10 Questions for Kleber Koike Erbst

Kleber Koike Erbst could not have drawn up a more daunting challenge for himself.

The reigning Rizin Fighting Federation featherweight champion will take on current Bellator MMA featherweight champion Patricio Freire as part of a promotion-versus-promotion supershow at Rizin 40 on Saturday at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Erbst enters the co-headliner on the strength of a seven-fight winning streak. The 33-year-old last appeared at Rizin 39, where he submitted Juntaro Ushiku with a triangle choke in the second round of their Oct. 23 pairing.

In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Erbst touches on the path he traveled to mixed martial arts, the opportunity to meet a pound-for-pound great like Freire and the motivations that continue to drive him forward:

Sherdog.com: How did you get into martial arts?
Erbst: I started very young in judo. My mom signed me up because I was very high-strung, always looking to pick fights. After moving to Japan, I started training both jiu-jitsu and judo. I arrived in Japan during the Pride Fighting Championships era, so MMA was well-known there. This was especially true of jiu-jitsu due to guys like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. That’s how I got into martial arts.

Sherdog.com: What motivated you to transition to MMA?
Erbst: I was still young when I entered MMA, and I did enter several jiu-jitsu competitions. In truth, I wanted to test myself. In some sports like soccer, some fans watching at home may call a player stupid if he misses a goal. I didn’t want to just watch fights. I wanted to know how it was for real. To have the right to speak about it, I wanted to have experience. It’s how I got into MMA. I haven’t stopped since.

Sherdog.com: Did you have help in your chosen career initially?
Erbst: It was difficult to get any sort of financial assistance. Today, as a champion, things are looking better. It was tough at first. Gladly, my mother supported my choice. My father didn’t like it at first. He still doesn’t love it, but he supports me. The biggest boosters I had were my instructors. At first, they tried to discourage me since I wasn’t very good, but they saw my dedication and hard work. They started believing in me. Today, they seem to believe in me more than I do myself. It’s very important to have family and teachers who always believe in you.

Sherdog.com: What were some of your more important career moments?
Erbst: I’m thankful to have had a good MMA career and to be on a long winning streak. I always look to put in good work. Some people are surprised by how many professional fights I’ve had. I competed in Europe and was a champion over there [with KSW in Poland]. I also fought in China and around Japan. The numbers don’t lie. My Sherdog record doesn’t lie. I have some wins, some losses and a draw. I keep doing the work. I prefer to be active. I do get tired fighting so frequently, but since my style is to get submissions, I don’t suffer many striking-related injuries. Thankfully, I don’t get too hurt, so I’m always available when called upon. I’ve fought some high-level opponents such as Miguel Torres. Maybe some folks don’t remember anymore, but he was one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world during the [World Extreme Cagefighting] era. My last loss was to a better-known fighter and [current Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight contender] in Mateusz Gamrot. He’s been doing an excellent job in the UFC. I had a war with him.

Sherdog.com: What lessons have you learned from your few losses?
Erbst: Regarding my losses, it’s hard to be in MMA and be undefeated. Losses are great learning experiences. In that regard, one loss is equivalent to five victories. It teaches us what needs to be corrected, what we need to dedicate ourselves to and what skills need to evolve. I’ve tasted the very bitter taste of a loss. I keep it in mind when I’m training. I work hard so it won’t happen again. Unfortunately, it’s part of our jobs, but at least we can learn and get better.

Sherdog.com: What can you say about your next opponent?
Erbst: Patricio is the best pound-for-pound fighter outside of the UFC. He is very tough. I admire him as a fighter. He has a great deal of experience, but a fight is a fight. My mission is to defend my organization, my work and my belt. As far as the organization-versus-organization aspect [of it goes], I think that’s very cool. We’re making history. It’s a new era of challenges. The UFC brass seems to be afraid to get in on this. They know there are many tough champions outside the UFC. They don’t want to lose their prestige. “Pitbull” and I are entering a new era. We’re going to show the world that the UFC isn’t the only great promotion. Others are just as strong as the UFC. I’m very happy to the representing Team Rizin.

Sherdog.com: How has your training camp played out?
Erbst: I represent and also co-lead the Bonsai Team in Japan. I do my training camps here. Everyone knows jiu-jitsu is my strong suit. I train with Roberto Satoshi de Souza, Marcos Souza [and] Mauricio Dai Souza, as well as other champions like Alan Yamaniha and Hiroaki Suzuki. They always give me their full support. I also represent the Bellwood Kickboxing Team here in Japan. We have members in K-1, One Championship, Rizin and several other organizations. This time I also had a camp in Thailand, at Phuket Fight Club in the Chalong subdistrict. I worked on my striking with Leonardo Sessegolo. He’s a muay thai instructor with no equal. I also worked with Bruno Miranda, a Road Fighting Championship veteran who’s in the Professional Fighters League, as well as Fabricio Andrade, who’s [going to be a] One Championship champion. I worked with several muay thai champs like Julio Lobo and Luis Cajaiba, and now Johnny Case is also part of our training camp. I started my training camp in Japan, spent some time in Thailand, and then came back to Japan to finish things out with my coaches and students. This is the biggest event of the year. It has a lot of impact. God willing, we’ll have a great fight and put on a show.

Sherdog.com: Does this opportunity mean less with it being a non-title fight?
Erbst: It doesn’t change anything in that regard. It’s just a champion-versus-champion and organization-versus-organization challenge. Who knows? In the future, maybe we can put either the Bellator or Rizin belts up for grabs.

Sherdog.com: What are your plans for the future?
Erbst: My plans are to remain champion and defend my organization. Perhaps in the future maybe we can unify the titles. I’d like to be champion for as long as possible and build my legacy.

Sherdog.com: What else drives you?
Erbst: I left Brazil at a very young age. I was a dreamer. I was 14 when I moved to Japan. I come from a Japanese family. I’ve been putting in my work. I’ve been looking to improve the quality of life for myself as well as my family. I want to let people know about our work—jiu-jitsu and martial arts. I feel it’s something that’s being lost nowadays. The business world seems to have lost some of the essence of martial arts: respect. I try to bring back the samurai culture of Japan. Today, I can help my family, my students and those closest to me find a better future. I hope this type of champion-versus-champion challenge can occur even more often in the future.

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