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RIZIN’s Kleber Koike ‘didn’t want to be in UFC’ after KSW departure: ‘Media focuses too much’

RIZIN Fighting Federation

Kleber Koike is one of the best fighters competing outside of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

RIZIN 40 takes place this weekend (Sat., Dec. 31, 2022), closing out the mixed martial arts (MMA) calendar year. In the evening’s co-main event, Koike — RIZIN’s Featherweight champion — welcomes 145-pound Bellator MMA counterpart, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, to the ring. Both men will battle for supremacy as two of the best 145-pound fighters not competing in, “the ultimate proving ground.”

A former Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) champion, Koike had UFC on his radar like most do when evolving through their MMA careers. Things changed when he found his biggest home in Japan, however.

“Being in UFC is only an option these days,” Koike told MMA Fighting. “I have what it takes to be in the UFC if I wanted to, but now I want to defend my organization, I want to build my legacy and my name. I lost a lot of time, I lost a year of my life believing in the UFC and expecting things from the UFC, but I understand it.

“I tried going to UFC when my contract with KSW ended, but they wouldn’t get me because I was coming off of a loss. I accepted it, I fought my fights and started winning again, and then they came with an offer. I refused it because of RIZIN. They came again [later], and now it’s only an option. I can say today that I didn’t want to be in the UFC.”

It’s been a good year for the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard. Koike, 33, finally captured gold after extending his win streak to six post-KSW, submitting all of his opponents. At RIZIN 39 in Oct. 2022, he put the finishing touches on the run, catching now-former champion, Juntaro Ushiku, in a second-round triangle choke.

Koike (31-5-1) joining RIZIN and becoming champion felt inevitable after seeing the success of his teammate, reigning Lightweight champion, Roberto “Satoshi” de Souza. Both men now lead the charge within their divisions as some of the world’s best.

“RIZIN took me in when I didn’t have a job, when I had nothing,” Koike said. “RIZIN gave me an opportunity to come to Japan, so I don’t dream of being in the UFC [anymore]. It’s in the past. I have other dreams, like helping my organization grow and become more well-known. I want to show that we have other champions in other organizations that can take the MMA further. Media focuses too much on UFC.”

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