The UFC announced the signing of Japanese star Tatsuya Kawajiri to compete in their Featherweight division. Kawajiri is 35 years old, with an overall record of 32-7. Kawajiri got his start in Japan’s SHOOTO organization, which means he has weathered very rugged competition over his career. His losses are to the likes of Gilbert Melendez, Shinya Aoki and Eddie Alvarez, all top 10 rated Lightweights. Since dropping down to Featherweight, Kawajiri is undefeated.
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Kawajiri has what it takes to compete at the top of the weight class, the question is how long can he perform at his current level at 35 years old? The UFC is going to have to move fast to establish Kawajiri if he is going to be relevant in the division.
To ease Kawajiri in, he should get a match quickly against a veteran. Clay Guida is a great option, in that Guida has a lot of recognition value with fans. Another option is Dennis Siver or Darren Elkins. Of the group, Elkins is really the only one whose been moving up in the rankings, but in the fight, Kawajiri would be favored against all three of those men based on what he brings to the ring.
Even if Kawajiri were to kill Clay Guida and resurrect him right there in the octagon, he would probably still need another fight before earning a title shot against Aldo, because the top of the division is crowded.
Which gives the UFC a good opportunity to have Kawajiri meet the winner of the planned Frankie Edgar versus BJ Penn III bout.
Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo’s next title defense will likely be Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169, as it has been mentioned by Dana White. Chad Mendes is the undisputed #2 guy in the division, and he is fighting in December against Nik Lentz. Mendez will push for the immediate title shot after that fight, but a match with Kawajiri would put Mendes up against a fighter that is more dangerous than anyone on his resume this side of Aldo.
If the UFC offers to do Mendes versus Kawajiri, the Japanese star will no doubt accept. But the winner of Penn-Edgar would be a better match up, as Kawajiri would come in highly motivated to face former champions. Kawajiri would be an underdog in these fights, and a big one against Mendes, who has been a juggernaut. Those odds can tighten a bit for Kawajiri if he has a spectacular performance in his UFC debut.