on the feet [laughs] but jiu-jitsu will always be my thing, so I want a submission,” Satoshi said. “I haven’t submitted anyone in RIZIN yet. I want to show my jiu-jitsu to Japan. This is what Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu does here in Japan.”