"I am very happy to fight in front of my friends and fans and everyone who helped me to get back in the Octagon." - Riki Fukuda
In breaking down 2011, you have to wonder what was more painful for Tokyo middleweight Riki Fukuda: injuring his knee in a June car accident or his UFC debut loss to Nick Ring in February via highly controversial decision.
A year after the Ring bout, Fukuda has recovered from both setbacks, grateful for the support he received from the fight community, especially those who lit up internet message boards and Twitter with outrage after UFC 127.
“I was very happy to hear that most people believed I won the fight, but it was a close match and I did not feel I won 100%,” said Fukuda through manager / translator Fumihiko Ishii.
Fukuda, Ring, and the three judges may have been the only ones who didn’t see him as the clear victor in Sydney that night, with UFC President Dana White even chiming in with the tweet “Fukuda got robbed.” But White didn’t stop there.
“As you may know Dana treated me as a winner of the fight,” said Fukuda, “and gave me a win bonus, which I sincerely appreciated.”
It was almost as if Fukuda’s seven fight winning streak wasn’t snapped, at least in terms of public perception, but if you think the 31-year old is resting on that perception, that’s not the case, as he definitely saw holes in his game that needed sewing up, and when asked what he would have done differently, he says, “I would be more aggressive and throw combination punches in the standup, and try to control the ground game.”
And though his next outing at UFC 133 last August against Rafael Natal was scrapped due to the aforementioned car accident, he gets his second shot at a first UFC win this Saturday night against Steve Cantwell, and as far as he’s concerned, the Ring fight is simply a thing of the past.
“It was not difficult for me to change my mindset to look at the next fight,” said Fukuda, who will be in with a young man in Cantwell who is in dire need of a win. Currently on a four fight losing streak, the former WEC champion may take even more risks than usual to heighten his chances to break his skid, but Fukuda sees himself just as hungry for victory at Saitama Super Arena in Japan.
“I am honored to face a former WEC champion in my hometown,” said Fukuda. “But all of the fighters are looking for the win, including myself since I lost my last fight, and Steve is just one of them.”
Unlike some of his countrymen on the UFC’s return to Japan, Fukuda hasn’t been too far removed from his homeland professionally, having fought in Tokyo as recently as August of 2010, when he stopped Ryuta Sakurai in two rounds to retain his Deep middleweight title. But at the same time, a lot has happened since then, both personally and professionally, most notably the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the nation in March of last year. So coming home for this fight means even more for Fukuda.
“I am very happy to fight in front of my friends and fans and everyone who helped me to get back in the Octagon after my traffic accident,” he said. “Many friends and family are not able to see my fight due to overseas venues. But this time, they said, ‘I'm going to cheer your fight,’ and it is very encouraging to me. In addition, I would like to deliver my message through my fight to all the people in Japan who are working together to help the victims from the earthquake disaster.”
That kind of motivation is tough to beat for any opponent, and in the back of the Japanese fighters’ minds is also the idea that a series of stellar performances from the local heroes can kickstart the MMA scene in the “Land of the Rising Sun.”
“Yes, I do think so, as long as we can perform well and have a good show.”
Well, when it comes to Fukuda, everything is aligned for such a performance, as he’s healthy, motivated, and has had a solid camp both in Japan with the GRABKA team and in the United States with AKA (American Kickboxing Academy), a team he has worked with for five years.
“AKA treated me as a team member and it is like my home in California,” said Fukuda. “They have a great team and coach, which gives me the best training of my career.”
Saturday night, he gets to show off that training in his biggest fight yet.
“Anything could happen,” he said, “but I am betting on having the fight of my career 100%.”