RIZIN 2017 ‘Sakura’ Digest

RIZIN Fighting Federation opened up 2017 with their spring lineup taking place at Yokohama Arena. Such a martial art show hadn’t been held there since Pride and K-1 dropped off the map a decade or so ago, so it was nostalgic for the old fights fans and exciting for the new.

RIZIN is establishing itself not only as Pride reborn, but a brave new hope for fighters domestic and international. RIZIN’s concept is threefold: “Finale” – an opportunity for fighters at the pinnacle of their careers to excite the crowd, “Foundation” – a platform for younger fighters to rise, create change, and inspire the new generation, and “Future” – creating an arena for all promotions and fighters while keeping their own unique culture, customs, and traditions.

And, they continue to follow through on their concept promises. The ‘joshi-kaku’, or women’s MMA, boom is in full swing with Kanna Asakura, recently graduated from high school, impressing the fans with her smiles, charming demeanor, and martial skills. She faced Bulgarian Aleksandra Toncheva at 48kg. Aleksandra came out very busy with her right hand and looked to be the physically stronger of the two, but Kanna – with her father and coach in her corner – scored double-leg takedowns in all three rounds, looking confident and in control against the Bulgarian BBJ player, Toncheva. Asakura’s breathing and conditioning are impressive for her age.

In the men’s 70kg weight class, Daron Cruikshank walked out to his trademark mustache graphics as a backdrop, and he is already loved by the Japanese fans from his past performances. Pitched as a “Striker Battke”, his opponent Yusuke Yachi, who has transitioned from Pancrase, gave the crown what they wanted – fast, explosive striking skills and a ton of character. Yachi sparked Cruikshank out with a right hook at 5:12 of the first round. The 1RD 10-minute; 2RD 5-minute rule set once again proving to give that extra dynamic and opportunity for the fighters to find a way to finish their opponents.

“King Reina” Miura (75kg) looked physically outmatched by her huge German opponent, Jazzy Gabert (90kg), but she more than made up for this with her unwavering confidence. In fact, she had enough confidence for the entire arena and then some. They both came out swinging at each other’s faces, 25cm difference in height meant that the reach of Gabert was undeniable. Miura ate some blows reeling her head back, but switched up quickly and pressed forward, getting in the face of Gabert. A hip toss put the German on the canvas and King Reina went to work shutting down Jazzy and showing her solid top and side control which won her last match against Shayna Baszler in DEEO Jewels. With a display of ground and pound ending in an arm bar from the top, she went on to take the mic and tell her boss, Nobuhiko Takada that he’d better set her next fight soon or she’ll go and fight abroad. The crowd applauded her bravado and she quickly made many new fans for her bushido spirit and chutzpah.

 The heavyweight men followed with Satoshi Ishii, former Olympic judoka against old-time fan favourite, Heath Herring. Japan has been looking for a new domestic heavyweight hopeful for sometime now, and a lot of time and money has been thrown at Ishii, but he has consistently been unable to produce the goods on his feet or on the mat. Herring had a full 8-week camp, yet he was unable to hustle up the expolosive scrambles he was once known for, and Ishii having got the takedowns, stayed on him. A lackluster performance from both, Ishii saying post-fight that he fought conservatively since he’s been on a losing streak, the Yokohama Arena crowd actually booed their home fighter for his lack of skills and willingness to take risks. His fan base weakens.

Tenshin Nasukawa versus Francesco Ghigliotti more than made up for things. Tenshin’s speed, aggression, and ground and pound proved to be too much for the Italian. This writer will say no more than watch this space – Tenshin has a very bright MMA and kickboxing career ahead of him.

Simply known as Rena, the Shootboxing prodigy took on Hungarian, Dora Perjes in the fourth top class women’s MMA bout of the day. Perjes came out strong and nearly caught Rena in an arm bar straight off the bat. Rena managed to escape, but it was clear that she could not afford to make even the slightest error in the grappling department. Back on their feet it was Rena’s world again, landing one solid liver kick to the Hungarian and this writer was in mid-sentence saying “She does not want to stay in the kicking range of Rena, or she will get dropped by the next liv…” when the next liver kick landed and crumpled her. Some Internet warriors claimed Rena isn’t facing legit competition, but in reality, she is on a level where legit competition isn’t so near her. We look forward to her facing her next RIZIN challenge, and we would certainly like to see Dora Perjes back in the ring here.

Rena with the Shootboxing Ring Girls at RIZIN

Kyoji Horiguchi and Yuki Motoya was a beautiful display of martial arts athleticism. Horiguchi’s footwork and quick trip in RD1 set the scene for Motoya to be outmatched for the rest of the fight. Motoya kept running into punches and his own were not finding the mark when Horiguchi simply wasn’t there when they were supposed to land. Horiguchi took a unanimous decision win and left the huge question: who they hell can they give him next?

RIZIN’s World GP2017 1st round ‘Natsu no Jin’ kicks off on July 30, back at the Saitama Super Arena. MMA Japan will be there reporting and bringing the excitement to those of you not able to attend. Let us know which fighters and what you’d like to know and we’ll endeavor to oblige.

About the Author

Stewart Fulton

Pancrase MMA commentator on UFC Fight Pass.
Twitter @sfultonMMA