Rizin dropped some big news at their press conference with the conformation of their 16 man Bantamweight GP. Participants were in attendance and introduced before proceedings moved to brackets and match ups. Competitors took turns selecting and opening sealed envelopes. Following their lottery styled “RIZIN Destiny System,” fighters were matched and brackets set for 2 Tournament events in May.
Making a huge statement, Rizin have booked the Tokyo Dome for May 23rd for Rizin 28. The event will feature 4 of the 8 tournament matches. In addition Roberto Satoshi Souza and Tofiq Musayev will clash for the Rizin Lightweight Belt.
The remaining 4 tournament matches will take place at Rizin 29 on May 30th. Hosted by Maruzen Intec Arena in Osaka the fight card for both events has yet to be decided.
The GP Tournament is comprised of a who’s who of the Japanese MMA scene, every fighter is top tier, battle tested and proven. Despite the fact that many participants have previously fought each other, the first round contained no rematches.
Former Bantamweight King, the cold and calculated KO artist Kai Asakura will head hunt exceptional back-taker and choke specialist Shooto Watanabe.
Fan favorite and former title holder Kai Asakura carved a name for himself with his exhilarating go for broke striking style. Evolving from brawler to Martial Artist, Asakura, under his older brothers tutelage, learned how to harness his raw talent and make his strikes count. While still holding on to his go for broke KO at all cost style, Asakura also fights intelligently, methodically. With 14 of his 16 wins coming by way of stoppage and 12 of those by T/KO, it is easy to see the appeal Asakura holds. Following his loss to Kyoji Horiguchi in their rematch, Asakura will be keen to rampage through the tournament and face his nemesis.
Shooto Watanabe scored a big upset in his last outing, taking out the technical “Fighting Genius” Takumi Tamaru. Not only did Watanabe win, he became the first fighter to submit the Shooto top ranker. A consummate grappling specialist, Watanabe is steadfast in his approach and strategy. Wasting little time striking he clinches, seizes the back, takes the fight to the mat and executes a choke. Opponents know what to expect but Watanabe is exceptional at what he does and has racked up a massive amount of Rear Naked Chokes. A match with the tournament favorite may bring out the best in Watanabe, he has nothing to lose and should he get an opportunity we may see an even bigger upset!
Injury free, Rizin mainstay Shintaro Ishiwatari returns to action to take on the surging Naoki Inoue.
Relaxed in the ring, Ishiwatari blends outstanding grappling defense from his Judo with aggressive forward pressure and powerful striking combinations. Very relaxed In the ring the Ex-Pancrase Champion owns a 4-2 Rizin record, coming off a split decision loss to Hiromasa Ogikubo in a thrilling war. With heavy hands, iron jaw and unbreakable spirit, Ishiwatari is a threat to any fighter.
While Naoki Inoue is has a very well-rounded skill-set, on the mat is where he is most deadly. Crisp and accurate boxing fundamentals create openings for the submission ace to transition to the canvas. On the ground Inoue seamlessly secures positions and locks Rear Naked Chokes and Armbars with textbook perfection. A perfect 3-0 in Rizin Inoue has taken out grappling specialists Yuki Motoya and Shuto Watanabe.
Shooto Bantamweight Champion Ryo Okada debuts against Rizin veteran Yuki Motoya.
Fresh off a defense of his Bantamweight title in Shooto, the versatile and adaptable Ryo Okada is adept at working around opponents strengths and finding ways to win. A master at countering, Okada is at his best striking, weaving his short pin point strikes through his opponents defense. With a decision win over Takafumi Otsuka and a stunning come from behind finish of Kazuma Kuramoto, Okada belongs in the tournament.
A staple of Rizin events Yuki Motoya has a very complete MMA game, possessing similar number of victories on the feet, ground and by decision. A slow starter Motoya is vulnerable in the 1st round where he tends to take a back seat while he assesses and evaluates. By the final round he is almost always dominant, if he has not put his opponent away by then. Particularly known for his creativity on the mat, Motoya has a full spectrum of submissions, including his viral “Tee-Pee” Leg Scissor choke. At 4-4 in Rizin, Motoya will want to prove he is still a top contender and Okada is the perfect match up for an intriguing contest of technicians.
No stranger to Rizin fans, perennial top contender Hiromasa Ogikubo draws tough newcomer Takeshi “Kanten” Kasugai.
Hiromasa Ogikubo has consistently climbed to the top but fallen at the final hurdle. Originally feared for his double leg takedowns and stifling positional game, Ogikubo has recently come back to let his Kyokushin Karate roots shine. Bouncing back from a devastating loss to Kai Asakura, Ogikubo was back on form against Kenta Takizawa, content to tackle the striker on the feet. With experience fighting 4 of the tournament participants Ogikubo will be well prepared to reach the finishing line.
Heat Champion Takeshi “Kanten” Kasugai has been a regular on the JMMA scene for over 10 years during which he has fought for a variety of promotions and beaten a lot of their top fighters. With a 26-7-1 record has a victory over Yuki Motoya and a loss to Hiromasa Ogikubo, though both some time ago. The durable veteran has a very physical game, hoisting opponents off their feet with explosive takedowns before relying on a superb top game and constricting chokes. Against Ogikubo a collision in the center is almost inevitable!
Trailblazer of Japanese MMA, leg submission wizard Masakazu “Ashikan Judan” Imanari pits his grappling against dynamic KO hunter Kenta Takizawa.
Masakazu Imanari has passed his 20th year as a professional fighter. His participation in the 1st round of the Rizin tournament will mark his 60th MMA bout. A pioneer of the leg submission game the “10th Dan of Leglocks” stubbornly remained fixated on leg submission at the start of his career to the point where it paid dividends. Defying expectations Imanari revolutionized the role of leg locks, techniques that had been all but written off. Not only did Imanari display their efficiency in MMA, his slick, unorthodox, flashy and acrobatic set ups have since become foundations of modern grappling styles. Rizin, for Imanari, will be another tournament, another fight, but the goal will always be the same, he will be focused on taking home another leg!
At 1-2 in Rizin, rangy heavy hitter Kenta Takizawa has remained competitive even in his losses. Against Hiromasa Ogikubo he had his moments but could not capitalize, the talented Karate stylists constant search for a big strike KO gave away too many opportunities. With a reputation for unleashing furious punches and knees at a fast rate the striker has the potential to take out some of the bigger names. Against 1st round opponent Masakazu Imanari, he would appear to have drawn the short straw, Takizawa has long limbs and attacks non stop, the ground game is also his weak point. This could be a fast finish, a spectacular leg submission or brutal knockout!
Greco Roman Wrestling standout Kazuma Kuramoto squares off against BJJ expert Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha.
After a meteoric rise to the top where he rag-dolled opponents, pulling off back to back supplexes for crowds entertainment, Kazuma Kuramoto earned a Shooto title shot. Kuramoto was having his way with the champion early, blasting his way into the clinch, riding the back and pounding away with strikes. Getting too wild with his fists, Kuramoto was caught mid strike by Ryo Okada and put away with ground and pound. After suffering his first loss Kuramoto rebounded with a brutal soccer kick finish of Taiyo Nakahara, setting himself up as one of Rizin’s must watch fighters.
Following his victory at Rizin 27, Kleber Koike Erbst appealed to Sakakibara to allow Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha a chance in the Bantamweight Tournament. A BJJ artist with some hefty ground and pound, Yamaniha has mostly forged his career through the Pancrase organisation, where he has beaten Kenta Takizawa and Takeshi “Kanten” Kasugai. Riding a 3 fight win streak Yamaniha will be confident in his abilities as he makes his Rizin debut. Preferring to fight at a measured pace and control the tempo Yamaniha will be out to contain the whirlwind of aggression Kuramoto brings.
Elite wrestler and seasoned veteran Takafumi Otsuka engages hard hitting Hiroki “Shian” Yamashita.
After losing his bid for a Shooto title, Takafumi Otsuka enters the Rizin GP looking for revenge and an opportunity to showcase his ever improving game. Last outing, in an enthralling war, Otsuka and Ryo Okada fought 5 fiercely competitive rounds as momentum shifted back and forth. Ultimately falling short in a bout much closer than scorecards might suggest, Otsuka utilized his evolved karate style striking in unison with his elite wrestling.
A relative unknown, Hiroki “Shian” Yamashita stamped his ticket to the Rizin GP with a blistering left hook finish of Kazuma Sone at Rizin 27. An underdog, “Shian” has proved a big threat to fighters early, as he unloads and finds his mark right off the bat. With power and heart he can never be counted out and is a better fighter than his record might suggest. Yamashita has a history of fighting outstanding opposition and falling short. Rizin has given him the perfect opportunity to raise his game, go for broke and leave it all in the ring.
Quintessential Striker vs grappler match up as formidable KO artist Yuto “Kintaro” Hokamura faces crushing wrestler Kuya Ito.
Yuto “Kintaro” Hokamura joins the Asakura brothers and others who came full circle from the “badboy” image of The Outsider org to fully fledged Mixed Martial Artist. After a rocky start as a pro “Kintaro” found his stride and rattled off KO finishes over the likes of Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha on route to challenge for the Pancrase title. The brawler has 9 of his 13 wins coming by T/KO and is 1-1 in Rizin. Holding a Rear Naked Choke over Kenji Kato and losing a split decision to Kenta Takizawa the prolific finisher is a welcome addition to the Tournament.
Grachan Bantamweight Champion Kuya Ito takes a step up to the big stage and will relish the opportunity to make a name for himself. The rugged grinder turned his professional career around from 1 win in 8 bouts to just 1 loss in his last 8. With a strong wrestling base Ito has fought some quality opposition and is savvy in his clinch and grappling control. In a true contrast of styles Ito will attempt to shut down the aggressive striker and drag him into deep water on the mat.
Rizin 2021 Bantamweight GP Matches:
Shooto Watanabe vs Kai Asakura
Naoki Inoue vs Shintaro Ishiwatari
Yuki Motoya vs Ryo Okada
Takeshi “Kanten” Kasugai vs Hiromasa Okikubo
Kenta Takizawa vs Masakazu Imanari
Kazuma Kuramoto vs Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha
Hiroki “Shian” Yamashita vs Takafumi Otsuka
Yuto “Kintaro” Hokamura vs Kuya Ito