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Rizin FF: Daron Cruickshank talks Shinji Sasaki, UFC departure, and overzealous 'girlie sport' commissions

Rizin Fighting Federation returns to action April 17, 2016 at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan. The main event that night is Pride FC legend Kazuyuki Fujita against Jiri Prochazka, while today's interview features "Detroit Superstar" Daron Cruickshank, taking his first post-UFC fight against Shinji Sasaki.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Rizin Fighting Federation holds "Rizin FF 1" on April 17, 2016 at Nippon Gaishi Hall in Nagoya, Japan. The promotion previously made waves internationally for their "Breakfast With Fedor" card which aired on Spike TV.

The main event of Rizin's next card features Jiri Prochazka, who was knocked out by Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal in the Rizin tournament, facing Pride FC legend and notoriously HARD to knockout "Ol' Ironhead" Kazuyuki Fujita.

Earlier in the evening "The Detroit Superstar" Daron Cruickshank returns to action. Cruickshank was dead even with Paul Felder through two rounds in January, but a late submission by Felder spelled the end of Cruickshank's UFC career.

Cruickshank looks to make a statement that he's still a top notch lightweight against his Rizin opponent Shinji Sasaki. Sasaki comes in on a three fight win streak and would love to prove himself against a former UFC star.

Today, Cruickshank talks to MMAmania.com on the eve of his flight to Japan about his first fight in the "Land of the Rising Sun," the strengths of his opponent Sasaki, and his future plans both in and outside Rizin FF.

Early on in the interview Cruickshank let me know that his departure from UFC was an amicable mutual decision and that he wouldn't turn down future opportunities with the promotion.

"UFC was basically like 'You've lost three in a row -- we can't put you on a card.' They're like 'We can't put you on a card, we can keep you on the roster, but we're going to have to bench you unless we need you for a short notice fight or way down the road we can give you another fight.' I'm like 'Well I need to fight to make money to pay bills.' And they were like 'How about we cut you (and) you go fight? Potentially you could make it back (but) if you find somewhere else, awesome.' So it wasn't a bad let go. There's no bad beef between me and UFC."

That of course leads to Cruickshank taking this fight against Sasaki, and in breaking down his opponent Cruickshank noted they have eerily similar fight records.

"He's got a decent record. Actually we have the same record -- I've just fought at a lot higher level than him. I think he's pretty flat footed on his feet. I think he's better on the ground. I think he's more comfortable on the ground than his feet. I didn't see too much as far as his wrestling, like trying to get it to the ground. I think I'm going to knock his head off into the second row."

Cruickshank and Sasaki are both 16-8, although the latter also has three draws. There's a key difference that Cruickshank alluded to though. Sasaki has 10 wins (63%) by submission and only three by KO or TKO. Cruickshank has nine wins by striking (56%) and only one submission.

Whatever way it goes down Cruickshank feels that Rizin is the rebirth of Pride FC, and he's anxious to be part of that legacy and put on a show for the fans in Japan.

"I've always been a fan of Pride growing up watching mixed martial arts. When Rizin came about, I guess it's all the old owners of Pride that came back together and started a new organization. I'm excited to fight in a ring, fight in front of the Japanese crowd, which is a whole different animal. When you watch a fight there it's super quiet. They sit there and study and watch the action instead of boo and cheer. But the soccer kicks, the knees to the face on the ground, that's something I've always wanted to do growing up watching fighting."

Cruickshank's not going to let the long flight overseas affect his diet or making weight when it comes time to hit the scales before Rizin FF 1.

"I actually always pack a hot plate, a pan, everything I need to cook in my own room. I like to control what I eat because of the weight cut so I'll probably just hit a grocery store. Hopefully they have some normal stuff that I can eat and do it up."

Cruickshank actually takes that a step further though. To him the idea of "gravity tests" in states like California is nonsense, and he says some athletic commissions are going way too far.

"It's not going to work. Cutting weight is a part of the sport. That's a part of the fight (where) it doesn't make sense to me how they're going to control people's weight classes. Like how much more do they want to govern us as fighters? I don't get it. We're not playing Barbies. We're all cutting weight, we're actually fighting each other in a cage, they need to stop making mixed martial arts into one of the other girlie sports around the world."

Cruickshank may not mean "MMA is for real men" given there are obviously women his height and size in the sport but you can interpret his words however you like. One way Cruickshank will "man up" though is in dealing with a small issue that still lingers from his KJ Noons fight.

"I actually get an infection every couple of months and it might be from that (eye poke surgery). It sucks but it's better than having my knee blown out or something like that. Sometimes I'm just prone to more infections than normal. As far as my vision though my vision's fine."

Before we wrapped it up Cruickshank had a few words for Noons that shows his beef with the Hawaiian is everlasting.

"I asked constantly for the rematch because mentally I wasn't finished. There was no outcome from the fight. I wanted that rematch and KJ Noons was like 'Look - I don't want to fight a nobody. You're not a name, I want to fight a name.' I was like 'Who are you dude?' I have 20,000 more followers than you on Facebook and social media' so I was like 'Fuck you man, let's fight.' But whatever. I'm pretty sure they cut him too."

I don't show any record of Noons having been cut following his loss to Josh Burkman but if it ever happens he's got a  ready made rematch in Rizin or any other organization Cruickshank's in. For now Sasaki is what's next.

"You're going to see a whole different Daron Cruickshank because the rules are different. I'm gonna try to come out vicious and like a killer so come watch it."

Complete audio of our interview is below and check here for more Rizin FF coverage on MMAmania.com.

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