By Chris Gunn
The first day of Rizin FF’s end of year event featured the second round of the Bantamweight Grand Prix, and it did not disappoint.
Takafumi Otsuka faced dangerous German striker Khalid Taha. Coming into the fight, Taha was undefeated in 11 contests, with 9 wins by knockout. This power was evident in the first round, but after weathering this early storm, the veteran Otsuka was able to gain control before winning by guillotine in the third round.
The next fight featured another Japanese veteran, with King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari taking on Frenchman Kevin Petshi. This was a clinical performance by Ishiwatari, taking his opponent down and controlling him on the ground before knocking him out with a long, counter right hook late in the first round. This was a beautiful finish and a perfect performance from a real fan favourite in Ishiwatari, who always brings artistically violent performances.
Ian McCall looked to revive his career against Angolan Manel Kape. This was McCall’s first fight in nearly three years after a string of cancelled bouts. After some heavy leg kicks from McCall and big shots from Kape, McCall shot for a takedown and ended up in a guillotine. However, the fight was stopped due to a cut on McCall’s forehead. Whether this was caused by the ropes, Kape’s knee, or a combination of both, this was a devastating way for McCall to lose, especially to someone so willing to talk trash prior to the fight. The numerous spats with McCall, and his comments about Erson Yamamoto’s mother before their October fight, further cements Kape’s status as Rizin’s favourite heel.
The final fight of the evening was a virtuoso performance by Kyoji Horiguchi against Gabriel Oliveira. Despite a visible size and reach advantage, Horiguchi was able to use his movement, speed and power to obliterate his opponent, dropping him three times in the first round. Finally, after a beautiful straight right, left hook combination, the referee stopped the fight.
At still only 27 years old, and with a wealth of experience to match his physical gifts, Horiguchi is still improving and will enter the final day of the tournament as a firm favourite in his semi-final match-up with Manel Kape. Kape is the least known most overlooked competitor left in the tournament. While he showed dangerous striking against Yamamoto in October, Horiguchi is a very different prospect. The tournament favourite will look to put his opponent away early.
In the other semi-final, Takafumi Otsuka will look to avenge his last loss, a 2014 KO to Shintaro Ishiwatari. Both fighters are incredibly skilled and durable, and while Ishiwatari is the favourite, there is a strong chance that this fight will go into the second and third rounds. Whoever wins is likely to be carrying some damage into the final, not ideal against someone as quick and dangerous as Horiguchi.