Kai Asakura to leave Rizin, sign exclusive deal with UFC

Kai Asakura has vacated his 135-pound Rizin championship to sign an exclusive deal with the UFC, the Japanese bantamweight announced Sunday.

Asakura (21-4) broke the news during a live event in Tokyo. He won Rizin's bantamweight title for the first time in 2020, but surrendered the belt in his first attempted defense against Kyoji Horiguchi. He reclaimed the belt in December by defeating former Bellator MMA champion Juan Archuleta via TKO. Now he will depart for the UFC without making a defense.

The two-time Rizin champion has experience against UFC-caliber talent, including Horiguchi, who has held titles in Rizin and Bellator and fought for the UFC flyweight championship, and currently ranked flyweight Manel Kape.

The UFC has not yet commented on Asakura's signing. Asakura credited Rizin head Nobuyuki Sakakibara for granting his request to relinquish the belt and move to the UFC, whose bantamweight title is held by Sean O'Malley.