Mikuru Asakura defeated Juntaro “Fighting Bull” Ushiku by decision (3-0)
The main event got underway as Ushiku chipped away at the legs, firing off single shots until Asakura blitzed with a 1-2 combination. Perhaps sensing that he had a significant ground advantage, Ushiku pulled guard in the corner. Asakura had little problem keeping Ushiku square against the cage, effectively eliminating the threat of reversals and submissions. With a referee separation the game of high stakes chess on the feet continued with neither fighter able to connect cleanly.
Asakura brought the pressure from the opening bell of the 2nd stanza. Walking his foe down, the Karate based striker mixed up solid 1-2s and body blows authority. Ushiku covered up well but could mount little offence, electing to jump guard again. Trying to find a window of opportunity to set something up, the former champion was able to rack up some damage from the bottom. Asakura remained heavy on top landing short strikes for his own, in staying safe however, he was unable to get the distance required to hurt his opponent. With under 1 minute left the referee ushered the fighters to their feet. A knee from Asakura came within a hair’s breadth of landing as Ushiku kept a tight defence until time expired.
In the 3rd and final round of the main event, a 1-2 from Ushiku was answered as Asakura returned fire. Ushiku once again went to guard prompting Asakura to jam his opponent’s head into the cage until the referee issued a quick break. “Fighting Bull” held ground and finally found range with strikes, the ex-champion throwing jabs and hooks. Asakura was happy to get the fight he wanted, never shy to participate in a shootout. Ushiku tried to weave in takedowns and clinch control, scoring with a good knee from the clinch before guard pulling once more. With a final stand up the last moments of the match featured both fighters throwing down with Asakura, once again, landing the more telling shots.
Ultimately, likely due to the top contenders aggression, judges sided unanimously with Asakura in a tactical and tension filled affair.
Yutaka Saito defeated Ren Hiramoto by split decision (2-1)
A very tentative start was highlighted by both fighters waiting for a counter. About 1/2 way into the round Saito scored with a takedown against the cage. Hiramoto, showing a vastly improved grappling game, was able to rise to his feet, fending off further journeys to the canvas.
In the 2nd frame, Southpaw Hiromoto waited with his right hand cocked and ready as Saito perfectly timed a clinch. The Karate fighter again pulled free, calculated range and drove rear leg kicks and straight hands down the centerline. Another lightning quick shot from Saito who, hands clasped, dragged the match to the mat again. Defying expectations, Hiramoto turned the tables in the grappling department. Taking back position the K-1 KO specialist threw some short blows before wisely separating. Neither fighter wanted to lead the dance, both baiting and waiting for opponents to show their cards first. Hiramoto kicked to the body and legs, Saito tagged a 1-2 to the head but neither could connect with significant impact.
Appearing fresh and sensing urgency Hiromoto kicked off the final frame literally. Blasting to the legs and body, Hiramoto was far from dominant but was edging ahead in the stand up. Saito drove through numerous attempts to floor his opponent but Hiramoto countered and reset time and time again.
Another tight match came to a conclusion with a victor hard to pick. 2 of the 3 judges leant towards the aggression and initiation from Saito while the dissenting judge felt Hiramoto had done enough damage to warrant the win.
Shinobu Ota defeated Kazuma Kuramoto by KO (R1 0:27)
The highly anticipated clash of wrestling elites commenced as Kuramoto came out on fire. Stormed forward with heavy leg kicks and punches, the bigger Ota was on the retreat early. The gunfight led by Kuamoto set in motion a sequence that would prove his undoing. Ota did not give ground, set his base and traded right hook for right hook as the Greco Roman stylists exited the clinch. Kuramoto fell inches short, Ota hit home, flush on the chin and Kuramoto crumbled to the mat. The referee leapt in as a soccer kick hit the already finished Kuramoto’s head. The fight lasted just 27 seconds.
Ota continues to be a frightening prospect, his submission grappling and striking evolving at a phenomenal speed, in just his 5th fight he is a champion in the making.
Luis “Killer” Gustavo defeated Koji Takeda by decision (3-0)
It was a case of immovable object meets irresistible force as a steadfast wrestler locked horns with a destructive striker. Gustavo flew through the air from the onset of the 1st round, aiming to take his opponents head off. Instead, Takeda caught his foe and dumped him to the canvas. Grinding from top position the sturdy wrestler’s strategy seemed to be to sapp the wild brawler’s strength early. Gustavo would not be held down long and returned to his feet. Reading the situation perfectly once again Takeda caught a leg to sweep another takedown. Abandoning position for attack, Takeda stomped and punched. Gustavo retaliated with a tight guillotine, forcing his grappling adversary to roll to his back in order to escape. Late in the round the Brazilian whirlwind stunned Takeda with a right high kick followed by 2 right hands. Gustavo would be planted to the canvas a final time as the bell sounded.
Continuing to move elusively from side to side in round 2, switching stances and circling, Takeda was tough to hit. Gustavo teed off yet Takeda would evade or avoid the brunt of the damage. Walking through fire, Takeda constantly pressed forward, attaining clinches and takedowns. Seizing a Kimura grip, “Killer” cranked on the submission, resulting in a “roll through” from Takeda as he deftly recovered dominant position. Going for the back the wrestler slipped off and the match returned to Gustavo’s world. A familiar sequence continued as Takeda worked through the strikes to the clinch, landing shoulder strikes as the round closed.
In the final round of a war of contrasting styles Takeda was still moving, still scoring with heavy leg shots and not afraid to throw leather with the deadly Brazilian bomber. Right hands were the go-to weapon for”Killer”, who found his target again in the final stanza. The stout wrestler buckled the striker’s legs but struggled to control his explosive opponent. Gustavo let go with everything he had, jumping knees and a bombardment of power punches. Ultimately, the Thai Boxing specialist could catch Takeda but not put him down, Takeda could take Gustavo down but not damage him. An evenly matched bout ended with a tough call for the judges.
2 of the judges sided with a jubilant Gustavo. While Takeda had the control time and mounted offence of his own, the intent of Gustavo may have been the deciding factor. The Brazilian had mixed results but was definitely firing on all cylinders with intent to finish, the bout marking the first time that Gustavo has won by decision.
Kanna Asakura defeated “V.V” Mei Yamaguchi by decision (3-0)
Southpaw Asakura’s striking looked slick as the 1st round feeling out process got underway. Yamaguchi was undeterred, the shorter fighter surging forward into her own striking range. Stinging with lefts and rights, Asakura capped the combinations with left crescent kicks to the body. “V.V Mei” had enough and ploughed into a clinch where she pressed the taller foe against the fence. A head and arm throw from Asakura was almost reversed by Yamaguchi. Mei with the sweep but Asakura with an incredible bridge to avoid getting flattened out on the bottom. The veteran was successful in attaining underhooks again but was, yet again, caught in a head and arm throw. Asakura, queen of the scrambles, achieved controlling positions in a crucial opening round.
Both fighters dig deep and exchange in the pocket, briefly clashing heads. Repetitive right hands from “V.V Mei” as she closes the distance methodically. At range Asakura is snapping jabs, crosses and uppercuts, on the inside Yamaguchi doubles up with power rights. Asakura is cut off on initial entries but hustles the fight to the mat using smooth chain wrestling. With 1 minute left Yamaguchi surrenders her back rather than take too many blows from mount. Collected, the Rizin debutant deftly defends the choke attempts and sees the round out.
In the last round, Asakura landed just enough on the feet to get her opponent to return fire. A furious exchange of fists ensued with Yamaguchi standing her ground. Not backing up, the compact Karate striker found her rhythm, weaving blows through Asakura attacks. Just as Yamaguchi seemed to be getting the upper hand on the feet, she fell victim to a double leg takedown. Clawing back to her feet “V.V Mei” is hurt by a shovel uppercut, initiating another fierce blow for blow striking battle. As they traded fire on the feet Yamaguchi fell into the trap again, hurled to the mat as she let her hands fly. Fighting the perfect fight, the former champion waited until the seconds were dying out before going all in on an armbar finish. “V.V Mei” rolled to the top, turned her elbow to her body to nullify the angle of the lock and soccer kicked until time expired.
It was a competitive fight but the victor was never in doubt. Fighting a smaller opponent is rare for Kanna Asakura, who was able to shine and display her full arsenal of techniques.
Claire Lopez defeated Rena Kubota by submission (½ Guard Kneebar, R3 4:21)
Lopez showed no respect for Rena`s reputation, rocking her with a 1-2 combination right off the bat. The Japanese star went for a guillotine but was hoisted into the air and slammed on her back. Fighting well from the bottom Rena retained guard as Lopez tried to break through her opponents defence with elbows. Fishing for an armbar finally paid off as Rena fully extended Lopez’s arm, seeking the correct angle for the finish. Staying calm under pressure, Lopez soccer kicked and pounded away while still in the hold. The more physical fighter, Lopez launched knees, elbows and hammerfists. As the round closed the damage on Rena was visible.
Rena appeared the fresher fighter on the feet in the 2nd. Lopez was spent and tired, absorbing low calf kicks from the Japanese Shootboxer. Going to the ground was the newcomers strategy as they hit the canvas once more. Unable to mount the same kind of offence, Lopez could not keep her foe down. On the feet Rena bobbed and weaved and stayed just out of range of her opponent’s strikes. Combinations to the head opened the door for body shots, a hallmark of the dynamic striker. In the clinch Lopez was gasping for air as Rena targeted the torso. Knees, crescent kicks and left hooks had Lopez labouring but, with tremendous heart she held out until the final bell.
Momentum had shifted significantly by the 3rd with Rena in her element. Calf and crescent kicks were paying dividends as the world class striker unleashed blow after blow. Just as it seemed that the writing was on the wall for Lopez, a failed guillotine attempt from Rena let her back into the fight. Not only was in the fight, Lopez was in prime position to set up a rare kneebar submission. With 1 hand under Rena`s hips the submission specialist locked up her opponent’s leg in ½ guard, inching her way down until pressure was on the knee. The Rizin mainstay was forced to tap with less than 1 minute left in a fight that was slipping away.
Stealing victory from the jaws of defeat, Lopez`s sensational performance reminds the world that in Rizin, where fighters prioritise finishing, tides can turn, legends can fall and new stars can rise. Expect Lopez to be back! For Rena, she is now 0-2 while fighting in a cage. Flirting with retirement, the Japanese striking ace is generally very motivated for rematches, and certainly fights best in a ring. Could this storyline continue?
Tsuyoshi Sudario defeated Roque “Rocky” Martinez by decision (3-0)
Sudario was fluid as he bounced and circled to get the heavyweight bout underway. The deceptively agile Japanese heavyweight darting in with long jabs and hurling kicks to the body and legs. In close was Martinez`s range, chasing his opponent and blasting hooks and elbows from the clinch. Sudario focused on bodywork, showing flexibility and speed that belies his size, the former Sumo spun smooth karate kicks to the body. “Rocky” spotted a tendency for his opponent to drop his head and tried to land a head kick. Slipping to the canvas he gave up a takedown that Sudario took full advantage of. From ½ guard and mount the bigger fighter brutalised Martinez with monstrous elbows.
Bloodied, battered but not broken, “Rocky” stalked his opponent once again, utilising feints to get into brawling range. Sudario remained fast, throwing single shots at range and then making an escape. 2 colossal right hands had “Rocky” on rubbery legs and, before the durable fighter could recover, Sudario secured a double leg takedown. From the side Sudario drilled elbows and hands, intermittently testing out head and arm chokes. Driving Martinez to the cage the Japanese behemoth dropped bombs. Persevering through a round of knees, soccer kicks and stomps, Martinez showed the heart and toughness he is known for, enduring the onslaught.
There would be no respite for Martinez in the 3rd round as Sudario wasted no time in taking the overzealous down. On the canvas it was a case of “rinse and repeat” for Sudario who hammered down devastating elbows, knees and soccer kicks. ½ guard to mount, Sudario`s goal was to dismantle and finish but his durable opponent held on. It was a humbling fight for Martinez, stuck on defence the Guam native can hold his head high in lasting until the final bell, most fighters would have succumbed.
Sudario has clearly learned from his losses, implementing a strategy and style that fits his skillset he put on a clinic. “Rocky” again displayed the heart of a lion, as expected, hanging tough in a 1 sided match that was close to being stopped.
Masanori Kanehara defeated Sora Yamamoto by decision (3-0)
As the 2 fighters squared up, Yamamoto, representing the new generation, certainly looked to be the bigger fighter. Kanehara, like a lot of Japanese fighters, is a consummate Martial Artist, with a lifestyle of training and competing. Yamamoto tested the waters at range, using his length and legs he snapped out kicks. As predicted the fighters went to the ground as Yamamoto pulled guard and hit an elevation sweep. Kanehara maintained an outstanding base, floating his hips and landing in mount. Switching expertly between mount and side mount the veteran left no space for Yamamoto. Posturing for elbows Kanehara lost position and Yamamoto went for the kill, guns blazing. A picture perfect left hand from Kanehara floored Yamamoto and a leaping double leg stomp almost sealed the deal at the end of the round.
Kanehara was stoic again in the 2nd, with a static stance he beckoned his foe in. With low calf kicks and a rangy jab, Yamamoto tried to cover lost ground but could not find a weapon to phase the 40 year old. Taking command of the centre of the cage, and the round, Kanehara, hands by his side, was on the prowl. Kicking the legs and body the more experienced fighter was baiting and aiming to counter.
In the final round Yamamoto still had not found the answers. Throwing out uncommitted strikes while circling the youngster was caught again, crushed by a Kanehara right hand Yamamoto was on his back, stunned. Obliging his adversary and going to the ground, Kanehara was on defence, fending off leg attacks. Yamamoto, who displayed an incredible chin, was not as compromised as expected and attacked again with a guillotine. Slowly and steadily Kanehara slipped out the hold, in what would be the last chance for Yamamoto. With the highly proficient grappler on top, Yamamoto could only hold on and defend head and arm chokes. Kanehara moved to the back in the final moments but could not find any submission.
With a lot of tools at his disposal, seasoned veteran Kanehara completely shut down Yamamoto in a mature performance. Always a threat, Kanehara is a challenge for any fighter, especially when implementing his near flawless game plan.
Ali Abdulkhalikov defeated Tatsuya “Yanbo” Saika by KO (R1 3:30)
In a match that promised fireworks on the feet, for as long as it lasted, it certainly delivered. “Yanbo” struck early, blitzing a 1-2 shortly before Abdulkhalikov caught a kick to briefly hit the mat. Saika wall walked back to his feet and the striking continued. The Russian Sanda specialist invested in leg kicks, inside and out, sharp off his lead leg. 2 thunderous right hands landed for the Japanese KO specialist and, just when it seemed he was finding his tempo, Abdulkhalikov hit a home run. Stepping in from the jab Abdulkhalikov followed up with a monstrous straight that crushed Saika. “Yanbo” took another blow on the ground as the referee rushed in .
Abdulkhalikov is another scary Russian fighter joining Rizin ranks and surely established himself as one to keep an eye on. Accepting the fight on short notice, Saika keeps his record of never going to the judges intact.