Is Shinichi Kojima the best flyweight fighter in the world? "BJ" looks to prove he is at the expense of Rey Docyogen at ONE FC: "Return of Warriors" next month in Malaysia.
Perhaps it is because he's had to endure an injury-ravaged couple of years. Or maybe it is just that Shinichi Kojima has barely fought outside of Japan before, but he believes that his fight with Rey Docyogen at ONE FC: 'Return of Warriors' will be the most significant moment of his career to date.
That is quite an accolade given that his trilogy with Mamoru Yamaguchi remains the single greatest saga in flyweight history, but Kojima has fought only three times in the last two years and knows this is a make or break fight for him.
"It is the biggest moment in my career and I feel a great sense of fulfillment to have signed with the number one MMA organization in Asia and am pleased to have become involved near to the beginning because I want to try and help ONE FC to grow."
Docyogen has beaten all comers in the Philippines, putting together a 10-0 record and is fighting outside of his native country for the very first time. Kojima, by contrast, has already been in there with may of the best fighters in his division and was once universally ranked as the number one flyweight in the world.
Whereas Docyogen will be looking to show that he can go from beating Filipino fighters to holding his own against experienced international opponents, Kojima will want to demonstrate that after a series of injuries he is still a serious force at 125 pounds.
According to the Japanese veteran, this was his main motivation for deciding to sign with ONE FC.
"I want to test myself against the best fighters in the class of flyweight in Asia and that is why I signed to ONE FC. That is how I can show everybody that it is me who is the strongest."
The names of the opponents who Docyogen has faced so far in his career will not mean much to anyone who isn't a long terms URCC fan. Kojima, by contrast, has been in with some familiar faces in the shape of current Bellator Bantamweight Champion Eduardo Dantas and UFC title contender Jussier da Silva as well as facing Yamoguchi, who was also once ranked number one at his weight, three times.
At the age of 33 Kojima is four years older than Docyogen but does not think that experience alone will be enough to win this fight.
"I think it is my ability that will give me an advantage in this fight and not my experience but there is no doubt that I will be the toughest opponent that Rey Docyogen has ever fought. I cannot say who was the best or who was the hardest opponent I ever fought because all were very strong."
He is also dismissive of the notion that cage rust could be a problem as he has not fought since losing a majority decision to Korean Nam Jin Jo at Shooto last March.
"This is not relevant for me but you will have to judge for yourself when you see me in the fight. I think my performance depends only on me and not on some other factors like this."
Kojima has spent his entire career up until this point competing for Shooto and was the organization's bantamweight champion for four years, a belt he had to relinquish after suffering a serious long term knee injury. He has been the distance 13 times in his career and five of his last fights have ended up in the hands of the judges.
He says he would like to finish Docyogen but defends his record in finishing fights as being merely a reflection of the caliber of fighters he has faced so far.
"Of course, that is always my aim (to finish fights) but in MMA there are many good fighters and when you fight against them it is not always easy to do that. Rey Docyogen has a Chinese style of fighting with lot of different kicks and he is also strong with takedowns and throws, I think he is a very good fighter and this should be a very amazing fight because he is most aggressive."
Apart from a 2005 bout in the US Kojima has spent his entire career competing in Japan and 19 of his 21 fights have taken place in Tokyo. ONE FC has held events in four countries across Asia so far with future shows likely to be announced in the coming weeks.
Fighting for Asia's biggest MMA organization will be a completely new experience for Kojima who has appeared 20 times under the Shooto banner. However he is convinced he will not struggle to acclimatize to fighting inside an unfamiliar cage in a completely new country.
"To me it makes no difference. I always want to prove I am the strongest and it does not matter if I am fighting in Tokyo or in Malaysia. I want to show with ONE FC that I am the best."
Docyogen vs Kojima is the co-main event at ONE FC: 'Return of Warriors' which is taking place at the Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur on February 2nd. The winner will get an automatic shot at the ONE FC World Flyweight Title.