Main Event: Kai Asakura vs Yuki Motoya – 61kg (134,5 pounds)
A perennial contender Yuki Motoya has been on a tear in Rizin as of late, coming into the fight with 5 straight wins since his controversial loss against Kenta Takizawa. A veteran who has always remained relevant in the shark tank of Japanese Bantamweights Motoya is looking for his first shot at Rizin gold. His last bout caught the attention of all as the well versed contender wore down the world class Rogerio Bontorin before knocking him out with a breathtaking step through knee. Typically, Motoya takes the first round to test the waters and evaluate. Getting stronger the longer the fight goes, by the 3rd round the pendulum has swung heavily in his favour and typically Motoya is dominating
Former Champion Asakura just lost a decision to Hiromasa Ogikubo for the Bantamweight belt in his last fight, halting a three fight win streak. With some serious knock out power and the ability to apply pressure, Asakura can dictate fights. As of late he has applied a more measured approach in his fights, but is still most dangerous early in the fight when he is fresh. A cerebral fighter who studies opponents meticulously, the deadly striker is on point from the get-go with 12 first round stoppages out of 19 wins. Asakura will not have to chase his opponent, who has a reputation for forward momentum. Furthermore Motoya also has a reputation for weathering the storm early to stage a comeback. If he wants his title back Asakura must let his hands go! Hope that the dynamite in his strikes put Motoya down and he stays down.
It is quite surprising that this is actually the first chance for Asakura and Motoya to face each other given that they are both Rizin BW mainstays with a combined 76 fights. So, it is about time! Get ready for a fun high-stakes main event as a fast sprinter faces off against a long distance runner!
Co-Main Event: Naoki Inoue vs Juan Archuleta – 61kg (134,5 pounds)
Archuleta made his Japan debut on NYE against Soo Chul Kim and came away with a razor thin split decision victory. “The Spaniard” is back in Japan for his second fight looking to pressure and grind his opponent down with clinchwork and top control. With some textbook boxing, if the American can score a finish it will more than likely be with his hands. The strikes are most effective at opening the doors for clinch work and takedowns, where Archuleta excels. Expect Archuleta to pressure and try to trap his foe in the corners of the ring where he will have the best chance of success.
As of late Inoue has applied a more movement based approach to his fight style. With tight, down the pipe boxing and elusive movement, the rangy Inoue uses his height and reach to tag his opponents with jabs and straights. While his striking foundations are as solid as they come, Inoue normally shines on the mat. With 9 of his 16 wins coming by submission the grappling ace most recently tapped out top ranker Kenta Takezawa with a perfectly executed arm bar. With some of the best footwork in the fight game, a mobile Inoue will hope to rattle off pinpoint accurate punches before capitalising on a takedown and back take. As Archuleta has solid submission defence and is tough to finish, movement on the feet and position on the ground may be key factors for Inoue.
A not to be missed co-main event features another Bantamweight fight with title implications as Japanese stand-out Naoki Naoki Inoue collides with long-time Bellator fighter Juan Archuleta in what could play out as the bull vs the matador!
11th Match: Roberto “Satoshi” De Souza vs Spike “The Ginger Alpha” Carlyle – 71kg (156,5 pounds)
Souza has been the king of the Rizin LWs for some time. Though his game is becoming more well rounded, undeniably, it is his submission wizardry that is feared. When the fight hits the mat Souza inevitably secures the tap out. With 10 of his 14 wins coming by way of submission and 4 by T/KO the BJJ guru is a consummate finisher. Though no belt is up for the taking, Souza puts his pride on the line for a high stakes showdown desperate to rebound after a heartbreaking submission loss to AJ McKee Jr. If history has taught us anything the strategy for Souza will be to avoid the punches, close the distance and drag his opponent down to his world. The Brazilian is so confident in his submission acumen even jumping guard may be in his interest.
Spike Carlyle himself was on a 5 fight win streak before facing AJ McKee Jr. in his last outing. While primarily a grappler, Caryle brings a more well rounded game to the table and will want to avoid going to the ground with Souza. With 13 of his 14 wins not going the distance “The Alpha Ginger” has an almost perfect split between striking and submission stoppages. Keeping it loose on the feet, punishing Souza when he tries to enter and staying mobile to avoid the inevitable takedown attempts from Souza will be key to winning. Superb matchmaking almost guarantees that this match will deliver!
The 1st round will be key for both men, if Souza can get an early takedown and have time to work he may get the submission. On the other hand Carlyle can keep it on the feet and land shots, it may be a long tough night for “Satoshi”
10th Match: Buakaw Banchamek vs. Rukiya Anpo, Kickboxing Rules – 70kg (154 lbs)
A legend in the glory days when K-1 was at the height of popularity, Buakaw Banchamek (formerly PorPramuk) captivated Japanese audiences with his elite Muay Thai bolstered by top shelf Boxing. A 2004 and 2006 K-1 Champion Banchamek was the first 2 time K-1 Champion and, while unable to retain future belts, he consistently fared well in the competition. A former WMC, Kunlun Fight and Shootboxing champion Banchamek is a legend in his home country, where he still competes in exhibition matches. Coined as the “Perfect Muay Thai fighter” and “Strongest Champion” the 40 year old appears physically in his prime and still has a lot to give. Stepping up to pit his explosive style against a new generation of Kickboxer, the popular Banchamek is ready to once again put everything on the line for the fans.
Like many, if not most, of Japan’s Kickboxing competitors Rukiya Anpo started as a Karate stylist. From the age of 3 he trained diligently in full contact Kyokushin Karate, later shifting to Shin (New) Karate. Both he and his brother were featured in a documentary as prodigy kids and were decorated strikers before competing in Kickboxing. With his trademark “Ichigeki” 1 strike KO mentality Anpo throws everything hard and heavy. With an impressive arsenal of techniques, the Kickboxing champion blends jump, spinning, switch and crescent kicks with versatile hand combinations, targeting the head, body and legs. Mixing up attacks has yielded considerable success and a host of spectacular finishes. Nicknamed both the “Dark Hero” and “Demolition Man” Anpo is a fearsome competitor who will not shy away from fighting fire with fire against the Thai legend in a Kickboxing match that is sure to bring the fireworks!
For this electrifying bout K-1 Royalty, Masato Kobayashi will pay homage to former foe Buakaw by providing blow by blow commentary for Rizin.
9th match: Kota Miura vs. Ren “YA-MAN” Sugiyama, MMA, 5M x 2R – 66kg (145,5 pounds)
Street Fighting brawler turned Kickboxing star, Ren Sugiyama has been using the alias “Ya-Man” since it was given to him on his first day of Kickboxing training. His father was imprisoned for illegal drug use, then disappeared from his life, leaving a troubled teenager who was constantly fighting in the streets. Inspired by watching Tenshin Nasukawa, Sugiyama vowed to make a living as a professional Kickboxer. Ya-Man scaled the ranks of the Rise organisation, with a fan friendly “technical brawling” style the heavy hitter is a well equipped striker. Training with Mikuru Asakura at Triforce Akasaka the Kickboxer brings his work ethic and intensity to MMA. While it remains to be seen how much “Ya-Man” has acquired over the last 9 months his opponent is not the most experienced fighter. The Kickboxer will have a marked advantage on the feet as he makes his anticipated MMA debut. Assuming that the savage striker has prioritised takedown defence, escape and survival for grappling “Ya-Man” could be set up for a huge opportunity to showcase his skills and make his mark in the Rizin ring.
Son of legendary soccer player Kazuyoshi “King Kaz” Miura, Kota initially followed in his fathers footsteps. When the 20 year old heart throb announced his desire to debut in MMA, many were sceptical. Proving the doubters wrong, Miura has displayed a solid well rounded skill-set combined with heart and tenacity in the ring. He is also a finisher, aptly utilising soccer kicks for the stoppage to in his debut, the Brave gym youngster then absorbed some punishment before taking Thai Boxer Bunchuai Phonsungnoen to the mat and scoring a 1st round armbar submission. With rules set to 2, 5 minute rounds Miura will have ample time to secure the takedown that he most certainly needs to take out the feared Kickboxer Ya-Man. After going almost 3 rounds with the heavier, stronger Thai Boxing and K-1 legend Buakaw Miura should have confidence in his ability to take a shot. Miura was not knocked down and the match was stopped by the referee as both fighters exchanged with 30 seconds left in the final round.
8th Match: John “The Magician” Dodson vs. Tatsuki Saomoto – 57kg (125,5 pounds)
John Dodson is back in Japan after decimating Hideo Tokoro by TKO on NYE. He’s also back doing MMA after having won a Bare Knuckle Boxing match in February. Back at Flyweight after having spent the last few years at Bantamweight, “The Magician” has real KO power in both hands. Dexterous and agile, Dodson has quite a reputation as an entertainer and may bring out the acrobatics. Avoiding the clinch and using his speed and feints to set up the big shots has worked very well for the speedster in the past. Dodson may be approaching the end of his long career and it would be fitting to see him mount a bit of a run in Rizin, possibly claim the belt before he calls it quits.
The man on the other side of the ring this time is a 12 year younger up-and-comer. Back after a more than a year long lay-off Tatsuki Saomoto is enjoying and incredible 14 fight win streak dating back to 2016. While his last two fights in Rizin were tight split decisions Saomoto was able to eke out wins in matches that could have gone either way. The Brave gym hustler has tackled many of the divisions best and Dodson will certainly be no exception. Saomoto needs to find a way to negate the power disadvantage, especially early, setting the pace and executing a clinch and wrestle approach to avoid the punches of Dobson may prove the best path to victory.
Fun fact, this must be one of few times that Dobson isn’t at a height disadvantage at 161cm vs Saomoto’s 159cm. Expect a fast paced match-up with the potential for a flashy KO!
7th Match: Takahiro Ashida vs. Kazumasa Majima – 66kg (145,5 pounds)
Japanese fighters are generally known for their competency on the canvas and Kazumasu Majima is definitely no exception. Starting his Martial Arts journey with Judo at just 3 years old the Mouri Dojo representative stands out as an exceptional grappler. Tearing through the competition Majima amassed an exceptional 14-1 record with 13 finishes and 12 submissions before stepping into the Rizin ring. While sitting on 3 losses, the superb grappler has taken on top tier opponents. While enforcing his game throughout the matches the submission expert was ultimately finished in each of the fights. In his last outing he was stopped near the end of the final stanza by a knockdown and ground and pound from Masanori Kanehara. Majima has shown considerable potential but is in desperate need of results, expect a more measured, tactical approach from the Newaza who should possess a considerable advantage on the canvas.
Squaring off against the grappling master will be slick striker and former DEEP featherweight champion Takahiro Ashida. While fully capable of Knockouts, the striker is foremost a technician who rarely finds himself over extended or out of position. With sharp reflexes Ashida is deceptively quick with his strikes, with boxing combinations usually capped with high or low kicks. No slouch in the grappling department, Ashida is well rounded, difficult to take down and to keep down. Riding 2 decision wins, Ashida most recently bested the durable and dangerous Hirotaka Nakada. With Majima having less versatility, it is pivotal that Ashida fights at his range and defends the takedowns. If it does hit the mat, with some holes in his defensive submission game the Brave gym fighter will fare much better on top. Expect Ashida to keep an extended distance and utilise lateral and circular movement combined with defensive wrestling to try to pick his foe apart.
6th Match: Ulka Sasaki vs Boyd “Sneaky” Allen – 66kg (145,5 lbs)
Ulka Sasaki is back after taking more than a year off since his submission loss to Kleber Koike. It’s been a rough few years for Sasaki who has not fought bad fights, just top level competition in fights where he has had his moments. Decision making and strategy have never been a strong point of Sasaki’s, adding to that, he is a fighter who has a style skewed to attack over defence. An experienced MMA-fighter who has fought at 3 weight classes Sasaki will need to rely on that experience to get the fight into his rhythm and his preferred area. On the ground Sasaki should be a few notches above his opponent and a submission is not unlikely. Standing Sasaki has power and accuracy, as demonstrated when he caused Kleiber Koike quite a scare, coming close to a finish in the 1st round. Being unable to bring it all together at the right moment is something that has haunted Sasaki through his career. Once considered a top contender Sasaki will be looking to bounce back with a submission when the cage door closes.
Making your Rizin debut against Yusuke Yachi is never easy. Boyd Allen is back in the Rizin ring after taking Yachi the distance. With professional Boxing experience Allen fell short in the grappling exchanges last outing, something that he has no doubt worked on. Takedown defence will set up the striking offence for the South African, who is by no means lacking in the submission department, with 10 of his 16 wins coming generally by way of choke. Facing a more refined, versatile grappler, “Sneaky” may be able to draw Sasaki into trading long enough to get the TKO-stoppage he no doubt is looking for. If the exchanges get wild Allen snatching an opportunistic guillotine or other choke is also not out of the question. Another great matchup that probably will not go the distance!
5th Match: Atsushi Kishimoto vs. Viktor Kolesnik – 71kg (156,5 lbs)
Sambo expert Victor Kolesnik ventured into combat sports after watching Pride HW King Fedor Emelienenko defeat Mirko CroCop. The Russian now finds himself in the land of the Rising Sun looking to follow in the footsteps of his hero. Boasting 5 consecutive victories with 4 stoppages, Kolesnik is deadly everywhere, from chokes and armbars to flying knees and kicks, opponents keep falling. As his last outing was an uncharacteristic decision win over Jonathas “Monstro” Calvacanti, expect the Forge gym warrior to be eager to get back to crushing his adversaries!
Brave gym fighter Atsushi Kishimoto has held tough through the ups and downs and now seems to have righted the ship in his career, sporting 4 back to back wins for the first time. While Kishimoto on paper would seem to be the underdog, he has an impressive finishing rate when it comes to the stand up. Case in point would be his last fight, where he bombarded an overmatched Kazuyuki Watanabe for a 1st round referee stoppage. In the grappling department Kishimoto will more than likely be in trouble, fighting out of Brave Gym this is, however, an area he has tightened up on. Kolesnik has more ways to win but pride may kick in, prompting a firefight in the feet as neither fighter gives an inch!
4th Match: Yuki Ito vs. Erson Yamamoto – 57kg (125,5 lbs)
As the nephew of legendary MMA pioneer, the late Kid Yamamoto, and son of Wrestling royalty, one of the all time best, Miyuu Yamamoto, expectations for Erson were always going to be high. Forfeiting the Olympics due to injury, Erson entered MMA as a teenager and has challenged many top competitors in the sport. Still just 26 years old, the elite Wrestler has not had an easy journey but would not want in any other way. Fighting out of Krazy Bee gym Yamamoto has returned after a 2 year absence to try his hand at a lower division. Time away training and a new division represents a clear slate for the once highly touted youngster. Erson has sworn upon his uncle’s grave that he will become a champion and, at 125lbs he has the perfect opportunity to start afresh. Defeat will not be an option for Erson who needs to get the ball rolling towards title contention. The good news for Yamamoto is that he should be far more able to implement his clinch and takedown game at 125lbs.
With the inevitable task of facing the popular Yamamoto, talented Boxer and Outsider veteran Yuki Ito knows that he has a tough challenge ahead. While it may seem like a typical grappler vs striker match up, Ito has an evolved game and is a prolific finisher on the feet and mat. His opponent provides a bit of a puzzle to solve as Ito needs to engage and threaten but not over commit and give up a takedown. Having his 4th fight win streak snapped last outing in a controlling performance by Ryosuke Honda on the bottom is not where he wants to be this outing. As such Ito will need to dictate the distance and tempo on the feet, evading and timing his pinpoint strikes carefully.
3rd Match: Takuya Yamamoto vs. Takeji Yokoyama – 66kg (145,5 lbs)
Another exciting striker, Takuya Yamamoto generates power in his standing and ground strikes. A Grachan multi division champion Tamamoto most recently shocked many by disposing of perennial Shooto top contender Dericott Kento Yamamoto, claiming his biggest scalp to date. Not many can ragdoll and overpower Kento the way that Yamamoto was able to. The Paraestra Chiba fighter is improving as a fighter every outing and will be looking to continue the momentum with another impressive win.
The antithesis of his opponent, Takeji Yokoyama transitioned from Karate and Judo to JuJitsu, where he has been tearing through competition in the black belt division. Testing the waters in MMA has led to a promising career for Yokoyama who remains undefeated at 4-0. Following 3 submission finishes the Swells JiuJitsu practitioner passed his biggest test to date, earning a hard fought decision win over Rizin mainstay Sora Yamamoto. The win earned him a ticket to Rizin where the submission technician faces off against the powerhouse striker.
Yuta “Cat” Hamamoto vs. Ramazan Temurov – 57kg (125,5 lbs)
After a mixed career in Kick/Thai/Shoot Boxing, Hamamoto transitioned to MMA 3 years ago where he has compiled a respectable 5-2 record. Riding a 4 fight win streak with 3 T/KO stoppages Hamamoto appears to be hitting his stride in the sport. Pounding out prospect Shoichi Harai in the 2nd round of their bout late last year, “Cat” will be confident and eager to prove that he belongs in Rizin’s newly established 125lbs division.
With an amalgamation of combat arts including Karate, Hand to hand fighting, JuJitsu and Taekwondo under his belt Ramazan Temurov ventured into combat sports after watching Fedor Emelienenko. Stringing together a 7 fight win streak the Uzbekistani predominantly gets his work done with his hands, as demonstrated in the last match where he blitzed Brazilian Muay Thai specialist Kayck Alencar on the ground for a 1st round TKO. A firm favourite against a late replacement opponent, expect Muradov Legion team member Temurov to not just look for a win but to make a statement.
Yasuhiro Kido vs. Sota “Cerebrus” Kimura – 69kg (152 lbs)
With 20 years of Kickboxing experience, Karate based Kickboxer, Yasuhiro Kido is still going strong. Not only is he undefeated in his last 6 matches, the 40 year old has not been stopped in more than 6 years. With an elusive style, Kido has always engaged on his own terms, something that has made the deadly kicker a force to be reckoned with. A kicking specialist Kido has remarkably relieved opponents of their consciousness 6 times with left high kicks. He also has body and leg kick stoppages to add to the tally. 4 spinning back fists have also hit home for Kido, whose in and out style catches opponents unaware. All it takes is 1 blow getting through for Kido, who has masterful timing.
Another Karateka making the transition to Kickboxing, Sota “Cerebres” Kimura, in contrast to Kido, is a combination striker who likes to get in opponents faces and under their skin. Not an extremely powerful hitter, Kimura swarms with attacks, breaking down defences and raining down punches. With 1 Rizin bout in his pocket, Kimura dismantled “Shingeki no Yuki”, leading to a doctor’s stoppage in the final round. Kimura will be constantly on the offensive, smothering and striking, knowing that Kido needs space and time to set up his KO shots. With most of his victories coming by way of decision, “Cerberus” will be prepared for the long run. Kimura knows how to keep the pressure, keep adversaries on the back foot and control the pace, something that will more than likely frustrate Kido, who can lose by simply not being as active.
(Stefan Nilson contributed to this article)