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Pitbull vs. Koike: A featherweight champion showdown for validation, legacy, and bragging rights

Two of Brazil’s best will meet in Japan with titles around their waists.

RIZIN Fighting Federation and Bellator MMA are closing out 2022 in style with the promotions’ biggest collaborative effort yet.

The featherweight ranks on each side house some of the biggest stars that can be offered in MMA across the globe. Arguably Bellator’s greatest fighter of all time currently holds 145-pound gold as Patricio “Pitbull” Freire occupies the record book in more categories than some fighters have wins.

On RIZIN’s side, newly-minted 145-pound kingpin Kleber Koike has submitted nearly everyone standing in his way throughout a lethal 37-fight career. Despite Pitbull’s illustrious tenure and legacy created in the sport, he’s managed to find himself a new and unique challenge overseas for this special New Year’s Eve occasion.

“He has a very good resume,” Pitbull said of Koike. “He has 27 wins by submission and a similar game to Charles ‘Do Bronx’ [Oliveira]. Sometimes he pretends to be hurt to have the fight go to the ground and he surprises his opponents so I have to pay attention to that.

“This moment is the fight between two champions of different organizations. I hope this is the first of many. I believe we’re making history in the sport and something that the fans will really enjoy.”

RIZIN 40 on Dec. 31, 2022, features a five-on-five main card with RIZIN and Bellator’s best colliding. The co-main event will see Pitbull and Koike go at it with both men seeking different types of responses from the masses.

After suffering a 2021 loss to A.J. McKee in Bellator’s featherweight Grand Prix tournament finals, Pitbull was seemingly written off and expected to fall from his perch as a divisional elite. He quickly proved that false, however, defeating McKee in their rematch before a flawless title defense against Adam Borics this past October.

Koike is no stranger to facing mega talents; his KSW title affair with Mateusz Gamrot speaking as evidence. Against Pitbull, there’s no denying it will take a Herculean effort to do what only five others have been able to.

“I think Pitbull as a fighter, he’s very special,” Koike said. “As far as his abilities as a fighter and his name value, he’s globally known, so I think he’s definitely going to be a special opponent for me compared to anybody that I’ve fought in my career.”

A jiu-jitsu practitioner of Koike’s caliber doesn’t have any secrets regarding gameplan. The goal is always to get the fight to the ground and take home a limb or put the opponent to sleep. It’s just a matter of whether or not it can be stopped and how quickly.

The champion versus champion clash will mark Pitbull’s 40th MMA bout. There isn’t much left that he hasn’t seen at this stage and when it comes to specialists like Koike, knowing exactly what they do best is often more of a problem than a benefit.

Bellator 263: Pitbull vs. McKee Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

“I believe it’s harder to fight a specialist because he will do everything to take the fight to where he’s comfortable and where he excels at,” Pitbull said. “So, you have to take extra measures not to let the fight flow the way they want to and once you get there you have a much harder time than someone who is just a well-rounded fighter.”

A win for Koike spoils Pitbull’s dream of getting to fight in Japan. RIZIN’s champion has already had that luxury 23 times (six in RIZIN), but none would be larger than putting a point on the board for his promotion.

The bout won’t see either man officially defending their title. Nonetheless, Pitbull is about as tough of a first fight a new champion could get and one that has already answered several internal questions for the talented Sao Paulo, Brazil native.

“I’m very honored and flattered hearing that from Pitbull,” Koike said of Pitbull’s thoughts on him. “As a fan, I’ve been following his career, I’ve been watching his fights and I respect his abilities as a fighter and I respect what he’s done. I’m very happy to hear that he’s mentioning me and giving me credit for what I do.

“Pitbull giving me compliments — it kind of makes it worthwhile for what I’ve done in the past. It kind of justifies what I have been doing. All the time and effort I’ve spent in my life in this industry, it just kind of confirms that it was right. I’m always telling everybody around me this, but I think Pitbull is by far the No. 1 fighter outside of the UFC, and by far he’s the best featherweight in the world. Getting that compliment from somebody who I think is the best [leaves me] honored and grateful.”


Regardless of the outcome, Koike is also one of the best featherweights on the planet and a win for either leaves them with a strong late case for 2022’s male fighter of the year. With the non-title factor in play, this might not be the only time fans see the champs go to war.

“If I beat Pitbull on New Year’s Eve, I would definitely like the next shot for the Bellator featherweight championship,” Koike said. “Vice versa, I think he’s thinking the same way. If he beats me here, technically, you would think he’d have the right to get the first bid for the RIZIN title fight. So, I think we both have that same mentality heading into this fight.”

Check out the full RIZIN 40 lineup here.

Watch the full episode in the video embedded above or you can listen on Spotify.


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