It doesn't feel like I'm going to really have a fight, yet. I'm sure it will soon. Once the weigh-ins are finished and I've eaten, it will probably hit me. I am a completely different person than last year. I think the fans will be able to see it right away. If the fans expect to see the same Kawajiri they saw last year, they are definitely in for a surprise.
I wasn't able to fight exciting opponents in my two PRIDE fights this year but I just considered this year as a year of training, and have focused on improving myself. In that sense, I think my results have been good. I submitted an opponent and I won by KO standing. I think I'm coming along well.
I'm very excited about this fight. Melendez is a fighter with a lot of heart. He is a fighter that never backs down, and always comes forward aggressively, so I think if I underestimate him for even a second, I will be finished. This is a battle of willpower. I'm excited because this is a fight where our mental strength will determine the results. Will I break Melendez's spirit or will my own spirit be broken? It will be one way or the other. That's the kind of fight I want. We're just going to slug it out, right? Slugging it out standing, on the ground, on top, on bottom, horizontally or vertically. (laughing) I don't intend on being taken down by Melendez and even if I were, it wouldn't bother me. I'm confident I can get up and I'm confident that I can beat him from the bottom. If I'm on the bottom, I may be able to show everyone a new me that they've never seen before.
My build has steadily changed and I think I'm about complete for this fight. I built a body that could fight in SHOOTO at 70kg and PRIDE at 73kg year-round, and I've always imagined the New Year's Eve fight to be the point of completion. So, I think my body is now probably in the best condition of the entire year. I have improved by leaps-and-bounds technically. My striking, my wrestling, everything has, without a doubt, gotten stronger. So as long as I think of Melendez as my enemy, I will be fine. (smiling) The fans can wonder who will win and I hope they will be nervous. To me, the winner of this fight has already been decided. I believe that and all I have to do is go into my fight and make it happen. I want to enjoy my fight. I've thought a little bit about what I want to say after I win.
I think New Year's Eve fights are special. It is a little boring with no television broadcast but it will be the first time for me to fight at Saitama Super Arena and as a fighter, I am really lucky to be able to have 40,000 fans watch my fight live. I am simply happy. I want to make it exciting. I was invited last year and watched the event ringside. The year before I was sitting with the ordinary fans and watching the giant monitors, far away from the ring. (laughing) I wasn't thinking about wanting to fight. For some reason, I just wanted to relax at the end of the year. The best PRIDE fighters come also want to fight in the New Year's Eve event.I go a certain temple on January 1st every year, so I want to go this year after my fight is over. Everyone in my family has gone together since I was born. I didn't go for a time but once I started going again, it became a regular thing.I'm looking forward to the other two fights (Gomi VS Ishida, Aoki VS Hansen), too. I want to enjoy their fights as a fan, too, so I haven't thought very deeply about it. Of course, I don't want to lose in terms of the quality of our fights but I don't really feel that we're in competition. As a fan, I am curious to see who is the strongest. If possible, I'll like to watch the fight from the comfort of my own home but that's not going to happen, so I will do my best, too. Of course, I want Ishida to win and I think I will become even more motivated if he does.
My arm injury is completely fine now. I don't have to worry about it at all during training. I am completely prepared to fight. I was able to train to an extent even when I was injured and although I wasn't able to train hard around November, I was still training lightly.
I trained as always for this fight, focusing mainly on boxing and wrestling. I've trained hard for this fight, just like all the other fighters. Physically, I focused on improving my stamina in training. I will be able to move much better than I did in my last fight against Obiya and I will move around much, much more in this fight.I've gotten used to fighting as a Lightweight at 73kg. I may fight at 70kg this time, though. Kawajiri isn't bigger than me and my weight doesn't worry me. I'm about 75kg or 76kg right now.
I thought I would be fighting Aoki in the beginning. Now I'm fighting Kawajiri but basically, I haven't put much thought into it. When Aoki challenged me, I assumed that I would fight Aoki but now I'm focused on my fight with Kawajiri. It doesn't matter that my opponent has changed. I'll think about Aoki after this fight is over.
I think Kawajiri is one of the top fighters in the Lightweight Division. He's the kind of fighter that everyone wants to be like. And, he's a fighter worth respecting. So, this fight will be a really big test for me and it is a chance to be tested. I want to enjoy this challenge.
I don't have a strategy for Kawajiri. I plan on getting into the ring ready for anything. I just want to bring out my instincts and all I'm thinking about is my final goal of knocking him out. Kawajiri said we would slug it out whether we're standing or on the ground? Did he say that? Mixed martial arts fights like that are exciting fights. I'm ready to fight in all situations and if that's what happens, it happens. He said that one of our faces would be destroyed when we left the ring? That's going to happen, of course, but I will leave the ring without a scratch.
I think it's a real honor to be able to get in the ring on New Year's Eve. Climbing into the same ring with incredible fighters like Nogueira, Hansen, Aoki, Fedor and Gomi is a dream come true. I'll be watching the Aoki VS Hansen and Gomi VS Ishida Lightweight Division fights, too. Any of them could win and these are the two fights in the event that I am most interested in. I want to put on an interesting, exciting fight that will live up to the fans' expectations and my own.