On Sunday, 13 October will face his counterpart, Shooto World Champion, Yosuke “The Ninja” Saruta, as they attempt to defend the honor of the two world’s longest-running mixed martial arts organizations in the ONE Championship Circle.
The 28-year-old from Osaka is excited to represent Pancrase in the Home Of Martial Arts, make the fans proud, and show the world he can outmatch his rival.
Kitakata expects he will be able to do that by approaching the contest in the same way that saw him build an impressive run to the Pancrase belt in the past few years.
“I feel I’ve been doing things right. My basic approach won’t change,” he says.
“I’ve been improving with each of my recent matches. This time it’s an even bigger stage, so make no mistake about it, I’m going to give the best performance of my career. I became Pancrase World Champion, and have even more confidence now.”
Kitakata is relaxed, but he knows not to underestimate his opponent. He has watched Saruta excel on the global stage, and saw him capture the ONE Strawweight World Title in just his second bout in the organization in January.
“The Ninja” has since lost that belt, but he is still one of the best athletes in the world in his division, and although the Pancrase Inagakigumi representative believes he knows what to expect from the 31-year-old, he will not underestimate him.
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“I think [Saruta] will probably come out to grapple, and, I think he knows I’m expecting him to grapple, so he’ll throw strikes here and there,” he offers.
“He’s confident. I think he’ll try to show that he won’t back down from my striking. If we’re talking percentages, his grappling versus striking will be 70-30.
“Of course, he has power in his punches, he has great physical ability and technique. He’s strong all around. His strength is his concentration doesn’t break. I think that’s his number one weapon. His concentration is backed up by his stamina. He’s an outstanding athlete.”
However, the fearless Kitakata reckons he has some advantages – through his character and style – that may be pivotal in their match.
Though he feels Saruta will be well prepared, he predicts he can rattle him and take him out of his game plan by landing hard strikes and using his aggressive grappling to compromise his positions.
“I want to let everyone know that my striking and grappling skills exceed his, and I’m a mixed martial arts specialist on a higher level,” he adds.
“I’m going to use my striking to stop his attempts to clinch up. I’ll use my scrambles to break the momentum of his techniques.”
Kitakata thrives on pressure, and a step up to ONE Championship is exactly the next challenge he wants in his career.
A win for him in a showcase bout at a momentous event against another titleholder would be the perfect start to life on the global stage, and set him up for match-ups with more of the best athletes in the world, in which he could compete overseas for the first time.
He is not looking past Saruta, but the 28-year-old cannot help looking ahead to the opportunities that could be in store for him.
“I’m really looking forward to [more matches in ONE Championship], where all these World Champions compete together,” he says.
“Compared to them, I’m still unknown and the underdog in ONE, so I feel frustrated, but this makes me want to prove myself even more.”
Tokyo | CENTURY | ONE Championship’s 100th Live Event | Tickets: Purchase here
- Watch PART I in USA on 12 October at 8pm EST and PART II on 13 October at 4am EST
- Watch PART I in India on 13 October at 5:30am IST and PART II at 1:30pm IST
- Watch PART I in Indonesia on 13 October at 7am WIB and PART II at 3pm WIB
- Watch PART I in Singapore on 13 October at 8am SGT and PART II at 4pm SGT
- Watch PART I in the Philippines on 13 October at 8am PHT and PART II at 4pm PHT
- Watch PART I in Japan on 13 October at 9am JST and PART II at 5pm JST
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.