For those fans who were worried that the release of Yushin Okami was signaling a lack of commitment of the UFC to court the Asian market, Zuffa has signed former DEEP champion Katsunori Kikuno to their roster to bolster their future shows overseas (h/t Steven Marrocco at MMAJunkie.com).
Coming off a five-fight winning streak (including four first-round finishes), Kikuno is a welcome addition to the UFC’s lightweight division.
This comes hot on the heels of an announcement earlier Tuesday that Tatsuya Kawajiri had also been signed to the UFC. With these two acquisitions, the UFC is making a clear statement of intent toward serious expansion into Asia.
Kikuno owns a record of 21-5-2, employing a style that blends Judo and Karate; two styles highly appreciated in his native Japan, where all of his fights have taken place.
At 31 years of age, Kikuno is looking to build a career in the biggest organization in the world of MMA. But will he falter as so many previous Asian fighters have, or will be prove the exception to the rule that says Asian fighters fold once they cross over and ply their trade on American soil?
We know Kikuno has championship skills; as the DEEP lightweight champion, he knows what is required to compete on that level. His most notable losses have come at the hands of Eddie Alvarez and Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante.
Now, he will be in the same division as the highly touted Takanori Gomi. Gomi looked to be a favorite to vie for the title, but he has dropped more than a few fights and now he looks to be one rung above gatekeeper status.
Should Kikuno prove his style and skills can see him win in the toughest organization in the sport, he may be the first Japanese fighter since Kazushi Sakuraba to win UFC gold.