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The crossover from Muay Thai to kickboxing, or vice versa, is not so simple. But the former Rajadamnern stadium champion, Genji Umeno, has been doing just that for years. Now, he takes on the RIZIN 29 kickboxing Grand Prix and takes on Koji in round one. With the other side of the bracket being loaded as well, Umeno, Koji, Ryo Takahashi and Taiju Shiratori are looking to put on a fantastic night of kickboxing for RIZIN fans.
Umeno has always had fighting within him. From a very young age, he was enthralled by combat sports and felt that doing so himself was his destiny. As anyone who first starts in martial arts can attest to, Umeno was quickly humbled and learned that he grossly overestimated his fighting abilities. But, that made the rise all the more sweet and he found himself enjoying the process of becoming a martial artist.
“I grew up watching combat sports on TV so I had a longing for strength, plus I was pretty confident in my fighting skills. In a street fight there are no weight classes but in combat sports there are weight classes so there are no excuses for losing. Before getting into combat sports, I have never been able to find myself devoted to anything, and combat sports was something I knew I had in me from the bottom of my heart. At first I thought I could become a professional easily, and become a world champion quickly. But once I started there were much better guys, much more talented guys out there. I was shocked to know that there are absolute monsters out there. But at the same time I knew that I would be able to be proud of myself for the first time in my life if I continued this journey and became the true number one in the world. So long story short, I think I was looking for something for me to be proud of.”
Fighting is Genji Umeno’s life. He doesn’t make time for much else outside of social time and training. “I like to hang out with my friends or kind of do nothing by myself. I have no hobbies,” says Umeno.
Genji Umeno and RIZIN 29
A lot of attention has been brought to the RIZIN 29 Grand Prix. This is mainly due to the back and forth between Taiju Shiratori and Koji. In the presser, Genji Umeno said he prefers to back up his record with accomplishments. But he also says that the way Koji is going about promoting the fight is acceptable and he’s proven he’s a gamer.
“I think there are many ways to get yourself a fight. And I think every fighter has their way of getting fights and they should do whatever works for them. I think the successful ones get the bragging rights. We can talk about ways all day but words won’t be convincing unless it’s coming from somebody who’s accomplished something. Koji is a successful fighter who’s proven his style works.”
With Shiratori and Koji going at it and being on opposite sides of the bracket, it can come off as Umeno and Takahashi being overlooked. But Umeno thinks that the antics are boosting the attention given to RIZIN 29 and the entire Grand Prix will benefit from that.
“I don’t think he’s looking past me nor Takahashi. They’re working their style which apparently doesn’t work out together, and again, it’s one of those situations where they think smack talking will get more attention to the tournament. That’s all they’re doing.”
As mentioned above, Umeno is a fighter that crosses back and forth between Muay Thai and kickboxing. While the two are similar, there are some major differences in the two art forms. Genji Umeno believes that it’s not his experience in Muay Thai that will help him in kickboxing and vice versa. Instead, he believes that putting himself at a disadvantage being a foreigner in a foreign sport will help him with his underdog mentality which has Umeno coming to fight every time he steps foot in the ring.
“The rules are different which means it’s a totally different sport so my Muay Thai skills won’t play out as my advantage. I think being a Muay Thai practitioner itself means I’m always in a disadvantage traveling in fighting in foreign countries. However, I pride myself in making it to the top under such disadvantages and accomplishing things that no other Japanese fighter has accomplished. I think that pride will help me perform at 100% under any given situations.”
Genji Umeno vs. Koji
Umeno meets Koji in the first round of the Grand Prix. Umeno believes he can cause some problems for Koji in their first round fight. Without getting too specific, Umeno believes this is his fight to lose.
“I can’t go into details but he has limited abilities on what he can do. He will come forward with everything he’s got and want a firefight. I will meet him with all the skills and techniques I have and dominate him.”
Taiju Shiratori is a possible option for Umeno should he win the first fight with Koji. The two met in 2019 in RISE. Shiratori won that fight at the end of the first with a straight right. From that fight, Genji Umeno has learned and improved himself. He loves the idea of a rematch between the two.
“[I’ve adjusted] my punches and positioning. I have never lost a rematch so I’m not worried.”
But the whole purpose of the night is to win the tournament, not just one bout. RIZIN 29 brings martial arts back to it’s roots with the tournament. For Umeno, winning would quite literally mean the world for him. He hopes to thank the fans of his by putting on a performance of a lifetime.
“[Winning the Grand Prix] means that I can return the favor to all who has supported me throughout my career. And it will prove that Genji Umeno’s way of life was not a mistake.”
Regardless of the outcome, Genji Umeno has cemented himself as an icon in the striking arts. Adding a win in the RIZIN 29 Grand Prix would be the icing on the cake and would look very nice next to the Rajadamnern championship on his mantle.
Catch RIZIN 29 on LiveNow June 27th live! Don’t miss Umeno, Koji and more on the epic night of kickboxing.